30 September 2019

Mexico 70

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

312 High Street West 
Sunderland 
SR1 3ET 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

No phone number 
facebook.com/mexico70sunderland 
  
It’s fair to say that my dispatches from the front line of the Sunderland restaurant scene haven’t always been popular with the locals. 

“Get out and stay out” has been the general tenor of the comments hurled at my efforts. I was once called an “aching ballbag of a man”, after what I think was actually a moderately positive review of I forget where. Last time out I was accused on Facebook of trying to destroy the city, which even I would suggest is overstating the influence of my reviews just a tad. 

When, on an upcoming trip to Wearside, I asked Twitter where I should try, one friendly local instructed me to “Don’t bother if you are only going to slag off the city like last time!!!” 

This whole thing is, of course, a complete misunderstanding. I bear no ill will towards the Mackems’ fair city. Quite the opposite. Some of my best friends support Sunderland. Well, one or two. It is entirely in this spirit of comradeship that I have occasionally wondered in print how it can be possible for nearly 300,000 people to be so poorly served by the hospitality industry. Don’t shoot the messenger and all that. 

So, it is from precisely that same sense of solidarity that I take so much pleasure in declaring that I’ve finally found somewhere in Sunderland's city centre that I am delighted to wholeheartedly recommend. And thanks to so many on Twitter who suggested it.

22 September 2019

The Travellers Rest

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Front Street 
Witton Gilbert
County Durham
DH7 6TQ 

0191 371 0458 
www.travellersrest-wittongilbert.co.uk 

There are two pubs near Durham called The Travellers Rest. One is in the sleepy little village of Witton Gilbert, just off the A691, and is the subject of this review. The other, in Belmont, is a low-slung lump of brick with billboards advertising Sky Sports and a “Thursday Sizzler night”. That’s the one that Google Maps took us to. 

“Are you sure it’s here?” Mrs Diner asked, her voice betraying real concern as we watched a staff member cleaning out the ashtrays on the picnic bench just prior to opening. 

I checked and, chastened, we hot-footed west towards Witton Gilbert. All of which pre-meal jeopardy was fine because I knew that once we’d actually found him, we were likely to be brilliantly fed by Ruari Mackay.

Chucho's Tacos

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

36 Acorn Road 
Jesmond 
NE2 2DJ 

07716 562 684 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes  

facebook.com/chuchostacos

Haggis is one of my favourite things. I enjoy it in all its guises, from the best (Hendersons’ of Castle Douglas is a bit spesh) to the less fabulous (tinned, from Aldi - it was a gift). I like it prepared traditionally (oven, bit of water in the tin, cover with foil, accompanied by good single malt whisky and a set of bagpipes) or à l’écossais (battered, plunged into a vat of roiling oil until it floats, garnished with chips and Rennies on the side). 

But, for all my not insubstantial experience of this product, never had I been served it with a wedge of lime. Not until I tried Chucho’s Haggis Taco.

12 September 2019

Mr Petit

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

46-47 Park View 
Whitley Bay 
NE26 2TH 

0191 280 9199 
www.mrpetit.co.uk 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

People move to the coast for all sorts of reasons, and they’re often jolly happy to tell you all about them. 

“Oh, the schools are excellent, darling, OFSTED gave it flying colours.” 

“We just wanted a better quality of life, know what I mean?” 

“The smell of the sea at the end of every day...well, it’s just so energising.” 

All fair enough and wonderful, and not in any way smug, I’m sure. But why would a restaurant move to the coast? Perhaps we can ask Mr Petit.

31 August 2019

Siam Supreme

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

160 Heaton Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 5HP 

0191 228 9689 
siamsupreme.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

I am fortunate enough to have lots of nice meals out and most are comparatively easy to write about. I just open my trusty Concise Oxford Thesaurus at page 799 (the one with the entry for “tasty” on it), prattle on about the interior of the place for a bit as if I know anything about interiors, bish, bash and indeed bosh, and there you go. 

But how to string together a thousand or so words on an experience that was neither triumphant nor indeed utterly disastrous, but - ye horrors! - just disappointingly mediocre? Not terrible but just very meh? I imagine that would take some skill, some deftness of touch, perhaps even a little talent. I’m not sure if I’ve much of any of those, but we’re all gathered round the metaphorical campfire now, so what the hell. Let’s give it a go.

