Saturday, 26 July 2014


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

The Biscuit Factory 
Stoddart Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1AN 

0191 260 5411 

Mon - Fri 12-2pm, 5.30-9pm 
Sat 12-2pm, 7-9.30pm 
Sun 12‐2pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

This is art without a capital A. I assume they named it artisan (note the creative underline in the title) because it’s now been integrated into its Ouseburn gallery home The Biscuit Factory, which shows some excellent artisan craftwork. 

In fact, the blurb boasts that the restaurant is “influenced by its cultural location, with creative flourishes of originality in the furnishings”. I rather hoped for creative flourishes of originality in the food. 

This is the place that used to be David Kennedy’s Black Door Brasserie, and then David Kennedy’s Food Social. The Biscuit Factory’s website calls it “artisan, formally known as david kennedy’s food social”, which is presumably meant to read “formerly”. Though frankly, if you know David Kennedy’s food, you’ll still recognise his influence. 

The chef, Andrew Wilkinson, was Kennedy’s protégé. That’s both good and bad, because this menu reflects his former master’s love of regional ingredients and reliable, unfussy cooking, but it also his reluctance to experiment beyond the safety net of “local and seasonal”. 

Personally, I never found its predecessor very social. Rather an arid environment, I tried this room a number of times, and encountered a lot of steak and a poor wine list. Mrs Diner and I once spent Valentine’s Day here, anticipating romance and a bottle of good claret, but it was all rather dark and disappointing. 

At least the atmosphere seems to have been sorted by brighter wood, blue chairs and a livelier crowd, attracted by a very generous early evening bargain offering (3 course for £18.50 up to 7pm), together with stronger front of house organisation. The room has a glass showcase of the work next door, and the menu is more varied, with a wine list to match. 

It’s still basic bistro food, with steak, lamb, pork and double-baked cheese soufflé, but there’s a real attempt to show off local produce and reflect the region’s identity. Starting with “Northumbrian cocktails”. This isn’t just a renaming exercise: ‘Fog on the Thyme’ combines Jack Cain’s gin, made in Heddon on the Wall from bits of Northumbrian hedge, with Fentimans’ Hexham lemonade; ‘Great North Rum’ has Alnwick rum, and so on. We felt rather disloyal ordering house white Petit Ballon, fresh from Gascony. 

On the food menu there’s North Shields fish soup, Brinkburn cheese, and even the Kielder forest gets a nod, with Douglas Fir panna cotta. Mrs Diner started with beignets of sharp Northumbrian cheese, served with a classic celeriac remoulade, some apple, roasted hazelnuts. She said it lacked “wow”. 

Now this is an increasingly common response from my wife. As the standard of North East restaurant food has risen over the last couple of years, so, in direct proportion, has the “wow bar”. That’s the standard when we look at each other and go “this is special”. 

We’ve been taken over this bar quite a few times recently: at House of Tides, Peace and Loaf, Haveli, and at several other of my 5-star-rated places – they understand the difference between “fussy” and “creative”. 

Does artisan have this wow factor? It might have had it a few years back, when good cooking in our region was rare, but in 2014? No, instead Mrs Diner used the dreaded, forbidden word “tasty”. Tasty means workmanlike, homespun, fine: artisan, not wow. 

Scallops were fine too, properly seared so that the flesh tasted of the sea, and there were salt cod balls and spicy ketchup to accompany. You could tell that the kitchen uses Ken Holland for the shoots and herbs – there were little green surprises throughout the meal. 

Our main courses were pink and tender lamb rump, with a good shallot purée, light lamby jus, fondant potato with a crisped top, and a panfried and baked sea bream, which was the closest the presentation ever came to fine art. 

It was a pretty collage of fish, baby fennel, brightly coloured baby tomatoes, black olive, spinach leaves and what was advertised as sauce vierge, but turned out to be a pleasant enough emulsification. 


