6 February 2016

Finbarr's

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Waddington Street 
Flass Vale 
Durham City 
DH1 4BG 

0191 370 9999 
www.finbarrsrestaurant.co.uk 

It is the way of the world that things you once took for granted can disappear for quite a time before you even realise they’ve gone; like television programmes about DIY (I wonder what Handy Andy is up to these days?), or your youth. Obviously I miss the latter rather more than the former. 

Good bread in restaurants is another. Where did it go? Have we all become so gluten and carb “intolerant” that the complimentary basket of yeasted goodness that precedes any proper meal is no longer de rigueur? 


At Finbarr’s, just a short tramp downhill from Durham train station on the west side of the viaduct, they have very good bread. It comes in a basket and is served with decent unsalted butter. There are several other things in Finbarr’s which you tend not to see much of these days, like properly clothed tables, real candles, and staff in neat uniforms. This is, in short, a proper restaurant, and there are few enough of those around in 2016. Particularly in Durham.

30 January 2016

Rossopomodoro

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1st Floor John Lewis 
Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE99 1AB 

0191 261 1287 
www.rossopomodoro.co.uk 

Mon-Fri 9am-8pm 
Sat 9am-7pm 
Sun 11am-5pm 

“From the South of Italy to the North of England…You’ll find us on the first floor of John Lewis.” What is with Newcastle’s department stores? Fenwick and John Lewis appear to have challenged each other to an all-out restaurant war. 

While Fenwick brought in the local big guns - Terry Laybourne and his team helped create a really snazzy food hall with some great eateries, including a fishmonger and seafood bar, an Asian noodle restaurant, and an excellent Mediterranean joint called Fuego — John Lewis turned to Rossopomodoro.

23 January 2016

River Beat


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Pipewellgate House 
Pipewellgate 
Gateshead 
NE8 2BJ 

0191 477 0553 
www.riverbeat.co.uk 

Tue - Thu 4 - 11pm 
Fri - Sat 11am - 11pm 

For the most part, most Brits still haven’t quite got the hang of tapas. 

To many, the idea of spending an evening traipsing between different bars for glasses of sherry and a plate of ham here, some croquettes there, a prawn, octopus tentacle or a spicy chicken thigh there — is something to be reserved for Spanish holidays. It requires a city to have a critical mass of places set up this way, which rules out Newcastle. 

It’s a great shame, for in many ways the city centre is made for gastro-perambulation. Here’s a plea: can someone please open a couple of proper ham and sherry joints? I’ll happily perambulate between them all night if you do. Thanks in advance. 

In the absence of the real deal, our current experience of local tapas involves plonking yourself down for the entire evening and ordering a truck-load of small plates, which you then ply through with copious glasses of wine. This rather turns the concept on its head. All of a sudden, instead concentrating on getting a few things perfect, a kitchen has the hard task of doing lots of things well. As a result, most don’t succeed. 

Nowadays tapasification (a word I shall copyright) doesn’t have to be Spanish. In London there are tapas versions of Peruvian, North African, Italian and so on. In Newcastle, they’ve gone one better. River Beat, tucked next to the Swing Bridge on the Gateshead side, has given the small plate treatment to Thai. 

Well, sort of. It’s not actually Thai, but a pan-Asian-influenced assortment. However, in what is quite a nifty move, all 22 dishes on their “tapas” menu are available in small or large plates, meaning you can eat pretty much whatever you want, however you want.

16 January 2016

The Bohemian

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37 Pink Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5DW 

www.iloveboho.co.uk 

07908 694814

I’ve always thought it ironic that my flesh-avoiding vegetarian friends choose to eat products that recall the most dubious items from a carnivore’s menu, yet which possess none of their attractions. 

Consider, if you will, the basic sausage. It is already one step removed from the thing it once was: meat yes, but in a form so debased from the original that it can, whether in the name of cheapness or deceit, be filled with the least salubrious bits of the beast, so that it ends up scarcely meat at all. 


What then to make of the vegetarian - or vegan - “sausage”? It is a fake upon a fake, a lie squared, a copy of something that was already an adulteration. This was my train of thought as I took my first bite of the “Epic Chili Dog” served to us in this newish veggie/vegan restaurant on Pink Lane. 

