18 February 2018

Marco Polo

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

33 Dean Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1PQ 

0191 232 5533 
www.marcopolonewcastle.com 

Accessibility: Yes
Gluten Free?:  Yes

“Very good, slightly better than 20/20,” said the brisk chap at my opticians, as I tried on my new bi-focals. 

As someone not in the habit of receiving praise from health professionals, this verdict came as a very happy surprise. Better than 20/20? That, as far as I was concerned, was practically a super power. I walked out feeling on top of the world, making a point of having a damn proper look at everything with my turbo-powered eye-glasses and fully expecting to get the call from Charles Xavier any minute. And then I sort of forgot all about it and got on with life, as you do. Until a couple of weeks ago. 

“Christ, what font is that? I can’t read the bloody thing at all,” said my friend. 

“Can’t be more than 7 point,” agreed Mrs Diner. “This is hopeless.” 

Four of us were sat in Marco Polo, but while the other three hunted out their reading specs and switched on their iPhone torches to see better, I alone was able to make out the bill of fare.

11 February 2018

The Cellar Door


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

41 Sadler Street 
Durham 
DH1 3NU 

0191 383 1856 
www.thecellardoordurham.co.uk

Accessibility: No

One of the great advantages that computer games have over actual life is the Pause and Save button. Granted, the stakes are a tad higher in the digital world - I’ve never taken Newcastle United to the Champions League final, escaped from a violently mutated friend on an exploding train, or defended Rome against Barbarian tribes in the real world - but if I'd managed any of those things, I'd certainly have hit Save to capture the moment. 

How many job interviews start brilliantly, before one curve-ball question catches you out? Plenty. Remember that girl, way out of your league, you were getting on so amazingly with before you tried a “joke” that came out really, really weird? Remember the look on her face? 

Yeah: pause and save buttons for reality – bring it on. I’d have quite liked to have hit “Save Game” after our starters at The Cellar Door.

4 February 2018

Sky Chinese Cuisine


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

20-28 Stowell Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4XQ 

0191 230 3288 
skychinese.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? No 




In the same way that the best theatre in New York is often to be found Off-Broadway, I’ve always found the best Chinese food in Newcastle is very much Off-Stowell Street. I’ve endured some ferociously bad meals at venues in our so-called Chinatown, from all-you-can-eat horror shows to overpriced renditions of your standard anglicized Cantonese gloop-fests. I have many pictures to prove it – but could never bring myself to publish them. Indeed, no Stowell Street venue has come close to the pages of this site. Until now.

27 January 2018

Horton Grange

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

Horton Grange Country House Hotel 
Berwick Hill Road 
Ponteland 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE13 6BU

01661 860 686 
www.hortongrange.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

There are lots of meals that I could write about but don't, both good and bad. I revisit my favourite places all the time, but I’ll only write about them if there’s a major change, like a new chef, or a particularly good truffle risotto. Rest assured that if I ever do return to a place and find things not up to snuff then you’ll soon see it reflected here. The duds, on the other hand, are a different matter. 

Some meals are so terrible they make me lose the will to live, let alone waste my time and yours writing paragraphs of condemnation. Sometimes it’s so obvious that a place is on its last legs that there’s no point hammering another nail into the sarcophagus. There are also particular genres of dud meals that don’t require a write-up. If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a three course special involving a potato skins starter, you don’t need me to tell you it isn’t going to be haute cuisine. 

However, some really bad meals do need writing about, particularly when serious money is being charged, or when the restaurant makes lofty or portentous statements in their blurb. If there’s a huge gulf between the claims or price, and what ends up on the plate in front of me, I can’t help but start composing opening paragraphs in my head. Like this one. Because there’s bad – and there’s Horton Grange.

20 January 2018

Catch Ponteland

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

A696 
Higham Dykes
NE20 0DH 

01661 881 440 
www.catchseafood.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Seafood always seems to taste better when eaten within a skimmer’s throw of the briney from which it was yanked; there’s no finer seasoning for fish than the tang of salt in the air. So you might it slightly odd to open a seafood restaurant just off the A696, a mile or three north of Ponteland. And yet this is where the third Catch restaurant has pitched up - the other two are in West Yorkshire, also nowhere near the sea. 

The happy news is that, regardless of its longitude and latitude, it’s doing a lot of things right. As we were met at the door by one of those lightbulb-filled name signs that seem to have become a bit of a thing, it was clear that the old Waggon Inn site has been given a pretty thorough sprucing up.

13 January 2018

Kracklin

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

1 Market Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JE 

0191 340 0320 
www.kracklin.co.uk 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 


Here’s the thing: if this were a review of just one sandwich, it’d be pretty damn positive. I have friendly things to say about that sandwich. I enjoyed it. We got on just fine. Hang around, and I'll tell you all about it. 

But I don’t review sandwiches, I review restaurants, which means I ordered a bunch of other stuff besides. And some of that stuff wasn't so great. Sadly, the rules are that I have to tell you about those too. 