A side order of cabbage was almost wow. It had chilli and lots of little aromatic seeds, including sesame, caraway and black nigella, with a touch of Asian dressing. Class cabbage. 


Mrs Diner’s meal ended with smooth vanilla crème brûlée with Armagnac-soaked prunes. Disappointingly for The Biscuit Factory, its shortbread was soggy. 


I really enjoyed my financier, which is not something I say too often, though this almond cake, crisp on the outside and soft and warm in the middle (a bit like me), looked more like a cupcake. 

It came with homemade raspberry ripple ice cream and a tart lemony sauce. It also arrived with a glass of Elysium, the black muscat from Andrew Quady, which makes me go wow when combined with almost anything sweet. Also of note was the coffee - real artisan coffee from the Ouseburn Coffee Company, just round the corner from the restaurant.

Recommended, but not outstanding, expect to pay around £30 each plus wine.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Café Lilli

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

83-85 High Street 
TS20 1AE 

01642 554422 

Closed Mondays 
Tues-Sat 11am-11pm 
Jazz Sundays: 
1st Sunday of the month, 2-6pm 

Norton village, in Stockton-on-Tees, is a pleasant surprise. 

It’s a bit like a rural market town, with a duckpond, village green, Victorian memorial cross, pretty almshouses and a long wide tree-lined high street – a contrast to sprawling Stockton and the stark industrial Teesside landscape surrounding it. 

It almost has the feel of a French village, with its shaded villas and rows of cars parked either side. Maybe that’s why the owners of Café Lilli chose this spot to open what is a very continental café. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Northumberland Arms

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

West Thirston 
 NE65 9EE 

01670 787 370 

12pm-9pm daily 

Something big is happening in Northumberland. 

Jesmond Dene House’s new Morpeth gastropub St Mary’s Inn is now awash with builders, and its smart new front doors, installed this week, are likely to open on 1st November with a menu by Michael Penaluna. Also, this week I heard on the grapevine that the talented head chef of award-winning Caffè Vivo, Glen David Robson, has left Terry Laybourne and is now recruiting staff for an overhaul of the food at The Blackbird Inn in Ponteland. 

Meanwhile, beside the river in Felton, another Northumbrian pub has been quietly building a reputation with no distinguished chefs in the kitchen.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Orangery, Rockliffe Hall

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

Rockliffe Hall Hotel 
Hurworth Place 
DL2 2DU 

01325 729999 

It’s three years since I last visited Rockliffe Hall. Back then, it was to try Kenny Atkinson’s food. Sadly, he was off that night (although the restaurant pretended otherwise), and it showed. As a result, the cooking only deserved 3 stars from me and Kenny was cross. 

I hope he has forgiven me, now that I’ve given his excellent new House of Tides 5 glowing stars. It should be on course for a Michelin gong, once it’s sorted out its front of house. But what of the place he left behind? 

Rockliffe Hall is an important venue for the North East, a place to take clients or the inlaws. But a 5-star hotel with a 3-star restaurant? Surely that’s wrong – it was time to set the record straight. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

11 Market Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JN 

0191 244 2513 

Sun-Thu 11am-midnight 
Fri-Sat 11am-2am 

There’s nothing like a bit of bragging to get my attention. Anywhere that boldly claims to have “the best burger in the world” deserves a visit. 

That’s what ‘dAtbAr’ (that’s how they write it) asserts on its Twitter and Facebook pages: the best burger in the world, with a cool, punky, urban vibe. Now forgive me for spoiling their party, but whoever wrote this nonsense clearly doesn’t get out much. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

12 Harland Place

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

12 Harland Place
TS20 1AL

01642 801212

Mon-Thu 11am - 9pm (last orders)
Fri-Sat 9.30am - 9pm
Sun 11.30 - 3.30pm (last orders for lunch)

The first thing that strikes you is the cake. An phalanx of creamy, evil seducers in a cabinet near the entrance stands waiting to trap unsuspecting secret diners. We were relieved we hadn’t brought the children – we wouldn’t have got them past the five varieties of chocolate. 

