25 February 2017

Tapas Revolution

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
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Unit S3, Lower Level 
Greys Quarter 
intu Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AP 

0191 261 4948 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten-free? Yes

There must be people who like going to the intu Eldon Square. There may even be people who know why intu spells its name with a lower case i. I am not one of those people. 

For me, the ‘i’ in ‘intu Eldon Square’ stands for impersonal, inadequate and inelegant. An uninspiring, cramped space, with low ceilings to match the ambition of some of its chain retailers, it is one of the least glamorous shopping malls in the UK, and yet also one of the busiest. 

It’s not intu’s fault, of course. Why did Newcastle’s glorious frontage of beautiful Georgian architecture have to get in the way of modern commerce so we’re left with a rabbit warren of tiny shops behind the facades? 

Mind you, despite its drawbacks, the intuitive people at intu (that was a guess) are doing something right. For they sure know how to extract our pounds. They’ve recently spent gazillions on a new section called Grey’s Quarter, and filled it with chains like Ask Italian and Giraffe, George’s Great British Kitchen and Smashburger. Fast food to revive flagging spirits. 

When this gastronomic lineup was announced, those of us who favour independent restaurants sighed and tutted. But it’s not all plastic menus and pre-packaged sauces. They have a decent barbecue place called Red’s True Barbecue, which I reviewed quite generously the other week; and now it has Omar Allibhoy.

18 February 2017

The Duck House

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
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2-3 Town Hall Buildings 
Princes Street 
NE45 5AD 

01434 634 368 

How long does it take a dish to travel from the best restaurant in the world to Corbridge? Thanks to my recent meal at the Duck House, I can tell you precisely: 14 years.

11 February 2017

Central Oven & Shaker

Food ✪✪✪ 
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8 Neville Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5EN 

0191 349 9187 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Pre-booked only 

The development of the area bang opposite Newcastle’s Central Station has raised many an eyebrow and furrowed no shortage of brows over the last couple of years. August figures of no lesser standing than Dame Vera Baird and the Reverend Nicholas Buxton voiced concerns that the planned opening of a “Gentlemen’s” club (were air-quotes ever more justified?) would give visitors to the city, fresh off the train, the wrong idea about our fair city. 

As it happens, their fears have gone unrealised. The entrance to the basement dwelling called For Your Eyes Only is, to use a word that I imagine was extensively deployed in planning applications, discreet. Making a far louder noise about itself, and of rather more interest to this column, is what is on the ground level: a shiny new Neopolitan-style pizza and cocktail joint called Central Oven and Shaker

Unless Aperol spritz and soupy pizzas are going to give people the wrong idea about Newcastle - and if so, I’m not sure what constitutes the right idea - then the City’s image is intact.

4 February 2017

The Patricia

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Service ✪✪✪✪✪ 

139 Jesmond Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1JY 

0191 281 4443 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes – but pre-book 

At the beginning of these reviews, I usually try to only hint at the verdict, keeping full disclosure to the end. It probably comes from some vain idea that if I’m going to spend time writing it down, I’d quite like you to actually read all the way through. It’s what TV people call “jeopardy”. But then there are times when the restaurant in question is either so wildly good or honkingly bad that there’s just no point in beating about the bush. This is one such occasion. 

The Patricia, Jesmond’s latest addition, recently served me the most flat-out enjoyable meals I’ve eaten for... well, for ages. It was brilliant. I loved it. We had a great time. If that’s all you needed to know, fine, you’re done. If you want to know why, you’re welcome to spend the next 800 words in my company while I shout about it.

28 January 2017

Red's True Barbecue

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

Unit 6, Grey’s Quarter 
Intu Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AP 

0191 673 0073 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

In these troubled times of #cleaneating, #gettheglow and who knows how many other wheezes designed to inspire guilt and remorse, especially in January, there’s something delightfully transgressive about sitting down with the sole intention of eating as much meat and fried food as possible in a single meal. And then ordering dessert. Through this prism, our recent trip to Red's True Barbecue can be seen not just as a meal, but as a politically informed act of resistance. So come brothers and sisters! Man the barricades! Comrade, pass me the hot sauce! 

That’s my only excuse for the sheer gluttony we indulged in over a couple of hours in this recently opened outpost of the small but growing barbecue chain – 8 restaurants at the last count. Newcastle doesn’t lack home-grown protein-centric joints, with Longhorns and Bierrex doing very capable things with their smoky lumps of cow and pig. So what does Red’s bring to the table? 

A whole liturgy of mock-Christian branding, for one thing. 

