25 October 2014

Zyka


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44 Priestpopple 
Hexham 
NE46 1PQ 

01434 600333 
www.zykahexham.com 
Accessibility: Yes 

There are several Indian restaurants in Hexham’s Priestpopple. I’m using Indian in the loosest sense, of course, because 80% of British curry houses are actually Bangladeshi. 

We should be extremely grateful to the nation of Bangladesh for giving us our national curry craving. Except that, of course, to describe any dish as ‘curry’ is pretty meaningless: the word on its own gives no indication of a dish’s origin, taste or recipe. We use it as a generic word for a thousand different sauces. 

One of the problems of having so many curry houses in every town in the land is that everyone is a curry expert.  People get hung up on their favourite local vindaloo or korma, and judge everyone else's against it.  Which is crazy.

18 October 2014

Blyth Boathouse


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Quay Road 
Blyth 
NE24 3PA 

01670 369052 
Accessibility: Yes 



Last week I received a plaintive tweet from someone called Lee Gibling, asking simply, “Nothing listed in Blyth?” 

This website may be the North East’s most comprehensive guide to eating out, but the town of Blyth hasn’t yet appeared on its culinary map. That’s because, up to now, I haven’t received a single recommendation for one of its eateries. 

Two weeks ago Blyth Boathouse opened its doors to the public. Of course I waited the obligatory seven days to let it iron out any teething problems and get some feet under its brand new tables, and I also chose a quiet lunchtime, to give the kitchen a fighting chance. Perhaps I should have waited a bit longer.

11 October 2014

The Wood Oven


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Main Road 
Wylam 
Northumberland 
NE41 8DN 

01661 852552 
Accessibility: Yes 


This place doesn’t exactly look like a chic new pizza restaurant. Less sleek Italian, more village hall. 

There’s no frontage, just a sign strung over the railings outside, as if advertising the annual fête, and you dive down into a simply furnished little room with just 30 covers. 

At one end is a wall lined with “wood log” wallpaper, which is not nearly as naff as it sounds, but at the far end is the real thing: a colourfully decorated Italian wood oven roaring away in the middle of a busy kitchen. And the friendliest, most enthusiastic of owners, surrounded by a great smell of pizza.

4 October 2014

The Bank Bar Bistro

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516 Durham Road 
Low Fell 
Gateshead 
NE9 6HU 

0191 487 9038 
www.thebankbarbistro.co.uk 

Open 9am – 11pm (Fri/Sat 11pm) 
Full menu: Mon – Sat 12-9pm 
Sunday lunch: 12-5pm 
Accessibility: Downstairs bistro only 

Here’s a secret: food critics sometimes dine on their own. 

Not very often, I grant you, for we quite like good company and Mrs Diner is exceedingly adept at keeping my mood cheerful when the chef is doing his best to spoil it. But very occasionally I pop along by myself just to get the lay of the land. Or, in this case, the lay of the table.

27 September 2014

The Bay Horse

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Hurworth on Tees 
Darlington Durham 
DL2 2AA 

01325 720663 
www.thebayhorsehurworth.com 

Mon to Sat: 12 - 2.30pm, 6 - 9.30pm 
Sun: 12 - 4pm, 6.30 – 8.30pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

You can tell this is no ordinary pub by the garden at the back.  The tables have big umbrellas advertising Nyetimber. Any place that advertises England’s best sparkling wine rather than mass-produced French champagne gets my vote. 

It’s pretty indicative of the standard they’re aiming for here: it’s a quintessentially English pub with a very upmarket offering. And quite a few surprises.

20 September 2014

Windows On The Tyne (Hilton)

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Hilton Newcastle Gateshead 
Bottle Bank 
Gateshead
NE8 2AR 

0191 490 9700 
www.hilton.com 

Mon-Sat 6.30am to 10pm 
Sun 7am to 9.30pm 

Accessibility: Yes 

It does have the most incredible view. 

Straight over the river, with the cityscape framed by the huge sweep of the Tyne Bridge, it’s a breathtaking panorama. Though the Hilton stands high on the Gateshead bank of the Tyne, the hotel’s website places it in Newcastle, which must irk everyone south of the river. 

This is a flagship hotel for the whole of Tyneside, a first choice for putting up posh guests and VIPs. It hosts big conferences and banquets – and, although catering for hundreds is a tough call, I can attest that they do it very well. 

But this wasn’t a meal for hundreds – it was just me and a business colleague, power lunching in what the hotel calls its “casual yet elegant” restaurant.

13 September 2014

The Blackbird


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North Road 
Ponteland 
Northumberland 
NE20 9UH 

01661 822684 
www.theblackbirdponteland.com 

Mon-Sat 12-8.30pm 
Sun 12-5pm 

RE-REVIEW - 11th OCTOBER 2014.  
A couple of weeks ago I heard on the grapevine that Chef Robson had suddenly left The Blackbird (see my ominous warning below).  Since then a number of readers have alerted me to a sharp falling off in standards.  I was alarmed, because I've been informed that many people had been heeding my advice and were now packing this exciting new gastropub.  Concerned for my own reputation, I paid another secret visit this Saturday lunchtime and I'm afraid I found the criticisms largely justified: 

It was 2pm, and Mrs Diner wanted to order the soup of the day, but it had already sold out.  Instead she had ancient tomato salad (see my earlier review below), which was fine, except that the green beans had lost their colour and were tough and chewy, rather than bright and crunchy - I suspect they had been underblanched, and then not dipped in iced water to retain colour.    

