10 June 2018

The Granby Inn @ The Dyke Neuk


Food ✪✪✪ 
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The Dyke Neuk 
Meldon 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE61 3SL 

01670 772 662 

http://thedykeneuk.co.uk 

I’ve got quite a mouthful for you this week, both in the name of this restaurant, and also in the vast portions that we ate on your behalf. I’ll get round to the latter shortly, but first let’s start with the Who’s Who. 

I’ve visited The Dyke Neuk several times before, as the Wansbeck Valley in which it sits is one of my favourite parts of Northumberland. Despite its undulating hills and sparkling river, this area between Morpeth, Belsay and Kirkwhelpington is a bit of a culinary desert, and sadly the food the Dyke Neuk was never worth writing home about – let alone on these pages. Despite its location right next to Meldon Park, which used to have a decent garden café, it eventually found itself without anyone to take on its lease. In stepped a pair of local businessmen, George Bowman and Craig Taylor, regulars both. 

So far so laudable, but as anyone in the rural pub game will tell you, a solid food offering is what brings that vital, spendy stream of townster folk out at weekends and evenings. Bowman and Taylor hit upon the idea of sub-letting the kitchen operation to an established business and persuaded Michael Hall, head chef at The Granby Inn in Longframlington (3 stars in my book) to be that business. And that’s why for couple of months, we’ve had the geographically confusing but nonetheless accurate moniker: ‘The Granby Inn @ The Dyke Neuk’.

29 May 2018

The Bluebell


Food (no stars) 
Ambience ✪✪ 
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Jesmond Vale 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1PH 

0191 232 1774 
http://the-blue-bell.com 

There are several good reasons to grant anonymity. Journalists and police officers need to look after their sources if they want them to remain useful; in the world of counter-espionage revealing an identity could put an informer at risk; in my case, I stay secret because I don’t want any special treatment – no freebies or backhanders for me. 

However sometimes it’s best to grant someone anonymity just because you’re a generous-hearted sort of chap and you want to spare them embarrassment. That’s why I won’t mention the name of the person who suggested visiting this pub, or the chef responsible for the meal I endured as a result. 

I love getting recommendations for new places. It’s one of the perks of this job, and so I don’t want to put anyone off from getting in touch with a hot tip from the culinary underground. Many a culinary diamond has been unearthed after a solicitous email or DM. Sadly The Bluebell proved not to be one of these.

23 May 2018

Langley Castle

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Langley Castle Hotel
Langley-on-Tyne
Northumberland
NE47 5LU 

01434 684 019
Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes

www.langleycastle.co.uk 

Castles are cool. From an early age this is something we just sort of know, probably because it was drummed into us through fairy tales. And we still just sort of know it, helped by the fairy tales they make for grown-ups: Game of Thrones, Meghan Markle, that sort of thing. 

These islands, and this region, are littered with the things, in various states of repair. They’re fun to visit, but the idea of ever owning one is not one that many of us, as grown ups at least, spend much time thinking about. 

Dr Stuart Madnick, a professor of information technology at MIT, apparently did spend time thinking about it. In 1985, a friend spotted an advert for Langley Castle and, aided by a favourable exchange rate, Madnick snapped it up and set about transforming the place into a luxury hotel. Which means that while neither you nor I are likely to possess a castle of our own, we can at least stay and eat in his.

14 May 2018

The Curing House

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
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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 ✪✪✪✪ 
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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 ✪✪✪✪ 
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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 ✪✪✪✪ 
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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 ✪✪ 
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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


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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 ✪✪ 
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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.