9 June 2019

Hjem

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The Hadrian Hotel 
Wall 
Hexham 
Northumberland 
NE46 4EE 

01434 681 232 

www.restauranthjem.co.uk 
Accessibility? Not currently 
Gluten free? Yes, but call to discuss
Vegetarian - Yes, but please pre-order

Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to help you find something special in your own back yard. An outsider can get excited about things that might have grown mundane to a local; a stranger with genius and skill, can transform the banal, rendering it new and fresh again. Revelatory: that’s my opening salvo in trying to describe the experience at Hjem, a wonderful new restaurant in the village of Wall, just north of Hexham.

26 May 2019

Karma Kitchen


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6 Bigg Markett 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1UW 

07473 908 309 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes
www.karma-kitchen.co.uk (for delivery)  

Can there be anything more stereotypically and pejoratively “Geordie” than the sight of two boozed up lads heading to the Bigg Market for a curry? Until someone figures out how to joyride a Greggs Sausage Roll, probably not. 

You might think that this wouldn’t be my kind of thing. Surely my gentle and genteel disposition would prevent such larks from floating my boat? Well, think again. Granted, this wasn’t a conventional Bigg Market curry story. My friend and I, finding ourselves with a rare free afternoon, didn’t stagger to the curry house filled with pissy “Australian” “lager”, in search of the world’s spiciest hell-broth - I like to think we are at least a little better than that. For our destination, Karma Kitchen, purveyor of home-style vegan cooking, is a great deal better than your average Bigg Market curry house.

24 May 2019

Beeronomy

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Hood Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JQ 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes
0191 260 2454 
www.beeronomy.com 


I know the ol’ catering biz is well known for its quick-sharp comings and goings, but sometimes I can’t keep up. 

The last time I ate chef Ronald Robson’s food was in the spring of 2017 at The Merchant’s Tavern down at St Peter’s Basin, where he was brought in to make their menu a bit more serious. It wasn’t quite a success, or at least not on the night I tried it. I subsequently discovered he’d moved on round about the time of my visit, so I wasn’t really eating his food at all. Just as well – I wasn't very enthusiastic.

28 April 2019

Spanish City: 1910 Steak & Seafood/Trenchers


1910 Steak & Seafood 
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Trenchers 
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Spanish City 
Whitley Bay 
Tyne and Wear 
NE26 1BG 
0191 691 7090 

www.spanishcity.co.uk 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

A small part of me is sad that the remarkable reboot of Spanish City hasn’t incorporated some element of the dodgems, waltzers and arcade machines that I hazily remember from a sepia-tinged yoof. 


On the other hand most of me is impressed by the sight of its dome, beautifully decorated inside, the exterior gloriously floodlit at night. And all of me is delighted that, in its rebirth, we now have eight new venues to get fed and watered by the coast in Whitley Bay. I suppose that costly refurb was never going to get funded through sales of rollercoaster tickets. 

The current food and beverage options include an outpost of decent Newcastle micropub The Split Chimp, a pancake and waffle house, a Champagne bar, a chippie - of which more later - and a tearoom. The premium offering, 1910 Steak & Seafood, is named after the year in which Spanish City originally opened; it also reflects the menu.

30 March 2019

Taco Bell

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪ 
Service ✪ 

84 Grainger Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5JQ 

0191 230 1309 

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

Sometimes, after dishing out a bunch of stars to the worthy, or more often withholding them from places that think their customers are mugs, I’m asked about my judging criteria: how can I review both upscale Michelin-starred restaurants and down at home diners? Am I biased against chains and faster food in favour of fine dining and independent restaurants? 

Well, to be honest, I do prefer my meal to be cooked by a real chef, rather than arrive pre-prepped in a catering van; a homemade scotch egg of runny yolk and loose, well seasoned forcemeat will always trump one of those tight, orange-crumbed supermarket jobs. But to my mind, if a place calls itself a fish and chip shop it ought to be able to offer good batter and fresh fish; a burger place should stand or fall on its burgers; and when a place calls itself a taco house, it ought to really know how to make tacos.

8 March 2019

Jesmond Dene House

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Jesmond Dene House Hotel 
Jesmond Dene Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2EY 

0191 212 3000 
www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

So – this is a bit awkward. 

