22 October 2016

Thai House Cafe

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93 Clayton Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5PZ 

0191 261 5717
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My friend’s tone was hushed and conspiratorial: “You totally need to try this new Thai place in town. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?” 

She wasn’t alone. Several readers had already alerted me to this little gem. So I apologise in advance for what follows – she (and they) may now find it a little harder to get a favourite table. 

I have to shout out about this place, because some of the dishes we tried didn’t so much hit the spot as chuck it in a mortar along with a load of fragrant and hectic spices, and beat it to oblivion.

15 October 2016

Starks Kitchen

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205-207 Chillingham Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 5LJ 

0191 265 8436 

Some restaurants appear to have been given just the right name. The one that previously occupied this little chunk of Heaton’s Chillingham Road was called Cal’s Own

Not only did it produce the North’s finest pizzas (including a calzone, I guess), it was also owned by Cal. Or Calvin Kitchin, as he’s actually called. 

In February Mr Kitchin upped sticks to lucky Jesmond or, to be precise, upped logs, for he’s acquired the world’s best pizza oven, a wood-fired handmade Stefano Ferrara, in which he now produces even more authentic Neapolitan pizzas.  

The new Cal’s Own is within a San Marzano tomato (DOP) of getting itself accredited by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, which is a very big thing in the pizza world.  If you live in Jesmond and you’re not a regular, you’re either mad or on a diet. 

Now the old Heaton joint has become Starks Kitchen. Apparently there isn’t a Mr or Mrs Stark (the owners are Game of Thrones fans) but the name certainly describes the feel of its interior. For anyone who used to make the pilgrimage here for pizza, the decor is a bit like the big reveal in an interior design programme: it’s very different, and, well... stark.

8 October 2016

Blackfriars Restaurant

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Friars Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4XN 

0191 261 5945 

When a restaurant has been packing in the customers for as long as Blackfriars, I reckon it must be doing something right. I last ate here some five years ago and it was an unhappy experience that left it languishing with just one star. So why did I return? In a word: Hinnies. 

That’s the name of the Blackfriars’ new sister restaurant in Whitley Bay which, when we visited back in June, was bang on form, churning out delicious plates of sensibly put-together dishes at bargain-basement prices. I awarded it four shiny stars and the experience jarred so thoroughly with my hazy recollections of Blackfriars that I resolved to give the mother ship another voyage. And so here we are.

2 October 2016

The Jolly Fisherman on the Quay

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95 Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DH 

0191 261 7011 

“Is that it?” I stammered, scanning the room for a chalkboard of specials. 

“Yes sir, that’s our menu for this evening.” 

I frowned at the printed A4 sheet in my hand. At least it wouldn’t take long to decide what to order. 

I tend not to go into very much detail about the menus of restaurants I cover. It’s an omission I need to remedy. A menu is more than a list of items that make you less hungry. It’s a statement of intent, a declaration of ambition. Are there any unusual cuts of meat or fish being offered? Is there a knowing mention of some groovily on-trend cooking technique? Does the farmer get a shout-out? What’s happening for the vegetarians? All of this stuff matters, and for people like me who spend a lot of time scrutinising what restaurants do, it matters a lot. Menus are important.

24 September 2016


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5-7 Side 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 


Depending on when the 2017 guide gets leaked, Kenny Atkinson should find out in a few days whether his restaurant House of Tides has retained its Michelin star for another year. I fully expect it to. 

I enjoyed another stellar meal there back in June, fully justifying the 6 stars I had given it in my previous review: Lindisfarne oyster, tiny cones of chicken liver, beetroot and smoked eel meringues before the meal; scallop, halibut, 40-day aged beef and apple and blackberries during; and a big contented grin all the way home. 

House of Tides has confidently settled into its stride as Newcastle’s finest dining establishment. Long may it reign. However, it’s not all about the flagship for the Atkinson family these days. 

This summer wife Abbie opened up her own café called Violets. The word café can conjure grim visions of over-brewed tea, greasy breakfasts and paperweight scones. As you step through the door into this picture of Instagram-bait cuteness, you know you’re in for a very different experience.

17 September 2016


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117 Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5RZ 

0191 230 1280 

I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve sold out to the corporate world in my advancing years, but the eagle-eyed among you can’t have failed to notice how much time I’m currently spending in chain restaurants. 

The thing is, judging by the thrum and buzz that has been evident when I’ve visited so many of the newly opened multis in and around Newcastle, so are lots of you. And, so long as we’re all going to eat in these gaffs, why not try to suss out the better venues from the also-rans? 

