24 September 2016

Violets


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

5-7 Side 
Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 

www.violetscafe.co.uk 

Depending on when the 2017 guide gets leaked, Kenny Atkinson should find out in a few days whether his restaurant House of Tides has retained its Michelin star for another year. I fully expect it to. 


I enjoyed another stellar meal there back in June, fully justifying the 6 stars I had given it in my previous review: Lindisfarne oyster, tiny cones of chicken liver, beetroot and smoked eel meringues before the meal; scallop, halibut, 40-day aged beef and apple and blackberries during; and a big contented grin all the way home. 


House of Tides has confidently settled into its stride as Newcastle’s finest dining establishment. Long may it reign. However, it’s not all about the flagship for the Atkinson family these days. 

This summer wife Abbie opened up her own café called Violets. The word café can conjure grim visions of over-brewed tea, greasy breakfasts and paperweight scones. As you step through the door into this picture of Instagram-bait cuteness, you know you’re in for a very different experience.

17 September 2016

Zaap


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

117 Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5RZ 

0191 230 1280 
www.zaapthai.co.uk 



I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve sold out to the corporate world in my advancing years, but the eagle-eyed among you can’t have failed to notice how much time I’m currently spending in chain restaurants. 

The thing is, judging by the thrum and buzz that has been evident when I’ve visited so many of the newly opened multis in and around Newcastle, so are lots of you. And, so long as we’re all going to eat in these gaffs, why not try to suss out the better venues from the also-rans? 

Chain restaurants are springing up everywhere. Mrs Diner and I have happened upon so many packed houses, we’ve started to wonder how many more mid-range food brands Newcastle can shoulder. We’ll find out soon enough as the refurbishment of Eldon Square continues apace, with some 20 units to be shared among a host of mostly familiar names. 

Sure, I’d rather focus on independents, but as investors have put an awful lot of cash into our region’s restaurant scene, it’s only right that I give them all the once-over. We have been impressed by a few (Byron, Turtle Bay) while left very cold by several others (including Thaikhun and Cabana). In which category would I place Zaap, a Thai outfit that completes the chain gang alongside Turtle Bay and Cabana in the old Co-Op building?

10 September 2016

Newcastle Quayside Sunday Market

Food: at least ✪✪✪ 
Ambience: ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Service: N/A 

Every Sunday

Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DE 

0191 211 5533 


If you are one of the 57,000 brave souls who will be running, jogging or perhaps just staggering from Newcastle to South Shields on the Great North Run tomorrow, then I salute you. I’d love to be there with you, bounding across the Tyne Bridge dressed as a hot dog, revelling in all that sweat and Lycra, but I’ve promised to take Mrs Diner back to Greece. 

Well, not Greece itself, but a little van that sells Greek gyros. It’s just below the bridge, in Newcastle’s Quayside market that appears every Sunday morning. This row of stalls and vehicles is one of the culinary delights of the City, turning a simple stroll beside the river into a brunch of champions. 

Great North Runners: I promise we’ll be thinking of you as we munch away below your jogging feet. We might even manage a wave or two. But don’t look down or you might just smell the food, give up running and come and join us.

3 September 2016

The Crathorne Arms


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

Crathorne 
North Yorkshire 
TS15 0BA 

01642 961 402 
www.thecrathornearms.co.uk 

What a difference a few miles make, I thought, as we pulled off the A19 and into the village of Crathorne. 

Just behind us was the industrial thrum of Middlesbrough and the Tees estuary, all belching chimneys and iconic chemical plants. In front of us was the very essence of a pretty village. Everything was in bloom. And, at the heart of it, a fine-looking whitewashed lump of country pub, the Crathorne Arms. 

In fact, to just call this place a pub would be to undersell its charms. It’s actually part of North East culinary history.

27 August 2016

Five Guys


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

2-4 Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7DE 

The Qube 
Metrocentre 
Gateshead 
NE11 9XR 

www.fiveguys.co.uk 

Let's start with a confession: I have a slight bias against Five Guys. 

 
In another life I quite frequently had cause to visit the West Coast of the United States. California is not only the land of never-ending sunshine, it’s also the home of the In-N-Out burger, possibly the most delicious (and evil) fast food known to man. 

Their “Double-Double, animal style” (two patties cooked in mustard, with the sweetest caramelised onions, cheese and a secret Thousand Island-type sauce, freshly cooked and served in a ‘drive-thru’ for less than $5), could be the most significant culinary achievement of the Golden State, greater even than iceberg lettuce or The French Laundry. Well, maybe not The French Laundry. 


