22 November 2014

Fratello's

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Doubletree by Hilton Hotel 
Newcastle Airport 
NE13 8BZ 

01661 867020 
www.fratellosrestaurants.co.uk 



What a difference one letter can make. 

Fratello, which means ‘brother’, is a group of three Italian restaurants housed within hotels managed by Newcastle-based Cairn Group. Fratelli, which means ‘brothers’, is also one of three restaurants, but in this case the brothers are from Sardinia: Fabrizio Saba and his brother-in-law Paul Bernardelli, who have been running Sabatini, Prima and Fratelli for many years. 

If I were Signori Saba and Bernardelli, I’d have been pretty upset when Fratello’s opened at the airport, right on Fratelli’s doorstep. After all, they’d already successfully built up their popular Ponteland Italian and the locals seem to love it. Fratelli won Best Family Restaurant in the Secret Diner Restaurant Awards last year – they have a table magician at Sunday lunch. 

To have another Italian brother infiltrate their catchment area ought to have kickstarted a new Godfather movie. But aside from the name, they’re as different as chalk and cheese, or, in this case, cheap catering mozzarella and spicy soft Pecorino. One calls itself an Italian restaurant; the other actually is one.

15 November 2014

Electric East


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St James Boulevard 
Waterloo Square 
Newcastle Upon Tyne 
NE1 4DP 

www.electric-east.co.uk 
0191 221 1000 

Lunch: Fri only 
Dinner: Mon to Sat 6 - 9.45pm 

Nearly three years ago Electric East emerged phoenix-like from the ashes of a Newcastle institution called Barn Asia, which I’d only managed to visit once before it fell into administration. 

Based on that one experience, which thankfully I was never called on to chronicle, I reckoned they only got half the name right – it was a bit of a barn, but I could detect little of Asia in its cooking. I found much of it bland, and some actually rather unpleasant. 

That has been my lame excuse for not reviewing its successor until now. However Electric East is well thought of by some, and has even managed a listing in the Michelin guide, so this secret visit was long overdue.

9 November 2014

Holystone Lodge and Restaurant

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Low Farnham 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE65 7AQ 

01669 640140 
www.holystonelodgeandrestaurant.co.uk 

If there’s one thing you’ll need out here, it’s a satnav. Set somewhere between Rothbury and the Outer Hebrides, this restaurant is not just out of the way, it’s located behind the back of beyond. 

It was a chilly Tuesday. We were sure we’d be the only guests, and were glad we’d invited a few friends to join us. There’s nothing worse than an empty restaurant in the middle of nowhere on a dark Tuesday night. 

“Are you sure you put in the right postcode?” moaned Mrs Diner, as TomTom confidently rejected Holystone village, and instead directed us along a series of long, ever-narrowing lanes. 

When we ended up in a farmyard, we decided TomTom had messed up. We’d reached the end of the road and were about to turn the car round, when we spotted the little sign. It led us to a large, bright restaurant, already packed with diners, and a welcoming maître d’ holding open the door.

1 November 2014

The Fat Hippo


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35a St George’s Terrace 
West Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 2SU 

0191 340 8949
www.fat-hippo.co.uk 

Ever since I described the North East as a burger desert, I’ve received a steady stream of recommendations, for which I’m grateful. 

Until I discovered Lane7, a pretty authentic American diner disguised as a bowling alley, I’d despaired of ever finding a decent burger in the region. Afterwards I declared, with some confidence, that Lane7 has the best in town. 

Despite some strong competition from DatBar next to the Theatre Royal, where the meat from Peter Hannan’s Himalayan-salt-infused beef is first class, I have yet to be proved wrong. However there’s been a steady grumbling of disapproval from a few who say I hadn’t given the Fat Hippo a try.

Fat Hippo Underground



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Fat Hippo Underground 

2-6 Shakespeare Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6AQ 
0191 447 1161
Accessibility: No


www.fat-hippo.co.uk 


Ever since I described the North East as a burger desert, I’ve received a steady stream of recommendations, for which I’m grateful. 