Chain restaurants are springing up everywhere. Mrs Diner and I have happened upon so many packed houses, we’ve started to wonder how many more mid-range food brands Newcastle can shoulder. We’ll find out soon enough as the refurbishment of Eldon Square continues apace, with some 20 units to be shared among a host of mostly familiar names. 

Sure, I’d rather focus on independents, but as investors have put an awful lot of cash into our region’s restaurant scene, it’s only right that I give them all the once-over. We have been impressed by a few (Byron, Turtle Bay) while left very cold by several others (including Thaikhun and Cabana). In which category would I place Zaap, a Thai outfit that completes the chain gang alongside Turtle Bay and Cabana in the old Co-Op building?

10 September 2016

Newcastle Quayside Sunday Market

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Service: N/A 

Every Sunday

Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DE 

0191 211 5533 

If you are one of the 57,000 brave souls who will be running, jogging or perhaps just staggering from Newcastle to South Shields on the Great North Run tomorrow, then I salute you. I’d love to be there with you, bounding across the Tyne Bridge dressed as a hot dog, revelling in all that sweat and Lycra, but I’ve promised to take Mrs Diner back to Greece. 

Well, not Greece itself, but a little van that sells Greek gyros. It’s just below the bridge, in Newcastle’s Quayside market that appears every Sunday morning. This row of stalls and vehicles is one of the culinary delights of the City, turning a simple stroll beside the river into a brunch of champions. 

Great North Runners: I promise we’ll be thinking of you as we munch away below your jogging feet. We might even manage a wave or two. But don’t look down or you might just smell the food, give up running and come and join us.

3 September 2016

The Crathorne Arms

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North Yorkshire 
TS15 0BA 

01642 961 402 

What a difference a few miles make, I thought, as we pulled off the A19 and into the village of Crathorne. 

Just behind us was the industrial thrum of Middlesbrough and the Tees estuary, all belching chimneys and iconic chemical plants. In front of us was the very essence of a pretty village. Everything was in bloom. And, at the heart of it, a fine-looking whitewashed lump of country pub, the Crathorne Arms. 

In fact, to just call this place a pub would be to undersell its charms. It’s actually part of North East culinary history.

27 August 2016

Five Guys

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2-4 Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7DE 

The Qube 
NE11 9XR 


Let's start with a confession: I have a slight bias against Five Guys. 

In another life I quite frequently had cause to visit the West Coast of the United States. California is not only the land of never-ending sunshine, it’s also the home of the In-N-Out burger, possibly the most delicious (and evil) fast food known to man. 

Their “Double-Double, animal style” (two patties cooked in mustard, with the sweetest caramelised onions, cheese and a secret Thousand Island-type sauce, freshly cooked and served in a ‘drive-thru’ for less than $5), could be the most significant culinary achievement of the Golden State, greater even than iceberg lettuce or The French Laundry. Well, maybe not The French Laundry. 

Then Five Guys arrived, an infiltrator from the East Coast, and so began the famous California burger wars. Five Guys were twice the price, but you chose your own fillings.  They quickly became a kind of cult, attracting the hipsters and the showy; meanwhile good old In-N-Out stayed there with just three items on the menu: burger, cheeseburger or the Double-Double. 

Trump versus Clinton had nothing on this: it was cultural, and it was personal. Arguments raged within families and friendships about which burger joint was better. It was like that time Oasis and Blur released singles in the same week. This was war. 

I was always a purist. For me, nothing beats the animal style of In-N-Out. I can’t wait for them to come to England. Except they won’t. 

In-N-Out is a family business, pledging never to franchise their soul or their amazing burgers. So they’ve stayed small and West Coast – they haven’t even reached New York yet. Whereas the Five Guys quickly became two thousand. Until eventually they invaded the UK. 

Finally, they’ve reached the North East. So, trying to suppress old prejudices, I felt I had to give them a chance.

20 August 2016

Virgin Trains East Coast

Peter R Foster IDMA / Shutterstock.com
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Newcastle to Kings Cross 
and return 
(First Class only) 


Poor Jeremy Corbyn. This week he bought a Standard Class ticket on a Virgin train from London to Newcastle without a (free) seat reservation. 

Didn’t he know that he’d have to spend the entire journey sitting on the floor? Or at least long enough to be filmed by a conveniently placed film crew. Now he wants to re-nationalise the railway: that’ll teach ‘em. 

The Labour leader wouldn’t consider upgrading to First Class, even though the air-conditioned coaches had empty seats aplenty. So, sadly, Mr Corbyn couldn't sample Virgin’s culinary treat: a Tasty Journey with James Martin.