If only for reasons of civic pride, I’ve no interest in having a pop at any of our more venerable and venerated restaurants. On the other hand, the same rules apply to every review, be it a fresh new opening or an updated assessment of an old fave: one meal, unannounced, and I’ll pay my own bill. 

I’m quite certain that middling reviews were not what anyone envisaged when Jesmond Dene House moved to replace Michael Penaluna by installing Danny Parker as Executive Head Chef. Parker arrived last October from a head chef role at Kenny Atkinson’s House of Tides, in a move that caught the attention of the trade press, helped by positive showings on BBC’s Great British Menu. 

It looked from afar like a great move for everyone: Jesmond Dene got a young, hungry chef with knowledge of what is required to get the attention of the Michelin folk; Parker could step out from the shadow of Atkinson, taking over the reins of a more varied and wide-ranging food operation. It still might turn out that way (I really hope it does - I think he’s a very good chef). It just didn’t seem like it on the weeknight of our visit.

15 February 2019

Kimchi Planet/Proven Goods

Kimchi Planet 

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Service ✪✪✪ 

24 Wretham Place 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1XU 

07366 066546 
www.facebook.com/kimchiplanet 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Limited 

Proven Goods 
Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 


Hoults Yard
Walker Road
 Newcastle upon Tyne
NE6 2HL

No phone number
www.facebook.com/provengoodsco
Accessibility? N/A
 Gluten free? GF doughnuts

Here’s how it was meant to go: Mrs Diner and I would take advantage of a rare free afternoon together to visit a couple of plucky upstart independent food businesses which had recently found permanent sites. I’d make some tired observations about how neither offered the level of comfort to which we - crashing snobs both - are accustomed to, but hey, who cares because the revelatory quality of their product and the sheer force of personality behind their ventures won us over completely. Hurrah! 5 stars! We’d go home, I’d bash out a thousand or so words about how chains are awful, independents are brilliant, proclaim it spiffing that there are so many in Newcastle, and everyone would be happy. Well, it didn’t quite go like that.

5 February 2019

Cook House


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Foundry Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 1LH 

0191 276 1093 
www.cookhouse.org 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

Just so this doesn’t come over like one of those puff pieces you might read in our less critically-minded local food publications and blogs, let me start at the very end, with the one thing that wasn’t completely great: the espresso I necked just prior to leaving Cook House was towards the fruity/astringent end of the caffeine spectrum, whereas I’m a bit more of a rich/smooth kind of guy, at least where coffee is concerned. 

That’s it. Criticism over. Now let me spend the rest of this post telling you why Cook House is such a wonderful place to eat.

28 January 2019

Chadwicks Inn Maltby

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High Lane 
Maltby 
Middlesbrough 
TS8 0BG 

01642 590 300 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes
www.chadwicksinnmaltby.co.uk 

They say that in the restaurant trade, the better the food quality, the tighter the margins. Good ingredients, talented chefs and reliable equipment all cost money. It’s not easy to make economies of scale at the highest level of cooking. And the fickle public can be weirdly reticent to shell out much more for a complex, multiple-ingredient plateful of real quality than they will for a burger. Not that I’ve got anything against a good burger of course, but you get my drift. 

Which is why many chefs are faced with a dilemma: focus on the serious stuff that shows off their skills, or bring in the punters with a few sure-fire crowd pleasers? At the very lovely Chadwicks Inn in Maltby, just south of Middlesbrough, they’re doing a good job of both. On the one hand, this is definitely still a pub, with an actual bar where you could happily have a pint without feeling weird, so perhaps the fact that they serve burgers and fish and chips is fair play. On the other hand, they’re also offering delicious, appealing dishes of some ambition, as evidenced by their brace of AA Rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

15 January 2019

St Mary's Inn

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St Mary’s Lane 
St Mary’s Park 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE61 6BL 

01670 293293 
www.stmarysinn.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Walking through the doors of St Mary’s Inn recently gave me an odd feeling of déjà vu. 

When the place closed in May 2017, the company behind it (which also owns Jesmond Dene House), cited issues with the Bellway development that was growing around it, and for which it had been envisaged as a community hub. Well, it reopened in August of this year, and while there may be a new chef and general manager, pretty much everything else is just as I remembered it.