12 Harland Place has the atmosphere more of a café than a restaurant, with a modest frontage facing the main drag of Norton Village, on the outskirts of Stockton. 

Inside it’s like an Aladdin’s Café, stretching back into a large wooden beamed place that used to be an antique shop. It’s undergone a really nice makeover, with brick walls, old shop signs, flagstone floors. And a huge cake cabinet. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014


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

3-5 Broadway 
Darras Hall 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE20 9PW 

01661 872727 

Mon – Sat 5pm-11pm

What do you do if you’re very rich and can’t find a good restaurant? You build your own, of course. 

That’s what Sunil Mehra did.  

He’s a property developer who owns chunks of real estate in Darras Hall, and was fed up with the absence of Indian fine dining restaurants in the North East. By which he didn’t mean curry houses, of which there are plenty, or even the excellent regional dishes you find in Rasa, but the sort of food you can only find in a few top hotels in Delhi, or in London’s Michelin-starred Benares, Tamarind and Trishna. 

He wanted beautiful food, with subtle blending of spices, colours and textures – painstakingly prepared, imaginatively intricate cooking. If you haven’t experienced modern Indian cuisine, you haven’t lived.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Two Fifths

Food ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

29 Collingwood Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 1JE 

0191 221 1333 

This restaurant has a great location. It directly overlooks Central Station at the top of Newcastle’s self-styled “Diamond Strip” – the stretch of high-heel-clicking pavement that links the bars down Collingwood Street. If that doesn’t quite place it for readers over the age of 35, Two Fifths sits directly opposite the Lit & Phil.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Latimer's Seafood Café

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

Latimer’s Seafood Deli & Café 
Shell Hill 
Bents Road 
SR6 7NT 

0191 529 2200 

Closed Mondays (exc bank holidays) 
Tues-Sat 8am-5.15pm (last orders) 
Sun 9am-4.30pm 

There’s nothing finer in life than a long walk by the sea with a dog. Provided there’s a dog-friendly pub or café at the end of it, preferably with very good food. 

On a warm sunny day, the North East coast is the best in the world. You may recall we had one a few weeks ago, a warm sunny day that is. That was the day Mrs Diner and I took Diner Dog to Whitburn. We were in search of fish. 

Not just any old fish, but reputedly the finest fish in the North East. Our goal was the award-winning fishmonger that has won the custom of Terry Laybourne and Jesmond Dene House Hotel. It’s a place of pilgrimage for fish lovers: they sell fish brought in by the day boats in the harbours up and down the coast, from Eyemouth to Whitby. They also have a café.

Saturday, 24 May 2014


Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 

The Assembly Rooms 
Fenkle St 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5XU 

0191 232 8695 

Food served Mon/Sat 12-9.30pm 
Sun lunch 12-6pm 

The Assembly Rooms have been a Newcastle landmark for nearly 250 years. A vast barn of a place, I’ve only ever been inside for the odd wedding. The food was nothing to write home about, though the couples seemed happy enough with their big day. 

But now the downstairs part of the building has had “a glamorous reincarnation”, and the big black hoardings outside proclaim it as “Newcastle’s Premier Venue”. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Nadon Thai

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 

12A Newgate Street 
NE61 1BA
01670 458151 
Sun-Thur 12-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm 
Fri-Sat 12-2.30pm, 5.30-10:30pm 

What is it with Morpeth? Is the price of real estate so high that its restaurants have to be housed upstairs? Gianni’s, Marabini’s – they’re hidden above shops – even Kevin Liu’s Mulan is on the top deck. 

This time Mrs Diner thought we’d reached rock bottom: “It’s a takeaway chippy,” she said, smelling cheap vegetable oil and kebabs. 

“Don’t panic,” I said, secretly panicking, then spotted the sign by the side of the chip shop. We climbed the stairs into the world of Nadon Thai. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lord Crewe Arms

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

The Square 
County Durham 
DH8 9SP 

Mon to Fri: 12-2.30pm, 6-9pm 
Sat & Sun: 12-3pm, 6-9pm 

01434 675469 

To simply describe Blanchland as attractive is doing it a disservice. 

