28 May 2016

Truffle

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

20 Grange Road 
Darlington 
County Durham
DL1 5NG 

01325 483 787 
www.trufflerestaurant.co.uk 

There is something wonderfully defiant and old-fashioned about a restaurant with a proper cheeseboard. 

To me, it shows that the place really cares for its produce (maintaining a good cheese board is both a science and a labour of love); it forces front of house staff to really swat up on the subject (you can’t just invent the names on the board – well, you could, but one day you’ll be caught out by a real fromage-fancier); above all, it offers customers like me a serious treat at the end of the meal, a journey of adventure with unexpected flavour bombs enroute. 


As an unreformed cheese addict who finds himself rather underserved in our region, this board was the first thing I spotted as we sat down to dinner at Truffle in Darlington. I took it as a very good sign indeed. I was mostly right.

21 May 2016

Lake Road Kitchen

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

Lake Road 
Ambleside 
Cumbria 
LA22 0AD 

01539 422 012 
www.lakeroadkitchen.co.uk 

“Don’t believe the hype”, said the popular hip hop combo Public Enemy in 1988, and quite right they were too. I think Chuck D was inspired by the work of Noam Chomsky when he took out his quill and parchment, but he might just as well have been writing about restaurants. 

Despite more years of eating out than I’d admit to, I still get sufficiently excited about visiting a hyped up restaurant to all too easily forget Mr D’s dictum, often leading to post-nosh disappointment. 

This was very much the case as, just a couple of hours out of Newcastle, we wound our way down through the almost cloyingly pretty scenery of Troutbeck, Ullswater and then over The Kirkstone Pass, en route to dinner at Lake Road Kitchen. 


This dinky little 9-tabler has been the subject of much breathless veneration since it opened in 2014, garnering big love in the blogosphere as well as an almost unheard of 10/10 from The Guardian’s guru Marina O’Loughlin. 

Chef James Cross has managed to pack stints at some of this planet's very finest restaurants into his 34 years, including a lengthy stay at the world’s current number one, Noma in Copenhagen. The foraging, fermenting, ageing and pickling that have become the hallmark of René Redzepi’s “New Nordic Cuisine” are very much in evidence at Lake Road Kitchen, whose website exhorts the reader to “come and taste the food of the North”. 

I thought I would show my solidarity with the recently-flooded Lake District by doing just that, booked weeks ahead to try their tasting menu, then, like a kid before Christmas, started counting down the days. 

All of this preamble gives you some sort of context to a much-anticipated meal that, although certainly enjoyable, left me very much not blown away, and even a bit nonplussed. Some of this may simply have been a matter of preference, but I would maintain that some was down to execution too.

14 May 2016

Nadon Thai (Newcastle)


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

32-34 Mosley Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1DF 

0191 374 1157 
www.nadonthai.co.uk 



I have found that locating good Thai food in Newcastle is as elusive as the Higgs boson. More so, in fact; apparently the latter has now been found, while my search for somewhere that can approximate to real Thai cooking has gone on in vain. 

On each of the last two episodes of this quest, disaster struck. First at Mantra, and then at The Old Siam, my hopes were dashed on the rocks of inept cooking and duff ingredients.  

My one-star review of The Old Siam resulted in a raw convulsion of rage on The Chronicle’s Facebook page. Apparently, a lot of people like this place and took the review quite personally. Bless. I only wish I could have reviewed the meals they had all enjoyed so much, or that they could have seen how abject mine was. 

Anyway, it gives me no little pleasure to bring better tidings this week. Thanks to a new incarnation of an old friend, things are looking up on the south-east Asian front.

7 May 2016

The Dirty Bottles


Food ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

Narrowgate 
Alnwick 
Northumberland
NE66 1JG 

01665 606 193 
www.thedirtybottles.co.uk 

Of all the places where I might have expected to find a vision of the future of dining, Alnwick wouldn’t have been anywhere near the top of the list. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like the town a lot. When the weather is fine, The Gardens are a lovely way to spend an afternoon. When inclemency strikes, many a happy hour can be whittled away amongst the aged tomes of Barter Books. But groundbreaking? Not the Alnwick I know. 

I’ve always thought of it as a genteel, antiquated kind of place, stuck somewhere in the 1950s; it’s the last place on earth you’d expect to find a hi-tech gadget-filled eatery. So when I heard rumours of a pub that had introduced “iPad self-service ordering booths” and a craft beer “tasting wall”, I was intrigued. What does it feel like to ask for food from a screen rather than a person? Does it improve the quality? Reduce the price? I had to find out.