Then Five Guys arrived, an infiltrator from the East Coast, and so began the famous California burger wars. Five Guys were twice the price, but you chose your own fillings.  They quickly became a kind of cult, attracting the hipsters and the showy; meanwhile good old In-N-Out stayed there with just three items on the menu: burger, cheeseburger or the Double-Double. 

Trump versus Clinton had nothing on this: it was cultural, and it was personal. Arguments raged within families and friendships about which burger joint was better. It was like that time Oasis and Blur released singles in the same week. This was war. 

I was always a purist. For me, nothing beats the animal style of In-N-Out. I can’t wait for them to come to England. Except they won’t. 

In-N-Out is a family business, pledging never to franchise their soul or their amazing burgers. So they’ve stayed small and West Coast – they haven’t even reached New York yet. Whereas the Five Guys quickly became two thousand. Until eventually they invaded the UK. 

Finally, they’ve reached the North East. So, trying to suppress old prejudices, I felt I had to give them a chance.

20 August 2016

Virgin Trains East Coast

Peter R Foster IDMA / Shutterstock.com
Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

Newcastle to Kings Cross 
and return 
(First Class only) 

www.virgintrainseastcoast.com 



Poor Jeremy Corbyn. This week he bought a Standard Class ticket on a Virgin train from London to Newcastle without a (free) seat reservation. 


Didn’t he know that he’d have to spend the entire journey sitting on the floor? Or at least long enough to be filmed by a conveniently placed film crew. Now he wants to re-nationalise the railway: that’ll teach ‘em. 

The Labour leader wouldn’t consider upgrading to First Class, even though the air-conditioned coaches had empty seats aplenty. So, sadly, Mr Corbyn couldn't sample Virgin’s culinary treat: a Tasty Journey with James Martin.

13 August 2016

Karbon Grill


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Hilton Garden Inn 
Vaux Brewery Way 
Sunderland 
SR5 1SN 

0191 500 9494 

One taste of my seafood starter and I found myself whispering to Mrs Diner: “You know, we might finally have found a decent place in Sunderland.” 

This excitement lasted all of ten minutes. For the following hour and a half I desperately wanted to regain that magic moment, the high water mark of what quickly turned into another disappointing Wearside meal. 

For years I’ve been desperate to find somewhere, anywhere, to recommend in this city; our meal at the Karbon Grill, the new restaurant in the Hilton Garden Inn, gave me hope at first, particularly as they are the proud owner of a shiny Josper grill, but this was all too soon dashed on the rocks of duff steak and weird sauces.

6 August 2016

Thaikhun


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Upper Qube 
intu Metrocentre 
Gateshead 
NE11 9YG 

0191 594 6420 
www.thaikhun.co.uk 

When was the last time you ate “street food” on an actual street? 

It’s one thing to get a bunch of food vans and stalls together at events such as Newcastle’s upcoming Craft Beer Calling festival (which I’m very much looking forward to this October), or those much-missed Boiler Shop Steamers, but it’s stretching things to the point of snapping to serve up small dishes in an actual bricks and mortar restaurant and call it street food. Yet that’s how Thaikhun describes itself. 


‘Our vision and passion is to bring authentic Thai street food from the streets of Bangkok to the streets of the UK,’ enthuses its website. 

Sadly, the Metrocentre on a Monday evening feels about as far from street as it’s possible to be.

30 July 2016

Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen


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

31-33 Starbeck Avenue 
Sandyford 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1RJ 

0191 261 5501 
www.harissakitchen.co.uk 

It was so good, I went twice. That’s not something I can say about many places I review, but I am pleased to report that this restaurant took me completely by surprise. 

Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen, which opened in Newcastle’s Sandyford district just a few weeks back, is the sister company of the admirable Food Nation, a Newcastle based social enterprise which runs cookery classes and works with schools and businesses to “inspire people about good food”. 

Food Nation is supported by organisations like Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation. This means it’s all about food that’s good for you, which, as everyone knows, doesn’t always mean good food. It’s like the difference between “dirty burgers” (so bad they’re good) and “clean eating” (so “good” it’s repellent). 

The nice thing about Harissa’s food is that it’s not just healthy, it’s also delicious and unlike anything else in Newcastle. It has the added bonus of being served in a space where it’s a pleasure to spend time.

23 July 2016

The Granby Inn

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Longframlington 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE65 8DP 

01665 570 228 
 www.thegranbyinn.co.uk 

When can a pub legitimately call itself a gastropub? Is it when it starts offering roasted cauliflower and panfried kale as side dishes instead of boiled carrots and broccoli? Is it when food tourists outnumber the locals in the public bar? Or, as in the case of The Granby Inn, is it when your young chef comes home with a North East Chef of the Year award?