Right on the border between Northumberland and Durham, it is a stunning model village built from the stone of a medieval priory.  It's nestling in a landscape so remote you think your satnav must have gone mad. Americans have been known to swoon at its beauty. 

All it ever needed was a decent restaurant to go with it. Now it has one.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Harry's Bar & Brasserie

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

77 Grey Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6EF 

0191 261 2621 
Daily Noon – 2am 

I was sure I was going to hate this place. For a start, there’s the name. 

For me, Harry’s Bar means Ernest Hemingway, carpaccio and Bellinis. One of the world’s great names, founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, it was Venice’s ultimate celebrity haunt. They invented the Bellini – simple white peaches and Prosecco, and then in 1950 they created beef carpaccio. 

There have been many copycat Harrys over the years, including the private club in London where they serve North Italian food but make gentlemen wear a dark suit and tie, which rules out membership for this Secret Diner. 

By contrast, Newcastle’s Harry’s Bar has a pink lipstick logo. Their website has the naffest home video of dancing staff blowing kisses and wearing shirts saying Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Cute and Harry’s, (with each first letter highlighted).

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Black Swan

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

North Yorkshire 
YO61 4BL 

01347 868387

Mon-Wed: 6-9pm only 
Thur-Sat: 12-2pm, 6-9pm 
Sun: 12-2.30pm, 6-9pm 

The story of how The Black Swan got its Michelin star is a sweet tale about a nice Northern family who bought a pub. 

Anne and Tom Banks used to run a smart B&B at their farm in a tiny North Yorkshire village, so off the beaten track that to find it you’d need to borrow a compass from the hikers in this remote part of the North York Moors National Park. Their nearest beaten track, by the way, is the A19 near Thirsk, which makes this place perfectly accessible from Newcastle and close to those in the south of our region.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Jamie's Italian

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

Unit 3 
Monument Mall 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AL 

0191 500 0858 

Mon – Sat: 12-11pm 
Sun: 12-10.30pm 

Accessibility – Yes 

With his culinary apprenticeship in London’s River Café, it was almost inevitable that Jamie Oliver would choose Italian food for his assault on the mass market. What’s surprised me is how long he’s taken build a branch of his theme park in Newcastle.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


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

80–90 St. James’ Boulevard 
Newcastle Upon Tyne 
NE1 4BN 
0191 261 6161 

Mon – Thurs 4pm till late 
Fri-Sun 11 till later 
Accessibility – Yes 

My quest is over. After countless disappointments, I’ve finally found a good burger in the North East. 

Regular readers will know my determination to find half-decent American food here. Just as I go to Rasa for a real taste of Southern India, or to Caffé Vivo for lunch in Venice, or to Hei Hei if my tastebuds fancy a trip to somewhere in mainland China, so I occasionally crave a fix of Americana. I’ve been known to drive to Costco for a genuine beef hotdog (£1.50, including all the Coca Cola you can drink). 

You may think this is a trivial matter, but I take burgers seriously.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Eshott Hall

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

NE65 9EN 

01670 787454 

I’d quite like an excuse to stay at Eshott Hall. If anyone is planning a house party there and they’re short of a couple of guests, please feel free to invite Mr and Mrs Diner.

The wing of a larger 17th century home, it’s a beautiful old building in attractive grounds, a place to lounge around with baggy sweaters and spaniels, fall asleep in an armchair, or walk around the gardens after a long breakfast. It’s informal, attractively furnished and decorated in cream and white. Its website tautologically describes it as “entirely unique”.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Herb Garden

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

Arch 8 
Westgate Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1SA 

0191 222 0491 

Open daily 11.30am till close 
Accessibility:  Yes

The conscious coupling (sorry, Gwyneth and Chris) of good food and inspiring interior design is something with which the North East isn’t terribly familiar.  There are stylish places with very poor food (As You Like It) and restaurants with great food and poor styling, (Gourmet Spot in Durham, though earlier this month, having been bought out by its chef-owner Stephen Hardy, it revamped its interior, got rid of the silly name, and is now called DH1). 

