3 December 2016

The Running Fox

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2-4 Riverside 
NE65 9EA 

01670 787 090 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

This site has been a bit light on cafés in recent months. Truth be told, I’d take a starter over a dessert any day of the week. While I can admire the science and skill that lies behind a perfect risen sponge or a cunningly crafted mille-feuille, they don’t excite me half as much as a properly reduced sauce or a bit of glassy crackling. 

What’s more - and I realise that some of you might consider this heresy – I don’t really get “afternoon tea”. It’s not a meal; just a bunch of disparate bits and bobs, served on a cutesy stand. I’m not into cutesy, whimsy or dainty. Give me heft, depth and a decent glass of red every time. 

So what enticed me to the Running Fox, a self-confessed café, on a startlingly bright Saturday afternoon?

26 November 2016

Al Buco

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4 Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7JG 

0191 261 6646
Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

On a wet early winter afternoon, as the Christmas shoppers were turning their collars up in defiance of the elements, Old Eldon Square could hardly have felt less Italian. And yet, down just a few steps, and with one greedy forkful of pasta, I was whisked straight off to Bari, deep in the warmth of Italy’s heel. Such is the magic of good food.

19 November 2016


Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪ 

97 Osborne Road 
Tyne and Wear 

0191 281 8161 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Dear Reader, 

Thank you so much for taking the time to post your tweet to me. 

“@secretdiner1 - have you tried Sohe in Jesmond?” you asked. “I went for lunch today and thought it was excellent”. 

Forgive me, dear Reader, but I’m puzzled. You see, I don’t recall ever having insulted your mother, enjoyed an illicit liaison with your sister or run over the sweet little white dog you have as your Twitter profile picture. 

So what I have done to upset you so much that you would suggest I should spend nearly three hours of my life eating some of the most upsettingly bad food I’ve come across in all my years as the Secret Diner? I can only assume that you genuinely liked this place. In which case, I am truly amazed.

13 November 2016


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39-41 Low Friar Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5UE 

0191 261 5531 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? No 

"It must be good. Look: everyone inside is Chinese."

In the great pantheon of Daft Things You Hear People Say, this is one of my favourites. A number of “reviews” follow this formula on Inoodle’s TripAdvisor page. It’s a peculiar kind of positive racism which assumes, without any foundation, that an ethnic group of nearly 1.5 billion are all gastronomes. Surely a good portion of the Chinese, just like the rest of us, have terrible taste in food? 

I always wonder if it works the same the other way round. When a group of Asian people walk past a greasy spoon heaving with Brits, do they sagely nod and say to each other "Look at that, it must be a really great British restaurant"? 

Giles Coren reckons that the best way of discerning a quality Chinese gaff is to clock the number of Jewish patrons, citing the similarities between the cuisines (you say dim sum; I say kreplach), and the extreme fussiness of the latter ethnic group. I tend to find that the best Chinese restaurants are the places that all my Jewish friends book on Christmas Day (I have a feeling this criteria may be more reliable when observed in North London than in Newcastle). 

All of this ethno-preamble is a longhand way of noting the fact that as my friend and I grabbed an end-of-the-night table in Inoodle, we were indeed the only patrons of non-Asian extraction. However, this isn’t why the meal was such a joy. That comes solely down to the skill of the cook, who prepared us a range of simple but unerringly delicious dishes. And the wondrous treat of proper, hand-pulled noodles.

6 November 2016


Food ✪✪ 
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Wark on Tyne
nr Hexham 
NE48 3LS 

01434 230 209 

Accessibility: Yes 
Gluten free options: Yes 

If you ever needed an excuse to get out into the Northumberland countryside, there’s none better than right now. As we drove up the North Tyne valley from Hexham, the dramatic palette of golds, browns and ochre reminded us that we were bang slap in the middle of the most glorious Autumn. 

This valley is one of the most beautiful parts of one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And nothing shows it off better than a mantle of multicoloured leaves. For once, we had made a plan: we wanted a walk by the river before lunch, short enough not to be tired out, but long enough - just long enough, mind - to justify the three-course feast we were looking forward to. We timed it perfectly, arriving at Battlesteads full of fresh air and hunger. 

A half pint of something hoppy by Allendale Brewery in the pleasingly old-fashioned pub lifted the spirits still further. Today was going to be special; until we went through to the restaurant, and then everything went slightly off-kilter.