“The pearly gates of your new church of worship have been flung open in Eldon Square. Come forth and worship at the altar of meat,” preaches the website. 

This branding, from Warm, a design company housed in a decommissioned church in Gateshead, features a knife and fork formed into a cross. The menu is referred to as “The Good Book” and a popup on the web page urges you to “join the flock (enter email address to receive updates and offers)”. 

This theme-park approach to catering gets very annoying very quickly when the food isn’t good enough to distract you from it. I’m sure some may find it offensive. Fortunately, what turned up on our trays almost justified it. Almost.

21 January 2017

Barrio Comida

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

Wesley Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DE 

No telephone number
No bookings 


As Mrs Diner and I wandered along the Quayside, reflections of the Sage Gateshead and the Millennium Bridge all twinkly in the ink-pool Tyne, I must admit I was genuinely excited. Over the last few years, the fates and my diary had somehow conspired to prevent me from visiting any of Shaun Hurrell’s Barrio Comida pop-ups, so the news that he was moving into Adam Riley’s fish shack on the Quayside was very welcome indeed. 

This is the converted shipping container with the second best view in the world (the best being the outlook from Riley’s fish shack in Tynemouth). Anticipation can be the enemy of enjoyment, but in this case it was well placed.

15 January 2017

Dobson & Parnell

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

21 Queen Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3UG 

0191 221 0904 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

Some addresses come with a whole bain-marie full of history. For anyone with a passing interest in Newcastle’s restaurant scene, 21 Queen Street is the most famous location of all. 

It was here that Terry Laybourne held a Michelin Star for most of the 1990s, and from where he sowed the seeds of his 21 Hospitality Group. Many of the North East’s most successful young chefs began their careers in this kitchen. After Laybourne made the shrewd decision to relax his dining offering, and moved to Trinity Gardens, I was always pleased that he kept the 21 moniker. 

The building came alive again for a while with Pan Haggerty, which turned out some pretty good cooking until it went into liquidation in early 2014. Now the doors have swung open once more and I’m pleased to report that the ghost of fine dining past still lives inside the old place.

8 January 2017

The Raby Hunt

Food ✪✪✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪✪ 
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Nr Darlington 
Co Durham 
DL2 3UD 

01325 374 237 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes, but call in advance 

[WINNER: North East Restaurant of the Year 2012/2013/2016]

The paradox of perfection is what makes high-end restaurant cooking such a unique challenge. Every day a chef has to turn up for work and plate up hundreds of dishes, aiming for flawlessness each time, yet knowing deep down that there is really no such thing. The chef is, in a sense, doomed to failure before he even ties his apron: yet it’s only in the trying, over and over again, for that mirage-like moment in which you know that a dish couldn’t be improved by a single grain of salt, that you can really succeed at the very highest level. 

I had cause to reflect on all this as we left The Raby Hunt after a spectacular lunch, trying to figure out why this meal, which I’m happily and easily awarding 6 stars, was better than previous visits I had also pegged at that level (which is the maximum number of stars that will fit comfortably on my Secret Diner window sticker). Ultimately I concluded that chef James Close’s secret is the gentle evolution of dishes, the search for better raw materials and the slow but steady refining of techniques. It makes sitting down in his plush dining room a joy. 

24 December 2016

Review of the Year 2016

Phew! 2016 was quite a year, eh? 

While other more erudite writers are employed to take stock of the tectonic shifts and epochal upheavals in the wider world, my task is rather simpler and happier. I'm aware that I've been saying this for each of the past few years, but that that doesn't make it any less true now: there has never been a better time to eat out in the North East. 

We are currently blessed by impressive quality at every level, from the street to the starchily-clothed, and an increasingly enthusiastic and knowledgeable restaurant-going public is loving it. A number of trends that felt new and shiny only a year or two ago have now matured and bedded in.

20 December 2016

La Yuan

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

7-9 Gallowgate 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4SG 

0191 432 4421 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

How has 2016 been for you? 

Perhaps you think that Brexit and Trump were good ideas, while Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Wogan, Rickman et al were not, in which case you’ll have yomped merrily through the last 12 months. Personally, I have endured most of this year through gritted teeth and clenched eyelids, bracing myself for the next disaster. 

This was supposed to have been the Chinese year of the monkey; for me it was more like the year of the steaming heap of dung. 

I have tried to make myself feel a bit better by actively seeking out signs that things, anywhere, are getting better. One meagre crumb of comfort I can share with you: I am pleased to report that there’s been a deepening of the pool of restaurants in Newcastle that can prepare a decent Asian meal.