I admire the brick and industrial feel of The Bridge Tavern, which also offers good gastropub fare, but I can’t think of another place in our region that attempts to combine cutting edge design with good cooking. Step forward The Herb Garden.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Bistro 62

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 

62 Front Street West 
NE22 5UB 

01670 821624 

Tues – Sat 5 to 9pm 
Sunday lunch 12/12.30pm & 2/2.30pm 

A Twitter follower of mine called John Hall recommended a trip to Bedlington. 

“You’ve got to visit Bistro 62, it’s as good as anywhere in Newcastle at a great price,” he wrote. 

Much as I respect ‘@hallythepunter’, who describes himself as a “future masterchef champion” and who claims that pig and ox cheeks are his favourite cuts of meat, I took this with a pinch of salt. I’d not been aware of Bedlington registering on our culinary map.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Old Boat House

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

The Old Boat House 
Leazes Street 
NE65 0AA 

01665 711232 

Accessibility: Yes 

I’d happily travel a hundred miles for fresh fish. Sadly the closest many people get to it are the vacuum-sealed offerings on the counters of Waitrose and Morrisons. Spread out on ice with bits of plastic parsley and bowls of defrosted scallops, it may look fresh enough, but it’s nothing like the real deal. 

I’ve never understood why our region doesn’t have a proper fresh fish shop in every town. It’s so sad that they’ve all closed, because the North East is supposed to be famous for its fishing. 

The best way to enjoy really fresh fish in the North East is to find a very good restaurant, preferably close to where the boats come in. And you can’t get any closer than The Old Boat House in Amble.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Matfen Hall

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

Matfen Hall (The Library Restaurant) 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE20 0RH 

01661 886500 

Accessibility: Yes 

One of the drawbacks of this job is that I’m rarely invited back. Restaurants with good reviews and Secret Diner Recommended stickers on the window don’t want to risk their luck, and those who’ve taken my worst flak wouldn’t let me darken their doors again. 

This week I returned to a restaurant that barely scraped a solitary star the first time around. My criticism of it has sat glowering on this website like an old gravy stain on a crisp white tablecloth.

Monday, 3 March 2014


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

26-28 John St 
SR1 1JG 

0191 510 1585 

Mon, Wed – Sat: 11am – 2pm, 5.30 – 10pm 
Tuesday: Closed 
Sunday lunch 12 – 5pm 

Accessibility: No 

I’ve never had cause to eat anything other than fish and chips in Sunderland before one of my readers, Sharon Butler, persuaded me to visit D’Acqua. I’m rather glad she did.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Seaham Hall (Byron's Bar and Grill by Blunos)

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

Byron’s Bar and Grill by Blunos 
Seaham Hall
Lord Byrons Walk
County Durham
SR7 7AG 

0191 516 1400 
Wed to Sun: 6.30pm – 9pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

Poor Martin Blunos has been relegated to second billing. 

Until last week the nearly-celebrity chef (he’s the one with the walrus moustache who used to be on Iron Chef UK, and had two Michelin stars for his restaurant Lettonie in the West Country) had his name over the main restaurant at Seaham Hall. 

The Blunos Sea Grill was housed in the former White Room, where Kenny Atkinson flourished and gained a Michelin star for the region. I remember having had a spectacularly good tasting menu in this room before Kenny went south to Rockliffe Hall. Later the entire hotel, particularly its restaurant, went off the boil, before being sold and restored. 