I don't think it's unfair. Kracklin, on Market Street, may be a sandwich shop. Or, to use their description, a “roast joint”. But its website also calls it a restaurant with a "lovely, recently refurbished dining area and a full bar menu...the ideal spot for a long lunch and chat with friends".

6 January 2018

South Causey Inn

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

Beamish Burn Road 
Stanley 
County Durham 
DH9 0LS 

01207 235 555 
www.southcausey.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I fear the portents for the restaurant trade aren't great. Every owner knows the impact Brexit is having on the value of Sterling, causing the price of imported products to rocket. Young Europeans are already less likely to head this way to work here, making recruitment harder. Consumer confidence, and therefore spending, is threatened. In 2018 these issues are not going to lessen as the reality of our messy divorce starts to crystalise. 

So, against that cheery backdrop: how do you stay afloat, never mind make money from the catering game? They say that diversification and increasing volume are a couple of options. Both have been taken up enthusiastically by the South Causey Inn. And how. 

Businesses often like to speak euphemistically about offering “cradle to grave” services. At South Causey, just a few minutes from Beamish Museum, they’ve taken this approach literally. Christenings, baby showers and funerals can all be catered for – there’s even a dedicated ash-scattering site for the latter. 

They also do afternoon teas, weekly quizzes, a monthly dog walk (fancy dress on New Year’s Day), gin tastings (they distil their own), and, of course, weddings. They have two separate wedding venues, each with their own chapel and bar. They expected to do 300 weddings in 2017, which will have helped the occupancy rate for their 37 rooms. A number of these are themed. And have their own hot-tubs. 

Astonishing stuff. But, as Mrs Diner and I pulled up for lunch, parking in one of their vast car parks, we had neither just been born nor died, weren’t getting married again, didn’t have Diner Dog with us, didn’t want gin, a quiz, or a night in a Captain Cook themed bedroom and were not in the mood for a steamy hot tub session. We were, however, hungry.

30 December 2017

Boat Noodle


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

3 Leazes Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4QT 

0191 230 0318 
www.boatnoodleuk.com 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

Of all the improvements that Newcastle’s food scene has seen over the last year or two, one of the most welcome has been the emergence of some rather good Chinese and South East Asian restaurants. 

If you want to waste your hard-earned cash on interchangeable meat in tangy gloop sauce then there are still plenty of those places hanging around, but there’s no need to any more:  from the Szechuan stylings of La Yuan to the hand-pulled noodles at Inoodle, via the ferocious jungle curry served at Thai House Cafe and the odd but effective combo of noodle soup and waffles at Meet and Treat, things are looking good on the Asian front. So it seems apt to sign off the year by adding another cracker to the list.

23 December 2017

Mr Petit


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

4 Old Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7JG 

0191 484 1245 

www.mrpetit.co.uk 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes

It moves crazy-quick, this restaurant biz. I could swear it was only 5 minutes ago that I was reviewing this same place. But now Al Buco, with its homely southern Italian stylings, has closed and exited stage left, to be replaced by Mr Petit, which is something else entirely. 


Having skilfully dodged my way through the onslaught of tat in Newcastle’s “International Christmas Market”, and just about managed not to break my neck in the icy conditions - don’t you just love the city in December? - this restaurant’s newly dark embrace was calming. The previously whitewashed walls have been given a lick of what I think is a heavy shade of purple and were dimly lit, with tealights on each table. So: apologies for the moodiness of some of the photos.

16 December 2017

Fat Mermaid


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

Coble Quay 
Amble 
Northumberland
NE65 0DJ 

01665 712111 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes  
facebook.com/fatmermaidamble 

There is a certain art to writing a good menu. As with so much in life, it’s about getting things in proper balance. 

Take the level of detail. At one extreme, some menus - especially in your hipster-habituated newer places, sporting a font that looks like it was produced by a Dymo machine - are overly terse, offering only a list of principal ingredients. “Prawn, citrus, peanut” – that type of thing. All well and good, but what have you done with them? I want to know what I’m eating, not your shopping list. 

On the other hand, you have the purple prose over-revealers. You know the sort: “Our famous best-ever house cured salmon, sashaying nonchalantly on a bed of wilted spinach, drizzled with chef’s own signature relish and served at a 45 degree angle to a dome of audaciously boiled rice”. I’m happy for a menu to show a bit of leg, but not to get its kit off before I’ve even been served a drink. 

Also of importance is the issue of familiarity. Are you serving up the same tired staples as every other place since decimalisation? Or are you seeking to shock, by clattering together ingredients that have no business sharing a plate? 

The well written carte should offer something for the curious and the customary diner alike. On all these fronts the main menu at Fat Mermaid in Amble is a triumph. Over 5 sections, with sensible titles like “From the Sea”, “From the Garden” or “Snacks”, are proposed that rare thing: a bunch of dishes any one of which I’d be happy to order.