She also ordered a tuna sandwich, which arrived as two enormous and mismatched doorsteps of white bread into which had been roughly piled a mound of tuna and crème fraîche, its taste marred by the unnecessary addition of butter to the doorsteps.  Not since 1970 has any self-respecting catering establishment thought of buttering bread that surrounds mayonnaise or crème fraîche!  The sandwich was placed on a side plate that scarcely contained its bulk.

My rare flat iron steak, which had previously been one of the restaurant's flagship dishes, arrived so tough it had to be sent it back.  I'm aware that the butler's cut, as it's more properly called, is by no means the tenderest part of a cow, which is why a kitchen that offers it rare should be very confident of its provenance, age and butchery.  This was a hewn slab of underhung rare rubber shoulder.  

In the absence of a burger, which had also sold out, the waiter replaced it with what he said was the last fishcake (quite what people were going to eat for the rest of the day was unclear).  This was adequate, though more cake than fish, with some tiny shrimp.  However, it sat with its spinach in a moat of buttery liquid that was so salty as to be utterly undrinkable.  Rather than the beurre blanc that it might have been, this fluid had the consistency of skimmed milk.  I suspect the capers that floated in this catastrophe may have been the cause of the problem. It came with a miniscule undressed salad of little gem and more ungreen beans.

It pains me to say this, because I really want to support this venture, and the residents of Ponteland desperately needs some decent British cooking, but this performance was so below par I've had to take The Blackbird off my recommended list and downgraded the rating from 4 stars to 2.  I hope the owners manage to find a decent head chef soon, otherwise it will incredibly difficult for them to recover from this setback.  When they do, perhaps someone will let me know and I might be persuaded to give the place yet another go.

Here's my original review, published just a few weeks previously:

The lineup is certainly impressive. Glen David Robson, one of Terry Laybourne’s most senior lieutenants, who was head chef of Caffè Vivo (my Best European Restaurant award for the past two years), has been paired with Danny Diver, the sommelier of Jesmond Dene House (Best Hotel Restaurant). Two culinary heavyweights in a Ponteland pub? This has got to be a serious attempt on the Best Gastropub in the North East crown.

6 September 2014

Rosa Twelve


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580 Durham Road 
Low Fell 
Gateshead 
Tyne & Wear 
NE9 6HX 

 0191 487 8257 
www.rosa12.com 

Mon-Fri 11am-2.30pm, 5pm-10pm 
Sat 11am-10pm Sun noon-8pm 

Accessibility:  Downstairs only (full menu)

This place started out life as a little coffee shop called the Lugano. Then in the 1970s it became Restaurant Italia, a North East institution that just about kept itself alive until the end of 2012. 

By then a weary lasagna-and-minestrone joint, with red carpets, chairs and tablecloths, green and brown patterned wallpaper and wooden ceilings with fake fishing nets, the Italia was the sort of place that should have been humanely put to sleep in the 90s, but had somehow managed to survive through the loyal support of an ageing clientele, comforted by a familiar, unchallenging menu and low prices. 

Thankfully, Italian food in Britain has moved on since then. Step forward Rosa Twelve.

30 August 2014

Freya's



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Aspers Casino
The Gate 
Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5TG 

0191 255 0400 
www.aspersnewcastle.co.uk 
5-11.30pm daily 
Accessibility: Yes

Sadly you won’t see Freya in here. The daughter of TV presenter Donna Air and Aspers owner Damian Aspinall turns 11 in a few days’ time, but children aren’t allowed into casinos until they’re 18, even if they have restaurants named after them. 

It’s on the first floor of The Gate: past the slot machines, roulette wheels and poker tables. 

“Where on earth have you brought me this time?” said Mrs Diner with a heavy sigh. “It looks like one of those cafés at the airport.”

24 August 2014

Cena Trattoria


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85 The High Street 
Yarm 
TS15 9BG 

01642 780088 
www.cenayarm.com 
 Mon-Sat 12 noon - late 


Yarm is a town that wants to move. It’s been part of Stockton-on-Tees since the 70s, but earlier this year 1,465 residents voted to move it into North Yorkshire – that’s 89% of those who voted. 

A principle cause of discontent is the parking. Yarm, which is as attractive as most Yorkshire market towns, has very nice shops and cafés in a lovely Georgian High Street, down the centre of which is a marketplace that doubles as a car park. 

I tend to measure parking time in courses. If you want a starter and dessert you need at least an hour and a half. Parking here used to be free for the first two hours, allowing enough time for coffee and petit fours, but back in April Stockton Borough Council imposed charges – the first hour is free, but after that it costs £1. No wonder the locals are complaining: Cena, which sits right in the centre, has excellent pannetone bread and butter pudding.