30 April 2016

Cal's Own

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

1-2 Holly Avenue 
West Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AR 

0191 281 5522 
www.calsown.co.uk 

Usually I go, eat, write the truth as I taste it, and that’s about it. My job is simply to judge each restaurant on a single meal, just as any customer would. 

Sometimes the owners and chefs are happy with what I write, and sometimes they are upset, but the world continues to turn and, as Del Amitri said, the needle returns to the start of the song. 

However some of my reviews, I confess, come with a side order of apprehension. These are the places which, privately, I really wanted to be good, because I know the story behind the menu, about the sweat and tears that have been invested by an owner or chef committed to perfection. But you can’t review a chef’s dream, you can only report the reality. So you just sit at your table, pick a few dishes, and hope for the best. 

Cal’s Own falls squarely into this latter category.  Here is someone who is not just fanatical about what he’s doing, he has committed his life acquiring the knowledge and skills to create a product that’s up with the very best in the world. That’s a tall order, when that product is as ubiquitous as pizza.

23 April 2016

Dacantus

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

30-32 Grey St 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6AE 

0191 261 8111 
www.dacantus.com 

If this were a review of a bar rather than a restaurant then what follows would be a good deal more positive. Dacantus in Newcastle’s Grey Street is a really nice bar. 

Gin menu
They serve good wines by the glass and a dizzying array of carefully made gins and tonics. The interior is a dramatic contrast of hefty dark woods and bling-y gold textured wallpaper. The bar itself is a vast chunk of marble and the nice people who tend it really know what they’re about. 

I would go as far as to say this is an excellent bar. However, they also offer a full food menu, which means that they are a restaurant. And I’m a restaurant critic. Oh dear: nice bar, shame about the food.

16 April 2016

Turtle Bay

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

117 Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5RZ 

0191 386 3395 




I know several fooderati who reckon that nothing worth eating ever comes out of a chain.  

Jonathan Meades regularly - and amusingly - held to this during his days as restaurant critic for The Times. For him Café Rouge was a “Harvester for the indiscriminate middle classes” which “proceeded from the self-fulfilling presumption that no-one will come back anyway”.

9 April 2016

The Garden House Inn

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

Framwellgate Peth 
Durham 
DH1 4NQ 

0191 386 3395 
www.gardenhouseinn.com 

When Terry Laybourne’s Bistro 21 suddenly closed last year, Durham mourned the loss of one of its few good restaurants. Of all the places in the Laybourne empire, this was probably my favourite, with well-prepared bistro cooking in an attractive, calm atmosphere; in 2014 it won my Bistro/Brasserie of the Year award. 

Last month I tried to fill the gap on my Durham listings page by reviewing Finbarr’s, whose food I also enjoyed. A few short weeks later, it also shut down without notice. 

What is going on in Durham? To misquote Oscar Wilde: to lose one good restaurant may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. It left a city in crisis, with only one serious eatery left: DH1, the excellent but tiny fine dining place. Or so I thought.

2 April 2016

Bierrex


Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

82 Pilgrim Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JN 

0191 447 7720 
www.bierrex.gustouk.com 

What is it about the barbecue that appeals so much to the male psyche? There has to be more to it than the primal draw of the flame and the hunger-inspiring aroma of rendered animal fat on hot coals. 

There’s something almost masonic about the secret world of rubs, brines and marinades. There are fierce competitions based around the cuisine of the barbie, with grown men fighting for bragging rights over the best pulled pork. I guess that’s why it’s colloquially known as “dude food”. 

And yet, even as someone who is quite openly male, I’ve never quite “got it” when eating at smokehouses, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Despite all the hushed talk of meat provenance and special woods, and the number of days that a piece of cow has spent over low, slow heat, I’ve always thought that the results were, at best, not so much better than what I could achieve myself with a decent marinade and a few bits of charcoal in my Weber. Or at least that was the case until our recent meal at Bierrex.

26 March 2016

The Town Wall [RE-REVIEWED]

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 

Pink Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5HX 

0191 232 3000 
www.thetownwall.com 

Food served:
Mon-Thur 12-9pm
Fri-Sun 12-7pm only



This was the first place I ever reviewed for The Journal, and although I wasn't particularly generous back then, I was given little reason to be. That was in March 2011, exactly 5 years ago. I found the meat chewy, the salad dull and the "artisan bread" of the burger looks suspiciously like a bun.  Worst of all, not only did you have to order everything from the bar, you couldn't leave a credit card as deposit, so, rather ludicrously, every trip for a refill of wine or water took an age.

Things are definitely better now.