Until I discovered Lane7, a pretty authentic American diner disguised as a bowling alley, I’d despaired of ever finding a decent burger in the region. Afterwards I declared, with some confidence, that Lane7 has the best in town. 

Despite some strong competition from DatBar next to the Theatre Royal, where the meat from Peter Hannan’s Himalayan-salt-infused beef is first class, I have yet to be proved wrong. However there’s been a steady grumbling of disapproval from a few who say I hadn’t given the Fat Hippo a try.

25 October 2014

Zyka


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44 Priestpopple 
Hexham 
NE46 1PQ 

01434 600333 
www.zykahexham.com 
Accessibility: Yes 

There are several Indian restaurants in Hexham’s Priestpopple. I’m using Indian in the loosest sense, of course, because 80% of British curry houses are actually Bangladeshi. 

We should be extremely grateful to the nation of Bangladesh for giving us our national curry craving. Except that, of course, to describe any dish as ‘curry’ is pretty meaningless: the word on its own gives no indication of a dish’s origin, taste or recipe. We use it as a generic word for a thousand different sauces. 

One of the problems of having so many curry houses in every town in the land is that everyone is a curry expert.  People get hung up on their favourite local vindaloo or korma, and judge everyone else's against it.  Which is crazy.

18 October 2014

Blyth Boathouse


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Quay Road 
Blyth 
NE24 3PA 

01670 369052 
Accessibility: Yes 



Last week I received a plaintive tweet from someone called Lee Gibling, asking simply, “Nothing listed in Blyth?” 

This website may be the North East’s most comprehensive guide to eating out, but the town of Blyth hasn’t yet appeared on its culinary map. That’s because, up to now, I haven’t received a single recommendation for one of its eateries. 

Two weeks ago Blyth Boathouse opened its doors to the public. Of course I waited the obligatory seven days to let it iron out any teething problems and get some feet under its brand new tables, and I also chose a quiet lunchtime, to give the kitchen a fighting chance. Perhaps I should have waited a bit longer.

11 October 2014

The Wood Oven


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Main Road 
Wylam 
Northumberland 
NE41 8DN 

01661 852552 
Accessibility: Yes 


This place doesn’t exactly look like a chic new pizza restaurant. Less sleek Italian, more village hall. 

There’s no frontage, just a sign strung over the railings outside, as if advertising the annual fête, and you dive down into a simply furnished little room with just 30 covers. 

At one end is a wall lined with “wood log” wallpaper, which is not nearly as naff as it sounds, but at the far end is the real thing: a colourfully decorated Italian wood oven roaring away in the middle of a busy kitchen. And the friendliest, most enthusiastic of owners, surrounded by a great smell of pizza.

4 October 2014

The Bank Bar Bistro

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516 Durham Road 
Low Fell 
Gateshead 
NE9 6HU 

0191 487 9038 
www.thebankbarbistro.co.uk 

Open 9am – 11pm (Fri/Sat 11pm) 
Full menu: Mon – Sat 12-9pm 
Sunday lunch: 12-5pm 
Accessibility: Downstairs bistro only 

Here’s a secret: food critics sometimes dine on their own. 

Not very often, I grant you, for we quite like good company and Mrs Diner is exceedingly adept at keeping my mood cheerful when the chef is doing his best to spoil it. But very occasionally I pop along by myself just to get the lay of the land. Or, in this case, the lay of the table.

27 September 2014

The Bay Horse

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Hurworth on Tees 
Darlington Durham 
DL2 2AA 

01325 720663 
www.thebayhorsehurworth.com 

Mon to Sat: 12 - 2.30pm, 6 - 9.30pm 
Sun: 12 - 4pm, 6.30 – 8.30pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

You can tell this is no ordinary pub by the garden at the back.  The tables have big umbrellas advertising Nyetimber. Any place that advertises England’s best sparkling wine rather than mass-produced French champagne gets my vote. 

It’s pretty indicative of the standard they’re aiming for here: it’s a quintessentially English pub with a very upmarket offering. And quite a few surprises.