22 April 2018

The Forge


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

The Avenue
Washington
Tyne and Wear 
NE38 7AB 

0191 908 7621
www.theforgefood.com 

Halfway through my main course of pearly hake with gloriously crisped nuggets of chicken wings I felt compelled to fire up Google Maps to see whether or not I could get away with finally sounding the “Sunderland has a great restaurant!” klaxon. Believe me, it’s primed and, as they say on Wearside, Ready To Go. 

People in Washington may send their council tax to Sunderland, and they're certainly nearer the Wear than the Tyne, but many are proud of the fact that the town - especially the rather lovely, leafy old villagey centre I strolled through on the way to dinner - is a thing-in-itself. 

Certainly one of my two companions for the night, very much a native, insisted on it. Mind you, football-wise, he’s of the black and white persuasion. Sorry Sunderland (on this most painful of relegation weekends). 

It should be some solace to SAFC fans that The Forge is close enough for a consolation dinner; it's really doing some excellent things. Our own meal was full of good sense, fine ingredients, deft cookery and just enough creative flair to keep things interesting.

17 April 2018

George's Great British Kitchen


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Grey’s Quarter 
Intu Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7JB 

0191 230 4229 
Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes 

www.georgesgreatbritishkitchen.co.uk 

I’ve noticed of late a strong relationship between variable A: it being the school holidays, and variable B: me finding myself eating in places - how to put this politely? - well, places that I wouldn’t necessarily take someone I wanted to impress. I think it may be a matter not just of correlation, but of actual causation, the catalytic factor being variable C: the presence of kids. 

Last summer Mrs Diner and I sampled the delights of Pizza Express, all because we had custody of her nieces for one afternoon and they, for reasons that elude me, just love those dough balls. This half term I arranged to meet a friend who had her own Junior Diner in tow. 

“Somewhere in town that does kiddie portions, preferably with crayons,” she had requested. 

I thought hard. The presence, or otherwise, of crayons is not something that I typically note in my reviews. 

“What about that George’s place in Eldon Square we keep avoiding?” suggested Mrs Diner. It was all right for her – she wasn’t coming with us. 

“Fine,” I said, realising I hadn’t had fish and chips in ages. “If we can smash through three courses before Junior gets uppity I’ll even do a review,” I said. And we did, and I am.

5 April 2018

Dosa Kitchen


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

7 Osborne Road (rear) 
Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AE 

No phone number 
www.dosakitchen.co.uk 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

As a rule I like new things: new tech, new movies, new music and particularly new restaurants. Sometimes, however, it’s comforting to return to somewhere from the past, and find it just as you left it. Dosa Kitchen may have changed postcode since we last ate there, but as we pulled our chunky wooden seats under the table and scanned the menu, the sense of déjà vu was very welcome.

26 March 2018

Porky's BBQ

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

Front Street 
Bebside
Blyth 
Northumberland
NE24 4HW 

01670 820 599
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes   

www.facebook.com/porkysblyth  

First impressions can be so deceptive.  Porky’s, just off the A189 in Blyth, shares a car park with a large raw meat vendor called The Fat Butcher and a hut bearing a promise to buy your car on the spot. Handy if you’ve a knackered old wreck you want to trade for a piece of brisket, but not the most romantic of settings. 

Pretty authentic, though: in the States, BBQ joints are often to be found on the edge of town in non-auspicious settings. I guess it keeps the rent, and therefore the price of meat, low; and it also stops residential areas reeking of hickory smoke. This car park certainly had a distinctive smell about it.

19 March 2018

Lollo Rosso


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪

40 Bridge Street 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE61 1NL 

01670 514 111 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 
www.lollorossoitalia.co.uk

When we were kids, any birthday, holiday or high day tended to mean one thing: a trip to the local Italian restaurant. Always the same one, with the same waiters, same food, same everything. My family didn’t eat out that much so our very being there was in itself an exciting treat. 

I’m sure you know the sort of place I’m on about: red table cloths, pepper grinders as long as your arm, spoonfuls of pre-grated “parmesan” offered with everything, pizzas with dubious toppings (my uncle always got the Bolognese, a plain cheese pizza with a fair sized hillock of meat ragu plopped on top), tricolour candles poked into chianti bottles. 

Obviously the food was never that great, but it tasted fabulous to us at the time, because it was different to what we had at home. I loved that I could order from a proper grown-up menu, and I can still recall that heady waft of garlic fumes as we walked through the door. 

Best of all, I loved that we were welcomed like long lost royalty. The staff - all chaps back then of course - seemed ridiculously busy, but always had enough time to make a fuss over us kids and flirt outrageously with Mum before delivering armloads of pizza to the next table. And best of all, I loved the sick nervous thrill of going on my birthday, knowing that at some point the restaurant would be silenced by the ringing of a massive bell, I’d be hoisted up to stand on my chair and the whole place would sing me a hearty happy birthday. 

The genius of Italian restaurants like this is that the whole family eats as one. This was how the diners of tomorrow learnt the essential grammar of eating out. Lollo Rosso in Morpeth is exactly that kind of place too: the ultimate family restaurant. Except that the food’s rather better than I remember our local Italian.