21 August 2019

Violets (Dinner menu)

Food ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

5-7 Side 
Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 

www.violetscafe.co.uk 
Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

If you can grab it, the window table on the lower floor of Abbie and Kenny Atkinson's Violets Café affords some of the most startling and evocative views that Newcastle has to offer. I’m not talking about the many architectural glories of the Quayside, nor even of the steel and granite heft of the Tyne Bridge itself, although these are both visible from that perch. No, I’m referring to a rather more sociological vision. And, now that Violets is open into the booze-filled evenings, it’s even wilder than it used to be.

29 July 2019

Banyan Newcastle

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

3 Monument Mall 
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 7AL 

0191 814 7478 
www.arcinspirations.com 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Sometimes I reckon that, what with having spewed out nearly half a million words on the topic, I know a thing or two about the restaurant industry. At other times, I’m left thinking I know nothing at all. The subject of this week’s review made me feel the latter, and how.

18 July 2019

MEATliquor Leeds

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Behind Victoria’s Secret 
Bank Street 
Leeds 
LS1 5AT 

0113 246 1308 
www.meatliquor.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I wonder how many punters at this Leeds outpost of MEATliquor are even hazily aware of the almost mythological origins of this burger chain? 

Meetings in Peckham car parks, burger van thefts, a bollocks-to-it attitude and an awful lot of painstaking research went into making MEATliquor what it was, and is. These burger-slingers were among the first to do things that are now taken for granted in the food and booze game, from their origins as a food truck, their use of social media and the generation of buzz through word of mouth and food blogs which, back in 2008, were still something quite new and fresh. Simpler times. 

What's even more impressive is that, on this evidence of this dinner, they’ve maintained the consistency. The food and the experience were as close as makes little difference to my recollection of my own burger epiphany at MEATmission in Hoxton, London six years, numerous openings and even a couple of closures ago.

6 July 2019

The Salt Cove (Park Hotel)

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪ 

The Park Hotel
Grand Parade
Tynemouth 
Tyne & Wear
NE30 4JQ 

0191 257 1406 
www.saltcove.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Allegedly 

As we wound our way through the throng at the bar to our table in the dining room the sound of Pulp’s “Do you remember the first time?” was playing. For once, yes, I most certainly could. 

You see, decades ago I worked at the Park Hotel during a school summer holiday. I remember a huge scary head chef with a talent for vulgarity, a tall and very camp head waiter, and a diminutive wine waiter, who was Portuguese. One day the head waiter was ill and so the wine waiter deputised. I’ve never seen anyone so proud, pompous and nervous all at the same time.

It was the regular “Bank Managers' Lunch” where the besuited heads of all our local branches got together -  20 of them around a large banqueting table. Lamb chops were on the set menu; I was promoted to wine duty. I had just poured everyone a glass of Niersteiner Domtal when the little Portuguese waiter, covered in sweat, emerged from the kitchen carrying a huge platter displaying 40 neatly arranged lamb chops resting on a bed of watercress. 

He approached the head of the table and, with a theatrical flourish, presented the dish to the regional head of (I think) Lloyds Bank. In doing so, he didn’t realise that beneath the layers of chops and greenery was an ocean of scalding hot gravy, which poured like a river into the top man’s crotch. He leapt skywards, taking banqueting table, cloth, and all my neatly poured glasses of wine with him. The Portuguese waiter burst into tears and ran out of the restaurant, never to be seen again. 

Sad to say there was almost as much ineptitude on display on our recent visit, just without any of the pride, and a good deal less comedy. It’s a safe bet that in twenty years I’ll still be recounting the bit I’ve just told you as opposed to what must now follow.

30 June 2019

El Paso

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

61 Osborne Road 
Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AN 

0191 240 7777 
www.elpasojesmond.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I am not so completely naive or romantic as to believe that all restaurants should make every single item from scratch. Some things that come in jars or cans are perfectly reasonable additions to the larder. A local baker may be turning out loaves that are so good you’d be daft not to buy them in; I've been served bought-in tiramisu that has made me cry (admittedly made by an ancient Sardinian in the next village, but bought-in nonetheless). But at some point the opening of a packet becomes an expression not of sensible economy but old-fashioned laziness. If you claim to be a Mexican restaurant, that packet is the one that contains corn tortillas.