29 October 2016

The Funky Indian

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39 Borough Road 
SR1 1PS 

0191 567 4444


Accessibility? No 
Gluten free/friendly options? Yes 

It’s fair to say that Sunderland and I aren’t what you would call best mates. 

It was never personal, I can assure you. My previous criticism of the city has been based on pure, professional amazement that a population of some 175,000 is so poorly served when it comes to eating out. 

After the latest disappointment, a two star let-down at the still shiny Karbon Grill, I asked the Twittersphere why Sunderland had no good eateries. The place went mad – it seems the place doesn’t just have a chip on its shoulder, it has a whole bag of them, slathered in cheese and served with a bottle of blue pop. 

“Man’s a TIT!!” shouted Richard Gray on Facebook, garnering two likes for his troubles, while Bryan Hopper likened me to a more masculine part of the anatomy. Six likes for that. 

Anna Crosbie was more philosophical: “People just can’t help but be negative towards others. It’s like a poison”. 

It’s a cruel world Anna, as I was finding out. Being persona non grata in the city, I returned under cover of darkness, and decided to visit one place that a couple of my more constructive critics had said would change my view. It’s called The Funky Indian. 

So, Sunderland: please consider the following words a sort of peace offering, an act of detente. The Funky Indian has become my second recommended restaurant in your city.

22 October 2016

Thai House Cafe

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
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93 Clayton Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5PZ 

0191 261 5717
Facebook page

My friend’s tone was hushed and conspiratorial: “You totally need to try this new Thai place in town. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?” 

She wasn’t alone. Several readers had already alerted me to this little gem. So I apologise in advance for what follows – she (and they) may now find it a little harder to get a favourite table. 

I have to shout out about this place, because some of the dishes we tried didn’t so much hit the spot as chuck it in a mortar along with a load of fragrant and hectic spices, and beat it to oblivion.

15 October 2016

Starks Kitchen

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205-207 Chillingham Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 5LJ 

0191 265 8436 

Some restaurants appear to have been given just the right name. The one that previously occupied this little chunk of Heaton’s Chillingham Road was called Cal’s Own

Not only did it produce the North’s finest pizzas (including a calzone, I guess), it was also owned by Cal. Or Calvin Kitchin, as he’s actually called. 

In February Mr Kitchin upped sticks to lucky Jesmond or, to be precise, upped logs, for he’s acquired the world’s best pizza oven, a wood-fired handmade Stefano Ferrara, in which he now produces even more authentic Neapolitan pizzas.  

The new Cal’s Own is within a San Marzano tomato (DOP) of getting itself accredited by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, which is a very big thing in the pizza world.  If you live in Jesmond and you’re not a regular, you’re either mad or on a diet. 

Now the old Heaton joint has become Starks Kitchen. Apparently there isn’t a Mr or Mrs Stark (the owners are Game of Thrones fans) but the name certainly describes the feel of its interior. For anyone who used to make the pilgrimage here for pizza, the decor is a bit like the big reveal in an interior design programme: it’s very different, and, well... stark.

8 October 2016

Blackfriars Restaurant

Food ✪✪✪ 
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Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Friars Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4XN 

0191 261 5945 

When a restaurant has been packing in the customers for as long as Blackfriars, I reckon it must be doing something right. I last ate here some five years ago and it was an unhappy experience that left it languishing with just one star. So why did I return? In a word: Hinnies. 

That’s the name of the Blackfriars’ new sister restaurant in Whitley Bay which, when we visited back in June, was bang on form, churning out delicious plates of sensibly put-together dishes at bargain-basement prices. I awarded it four shiny stars and the experience jarred so thoroughly with my hazy recollections of Blackfriars that I resolved to give the mother ship another voyage. And so here we are.

2 October 2016

The Jolly Fisherman on the Quay

Food ✪✪ 
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Service ✪✪✪✪ 

95 Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DH 

0191 261 7011 

“Is that it?” I stammered, scanning the room for a chalkboard of specials. 

“Yes sir, that’s our menu for this evening.” 

I frowned at the printed A4 sheet in my hand. At least it wouldn’t take long to decide what to order. 

I tend not to go into very much detail about the menus of restaurants I cover. It’s an omission I need to remedy. A menu is more than a list of items that make you less hungry. It’s a statement of intent, a declaration of ambition. Are there any unusual cuts of meat or fish being offered? Is there a knowing mention of some groovily on-trend cooking technique? Does the farmer get a shout-out? What’s happening for the vegetarians? All of this stuff matters, and for people like me who spend a lot of time scrutinising what restaurants do, it matters a lot. Menus are important.