Thankfully the building is now looking glorious again, and I was looking forward to trying Blunos’s Grill, even though I suspected that, as Culinary Director, he merely wrote the menu. However, between booking and arriving, they’d shut the restaurant and moved the food into the bar.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

House of Tides

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

28-30 The Close 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3RF 

0191 230 3720 

Tues to Sat: 6pm – 9.30pm 

Accessibility: No lift – ground floor bar area only 

Kenny Atkinson’s return to his native city must have been the most anticipated Newcastle homecoming since Alan Shearer’s 1996 debut. 

Kenny has wowed diners around the country, from London, Cheltenham and the Isles of Scilly, where he gained his first Michelin star, to Seaham Hall, where he earned another. He spent three tough years at Rockliffe Hall near Darlington, which never quite made the Michelin grade, before he finally announced that he wanted his own place back in his home town. 

About time, I’d say. I’m surprised they aren’t playing the Local Hero theme from the High Level Bridge that towers over his new restaurant.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

DH1 (formerly Gourmet Spot)

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

Farnley Tower 
The Avenue 
Durham City 
DH1 4DX 
0191 384 6655 

Tues – Sat: 5.30pm till late 
Accessibility: No 

[I'm pleased to report that the Chef at Gourmet Spot, Stephen Hardy, has now purchased the restaurant and rebranded it as DH1.  Same team, phone number and address, similarly good food, but it now has cloths on the tables, so ambience is bound to have improved.  Still highly recommended]

I’m guessing the owner of Gourmet Spot must have been a gynaecologist, because on the restaurant’s website the G and the word SPOT are highlighted.  It was also extremely hard to find.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Thai House

Food ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪ 

Thai House 
The Coach and Horses 
82 Priestpopple 
NE46 1PQ 

01434 600789 

Mon – Thurs 5.30 – 10pm 
Fri – Sat 5.30 – 10.30pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

Two things greet you when you walk into this place: the wai and the bar. 

The wai, the traditional Thai welcome, palms pressed together in respect and reverence, was given by a smiling waitress. She was dwarfed by the huge bar, a semi-circular affair that dominates the room, reminding us that this restaurant is merely a lodger in a Hexham pub called the Coach and Horses.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Barrasford Arms

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 

NE48 4AA 

01434 681 237 

Mon 6.30 – 9pm 
Tues – Sat 12 – 2pm, 6.30 – 9pm 
Sun 12 – 3pm 

Accessibility: Yes 

With rural pubs under threat all over Northumberland, the residents of Barrasford, near Hexham, must have rejoiced when Tony Binks took over The Barrasford Arms in 2006. 

A proper inn with rooms, it hosts quoits tournaments, darts matches and the local hunt, with a roaring fire and huge jars of pickled eggs and onions in the bar. Best of all, it serves simple, no-nonsense, well-cooked food. If only every village in Northumberland could have a Barrasford Arms. But then, Tony Binks is a bit of a one-off.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Café Royal

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

8 Nelson Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5AW 

0191 231 3000 

Mon-Sat 8am – 5.30pm 
Sun 10am – 4pm 

Accessibility: Yes 

London's original Café Royal

Café Royal: the very name conjures images of Victorian decadence. 

The lavish venue that gave London society its first taste of French haute cuisine, this was the haunt of writers and roués. Intrigues and scandals were concealed behind its rich red drapes. Does its Newcastle namesake bear any resemblance? Frankly, no.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Staith House

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

57 Low Lights 
North Shields Fish Quay 
NE30 1HF 
0191 270 8441 

Every day 11am – 11pm 

Accessibility: Yes 

[SECOND VISIT: In March 2014 The Staith House, to whom I gave four stars in January, launched a monthly tasting evening in conjunction with Bon Coeur Fine Wines.  I was invited because the chefs - former Masterchef finalist John Calton and his business partner James Laffan - wanted to show off their skills. 

It was a three-hour, seven-course, six-wine gourmet evening to remember, with delicate crab in blood orange mayonnaise and fennel, a fish course of skate and sole, steamed in fish stock on a feather bed of samphire, caper and sprouting broccoli, and an incredible plate of lamb – shoulder, tongue, belly, fillet, in fact, done so many ways (it even had a round of melted ewe’s cheese), I half expected a poached eyeball to wink at me. 