9 January 2016

Aveika

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10-15 Sandhill 
Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3AF 

0191 233 3732 
www.aveika.co.uk 


Restaurant:
Sun-Thurs: 12-10pm 
Fri/Sat: 12-11pm 

I try not to spend too much time casing out places on the net before I visit them. Too much digital overture can give you the wrong idea. Besides, I’m reviewing the food and service, not the web developer. 


This was just as well in the case of Aveika, a new “modern Japanese” joint on the Quayside that has risen from the unmissed ashes of a bar called Chase. A quick scan of their website gave me scant clue as to what they were serving up, but it did provide a clear sense of their target clientele. 


2 January 2016

Dosa Kitchen @ The Beacon


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The Beacon 
Westgate Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE4 9PQ 

No telephone number yet - 
email via website: 
www.dosakitchen.co.uk 

Thu & Fri: 6 -10pm 
Sat & Sun: 11am-10pm  


This place is not just unlikely: for most of the time it doesn’t even exist. 

The Beacon is a community-focussed business centre, sitting where Westgate Road meets Wingrove. Opened in 2012 on the site of what used to be a fire station, I have actually been here for the odd meeting. To the right of the main entrance is a café, where I might once have had a coffee. They have sandwiches, probably, and baked potatoes, maybe, but it’s not the sort of place that would demand a review on this page. Or so I thought, until I heard whispers from an Indian friend that something very interesting happens there after office hours.

30 December 2015

Happy New Year!



2015 was a game changer for the North East restaurant industry. 

It wasn’t entirely unexpected. In my end of year review last year I reported that I had awarded far more 4 star (Highly Recommended) ratings than previously to our restaurants, and how it was only a matter of time before the national critics and guide inspectors would catch up with what was happening up here. I sensed that standards were improving across the board – it’s just that nobody outside the region was aware of it.

12 December 2015

Ko Sai


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Fenwick Food Hall 
Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE99 1AR 

www.ko-sai.co.uk 

Ko Sai, as any Star Wars fan worth their salt will tell you, hailed from the planet Kamino and was the chief scientist behind the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic. It is also a small rocky island set in the Gulf of Thailand. I’m assuming that (unless he’s a closet sci-fi fan) Newcastle’s most prolific restaurateur Terry Laybourne had the latter in mind when he named this Asian street food joint. 

This is the final part of a trilogy on the dining options in the all-new Fenwick food hall, joining my previous reports on the excellent Fuego and slightly-less-impressive Saltwater Fish Company. How would this final incarnation manifest itself - Hans Solo or just Jar-Jar Binks?

5 December 2015

The Pheasant Inn

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Stannersburn 
Falstone 
Hexham 
Northumberland 
NE48 1DD 

01434 240 382 
www.thepheasantinn.com 


I don’t often seek out the darkness. Normally, I like to see what I’m doing. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in all those endless days of tundric winter gloom in the Arctic Circle. Northumberland is quite dark enough for me this time of year. But the other week Mrs Diner and I had friends up from London, and they expressed a desire to go to Kielder Observatory for an evening of stargazing and galaxy hunting. Kielder is famous for its darkness.

Our friends told us that Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is, at 580 square miles, the fourth largest area of certified Dark Sky Park in the world; it sounded very impressive. Apparently, when the elements are in your favour, it looks impressive too. So we agreed to take them, on the proviso that we had a hearty dinner first. You can’t go peering into the cosmos on an empty stomach.

28 November 2015

Painted Elephant

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6 Upper Princess Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 8ER 

07497 003 253 
www.painted-elephant.com 

Dinner: Tues-Sat until 8.30pm 
Lunch: Saturdays only 12-3pm 
No credit cards 

It’s nice to be proved wrong every now and then, especially when the humble pie you eat turns out to be rather agreeable. 

It has always struck me as a gastronomic irony that exclusively vegetarian or vegan restaurants are frequently the least likely places to find proficient cooking of vegetables. Over the years I’ve endured so many unimaginative stews, overcooked “lasagnas”, and underseasoned lentil-fests that I now tend to be wary of establishments that don’t press the flesh. And don’t get me started on the wretched culinary horrors that are thrown into the vegetarian aisles of supermarkets.