14 May 2018

The Curing House

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

21-23 Bedford Street 
Middlesbrough 
TS1 2LL 

01642 802 232 
www.thecuring.house 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Everyone knows that good cooking starts with great shopping. Top-name chefs are always saying stuff like that, which is curious; you’d think their egos would demand that they give themselves a little more credit, and less to the farmer or the butcher. What a magnanimous demographic they are, these top-name chefs. 

I thoroughly agree of course, although I would also maintain that it is quite possible to make something delicious out of even the cheapest can of tomatoes if one employs judicious seasoning, lively spicing and thoughtful cooking. I speak here very much from experience: I was a student once. 

The point I’m lurching towards is that sometimes the most enjoyable restaurant dishes can involve very little cooking on the part of the chef at all. I’m thinking of good caviar with blinis. Open the tin - and your wallet - and away you go. Or of the sensational (bought-in) bread and butter we had that time we went to the Fat Duck. Or, more recently and less predictably, of the wonderful plate of Italian charcuterie we had on a trip down to Middlesbrough.

7 May 2018

Stable Hearth

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

33-35 Duke Street 
Darlington 
DL3 7RX 

01325 730 400

Accessibility: No
Gluten Free?: Yes
www.stablehearth.com 

Strange things, food trends. How do they happen? 

Take Balsamic vinegar, for example, which has been around since at least the Middle Ages. However Britain was largely untroubled by it until the 1990s when all of a sudden it - or at least a product that imitates the real stuff - was dribbled over just about everything we cooked. Why? Was it Ready Steady Cook’s fault?

29 April 2018

Branches (Jesmond)


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

9 Osborne Road 
Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AE 

0191 239 9924
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 
www.branchesponteland.co.uk/jesmond

Normally food takes precedence over interior design in my reviews, and rightly so. Fixtures and fittings are lucky to get half a sentence towards the fag end of the page. I’m simply more interested - and good deal more qualified – to assess what’s on the plate. If the food's amazing, I’ll happily eat it standing up, or outside, or wherever. 

But sometimes not to discuss the do-out of the dining room is to ignore the elephant in the room. Especially when that elephant is a honking great fake tree. This is the second outpost of Branches; the first one, in Ponteland, also features a big lump of pretend woody perennial in similarly perpetual blossom. Now they have a second branch, and a second tree. They’ve got a theme and they’re sticking to it. There can be no Branches without trees, I suppose.

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.