This grande bouffe was only £50 a head, including the wine. 

You really should book next month’s event (April 10th), because this could be the best value, most honest, earthy, freshest tasting-menu on offer in our region.]  

When I reviewed Irvin’s Brasserie on North Shields Fish Quay last year, one of my few real complaints was the terrible view. The big picture windows overlooked the rubbish-strewn car park of a rundown old boozer called The New Dolphin. 

I’m sure the owners of Irvin’s were delighted when The New Dolphin was transformed into The Staith House; what might make them less happy is that their new neighbour brings some serious competition.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Raby Hunt

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

The Raby Hunt Restaurant & Rooms 
Nr. Darlington 
Co. Durham 
DL2 3UD 

01325 374237 
Wed to Sat only: 12-2pm 6-9.30pm 

Accessibility: Yes


This place is no flash in the frying pan. 

Even though James Close is virtually self-taught, and has only been cooking for a few years, his food is confident, passionate, flawless. That’s why his Michelin star was renewed last month, still the only one in the North East, and why he has won our 2013 North East Restaurant of the Year and Best Fine Dining awards.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

East Coast Trains

Food ✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

Newcastle, Berwick, Alnmouth, Morpeth, Durham, Darlington and King's Cross stations 

Open: Every half hour, every day. 
Meals only with first class travel. 
Accessibility: Yes 

Not long ago, dinner on a train was an event. 

In a dining car with white tablecloths you could eat hearty fare served by jolly staff while the world whizzed by at a hundred miles an hour. It didn’t matter whether you were travelling first or standard class, everyone was welcome and it cost around £20 for three courses. There was soup, steak and school pudding or a generous plate of cheese and biscuits. 

That was then. Now we have East Coast Trains.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Cal's Own

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 

207 Chillingham Road 
Newcastle Upon Tyne 
NE6 5LJ 

0191 276 5298 

Sun, Tues-Thurs 5-9.30pm 
Fri-Sat 11.30am-9.30pm 
Closed Monday, last orders 9pm 

Accessibility: Yes 

Cal is Calvin, a 29 year old pizza fanatic who used to work as a joiner, but just couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a decent pizzeria in Newcastle. Now before you start writing in, I want to make it clear that this was Cal’s view, and he has strong opinions about pizza.

So just over a year ago he gave up the woodwork and opened his own pizza shop called Cal’s Own – Calzone, geddit?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Peace & Loaf

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

217 Jesmond Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1LA 
0191 281 5222 

 Accessibility: No 

I’ve been moaning on for ages about the lack of fine dining places in the North East. Then, like a number 13 bus, three turn up at once. 

On Newcastle’s Quayside the extractor fans are already being installed in Michelin-starry Kenny Atkinson’s kitchen ready for his new restaurant House of Tides, while down on North Shields fish quay, former Masterchef finalist John Calton has just opened the doors on his first solo venture, The Staith House. 

Calton’s recent tweets suggest this former fishermen’s boozer is not quite ready for a visit. However on Monday I received a message from the other 2010 Masterchef: The Professionals losing finalist, Dave Coulson, that his new restaurant in Jesmond is finally fully operational. After a couple of weeks of soft evening openings, he was ready for the Secret Diner.

Saturday, 16 November 2013


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

Forth Banks 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3SG 

0191 261 9035 

Mon-Sat 12-1.30pm, 6-11.15pm 

Bob and Neeta Arora are a Newcastle institution. They fell in love with Sachins as customers, and eventually bought the place. 

That was thirteen years ago. Since then they’ve worked tirelessly on the brand, which now caters outside events and even has a takeaway outlet at Fenwicks. The Aroras are involved in community and charity projects – they are, in short, an asset to our region’s life. 

But what of their pretty restaurant, tucked away at the top of Forth Banks, under the shadow of Central Station?