12 March 2018

The Craster Arms

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

The Wynding 
Beadnell 
Northumberland
NE67 5AX 

01665 720 272 
www.crasterarms.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Things are happening in the village of Beadnell. The last couple of years have seen a bunch of new holiday homes shoot up, as well as a few changes to the dining options for locals and visitors. Last summer I thoroughly enjoyed a sun-drenched lunch at the slightly eccentric Beadnell Towers, but that has since been sold and is now closed for a major refurbishment. 


Beadnell’s Salt Water Café, which does breakfasts and café-style lunches before turning itself into an evening seafood restaurant, is already in my ever-expanding in-box of impending reviews. However, according to our friendly waiter at The Craster Arms, all three Beadnell establishments are now part of the same business. He told us that the plan is to go down the “luxe” route with Beadnell Towers, while Salt Water Café will cut a more cosy, homely look. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear from its massive and wildly varied menu that right now The Craster Arms is all about volume.

5 March 2018

The Rat Inn

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

Anick 
Hexham 
Northumberland 
NE46 4LN 

01434 602 814 
www.theratinn.com 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

There are plenty of reasons to re-review a restaurant: a change of chef, breathless praise from a normally reputable source, or just the depressing passage of rather too much time. Any one of these would probably justify a return visit, but when all three are present and correct, it’s time to make a booking. As was the case with The Rat Inn.

26 February 2018

The Black Bull Inn at Frosterley


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

Frosterley 
Co. Durham 
DL13 2SL 

01388 527 784 

www.blackbullfrosterley.com 
Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes (call in advance)
 

Whilst so many new restaurants give themselves a swift veneer of fake venerability by adding the odd shelf of leather bound books or a few antique fixings, it’s nice to find a genuine old English pub. As you push against the heavy wooden front door of The Black Bull at Frosterley to reveal a cosy ancient inn, you would think you'd found tavern heaven. Look carefully, though, and you’ll realise that this isn’t an accident, but an act of careful, loving design by its owners The Davis family. 

copyright The Black Bull Inn
Having bought the place in 2005, they sought to restore it to what it might have looked like a couple of hundred years ago. In similar fashion to the McCoys' achievement at The Crathorne Arms, this included filling the place with all manner of personal effects including clocks, portraits, antique furniture as well as Duncan Davis’s own rather more contemporary photography. 


With flagged and wooden floors, small rooms, open fires, exposed beams and - praise be! - no music or television to distract from the gently thrum of background chatter, it is a delightful place to end up, especially after a longish drive through the impressive if moody Weardale scenery. Frosterly’s claim to fame used to be its limestone – you can find Frosterley Marble on the floor and pillars of Durham cathedral. Now it’s known for the Black Bull.

18 February 2018

Marco Polo

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

33 Dean Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1PQ 

0191 232 5533 
Accessibility: Yes
Gluten Free?:  Yes
www.marcopolonewcastle.com 

“Very good, slightly better than 20/20,” said the brisk chap at my opticians, as I tried on my new bi-focals. 

As someone not in the habit of receiving praise from health professionals, this verdict came as a very happy surprise. Better than 20/20? That, as far as I was concerned, was practically a super power. I walked out feeling on top of the world, making a point of having a damn proper look at everything with my turbo-powered eye-glasses and fully expecting to get the call from Charles Xavier any minute. And then I sort of forgot all about it and got on with life, as you do. Until a couple of weeks ago. 

“Christ, what font is that? I can’t read the bloody thing at all,” said my friend. 

“Can’t be more than 7 point,” agreed Mrs Diner. “This is hopeless.” 

Four of us were sat in Marco Polo, but while the other three hunted out their reading specs and switched on their iPhone torches to see better, I alone was able to make out the bill of fare.

Seriously: whatever possessed them to squeeze every dish, wine, soft drink, cocktail and coffee they serve, not to mention their contact details, tips policy and mission statement all onto one place-setting sized piece of paper is anyone’s guess. Maybe it results in people ordering at random, which is good for stock rotation. Or perhaps the owners have a long-standing grudge against the visually challenged. Who knows.

11 February 2018

The Cellar Door


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

41 Sadler Street 
Durham 
DH1 3NU 

0191 383 1856 
www.thecellardoordurham.co.uk

Accessibility: No

One of the great advantages that computer games have over actual life is the Pause and Save button. Granted, the stakes are a tad higher in the digital world - I’ve never taken Newcastle United to the Champions League final, escaped from a violently mutated friend on an exploding train, or defended Rome against Barbarian tribes in the real world - but if I'd managed any of those things, I'd certainly have hit Save to capture the moment. 

How many job interviews start brilliantly, before one curve-ball question catches you out? Plenty. Remember that girl, way out of your league, you were getting on so amazingly with before you tried a “joke” that came out really, really weird? Remember the look on her face? 

Yeah: pause and save buttons for reality – bring it on. I’d have quite liked to have hit “Save Game” after our starters at The Cellar Door.