27 June 2015


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18 Claypath
DH1 1RH 

0191 370 9595 

It must tell us something about these post-everything times that nowadays everything we buy has to be described as “authentic”. Nowhere more so than in our restaurants. The words “real” and “proper” are plastered all over menus in the hope of convincing us that we’re getting – what? Something that isn’t fake?

“We’re proper cooks, serving real British food, cooked properly”: that’s the claim from Oldfields, or “Oldfields Noted Eating House” as it likes to be called. 

I wonder: what does “unreal food” taste like? Do other restaurants have pretend chefs, rather than proper ones?

20 June 2015

Baba Yaga

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70 Adelaide Terrace 
Newcastle upon Tyne

07739 068173 

Note: no credit cards at present 

Tomorrow there’ll be no Father’s Day celebrations in Warsaw. That’s because Polish Dads get their special day on Tuesday, two days after the rest of the world. 

I have no idea why this is, but I’m pretty sure it means there won’t be any spare tables in Baba Yaga come Tuesday night. It’s Newcastle’s newest, and only, Polish restaurant.

13 June 2015

Rockliffe Hall (The Orangery)

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Rockcliffe Hall Hotel, Golf & Spa 
Hurworth on Tees 
County Durham 
DL2 2DU 

01325 729 999 

In theory, people living in Darlington should have had two stellar fine dining restaurants to choose from for the last few years. 

To the north west of the town, James Close and his small team turn out dishes of pristeen and precise flavours from their tiny kitchen at The Raby Hunt. It continues to offer the very best cooking in the North East, earning it the region’s only Michelin star, and a solid 6 stars on my last two visits. Close is a genius; if you haven’t yet eaten there, you should book today. Meanwhile, immediately to the south is The Orangery, centerpiece of the formidable sprawl of hotel, golf course and spa that make up Rockcliffe Hall. Except that’s where, up until now, things have gone a bit awry.

6 June 2015

Sea Salt

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104 Queen Street 
NE65 0DQ 

01665 713 569 

Amble is only a couple of miles down the Coquet from Warkworth, but they could be on different planets. 

Like two unequal sisters, a pretty one that gets all the dates, and a plain one that does all the work, Warkworth has always eclipsed its neighbour on the visitor front, with its castle, riverside walks and more high-end holiday homes than you can shake a jar of WI jam at. By contrast, Amble has always seemed like a place where people actually live and work. 

However, recently Amble has blossomed. On a recent stroll along the harbour (I’ve already reviewed The Old Boat House there, with its excellent fresh fish), we happened upon “Amble Harbour Village”, a new development with lots of small businesses trading out of small wooden “pods”. Several even described themselves as “artisan”: this was not the Amble I knew as a child. 

They’re building a seafood centre, and I’m guessing there will soon be an overdose of gift shops as the visitors flood in. I hope Warkworth doesn’t get too jealous. 

Amid such a regenerative flurry, we were pleased to find another good eatery. Amble is almost becoming a food scene. Almost.

30 May 2015

Chez Mal Brasserie - Malmaison Hotel

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Malmaison Hotel 
104 Quayside 
Newcastle Upon Tyne 
NE1 3DX 

0844 693 0658 

Accessibility: Yes

Why is the quality of a hotel’s food invariably in inverse proportion to its size? 

I’ve never understood why Dinner, the one part of a trip that guests remember most, is so frequently bottom of the list of customer service priorities. Many posh London hotels have given up trying and handed over their best rooms to celebrity chefs. No wonder the first call to the concierge is always: “Can you recommend a good local restaurant?” 

If modern hotels put as much effort into their kitchens as they do their range of pay-per-view adult videos, no one would ever venture outside. Don’t they realise customer satisfaction starts with the stomach? 

I’ve had quite a few jabs at North East hotels of late: Hilton was the most ghastly, followed by its Doubletree offspring at the airport. But even the smaller, more boutique establishments have had their day of shame on these pages, the notable exception being Jesmond Dene House Hotel, which has 6 stars to show for it. 

I was even greeted by poor quality and worse value at the smart Hotel du Vin. After two disappointing meals, I checked out another branch down in Tunbridge Wells, which was just as bad. It looked like there was a systemic failing within the group. 

Now the manager of the Hotel du Vin in Newcastle has urged me to visit again: apparently they have a summer alfresco offering (inside when wet!). I might take him up on it, not because I’ve heard its kitchen has improved, but because last week I tried out the new menu at its sister hotel, the Malmaison, and was pleasantly surprised. Actually, surprised is an understatement: gobsmacked is closer to the mark.

24 May 2015

The Earl of Pitt Street

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70 Pitt Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE4 5ST 

0191 261 7744 

‘Situated within a stones throw of St James' Park’, claims the website, which might be unfortunate, given the mood of most Newcastle United fans right now. Thankfully The Earl of Pitt Street is protected from vengeful missiles by the barrier of new Newcastle University buildings that have sprung up around the stadium. 

In fact, if there were a Secret Diner award for least likely restaurant location, I reckon Mark Lagun, the man behind Electric East, and now The Earl of Pitt Street, would be in with a good shout. Electric East (formerly Barn Asia), tucked away behind Dance City, has always struck me as somewhere that might struggle for passing trade. Likewise this gastropub, located in the former Greyhound boozer (a hostelry more renowned for alleged shady dealings than its beer), is clearly relying on its new owner’s philosophy of “if you build it, and it’s good, they’ll come”. 

And come they certainly had on the Saturday night we visited, with both the downstairs bar and the restaurant above doing brisk business.

16 May 2015

Socrates @ No5

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5 Oldgate
NE61 1PY

01670 514666 

Never go back, they say. They were right. 

Last year I reviewed one of the most unusual little restaurants in Northumberland, called Holystone Lodge. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, unless you happen to live in the village of Sharperton, in which case it was in the middle of everywhere. 

It was buzzing with happy locals and a wonderful lamb kleftiko. There was other good Greek food too: a tomato-rich, spicy kapama, and a baklava to die for, light, flaky, nutty and drooling with honey. It didn't call itself a Greek restaurant, and the non-Greek food didn’t really work for me, but it had a chef called Socrates, who was as Greek as the drachma. 

Then, sadly, the restaurant closed. I bemoaned its loss on this site. The North East had lost its only decent Greek restaurant, I said, even if it’s not actually Greek.  Not one reader demurred. However, I did predict that Socrates and his kleftiko would soon pop up somewhere else. Step forward Morpeth.

9 May 2015

Rosie’s Bistro & Patisserie

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23-24 Gosforth Centre 
Newcastle Upon Tyne 
NE3 1JZ 

Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm 

I’ve never met Rosie, but if her taste in decor is anything to go by, she seems like a nice lady. Her café is very grey-green Farrow and Ball, with industrial pipes across the ceiling. 

Actually, I may have met her, but I can’t be sure, because I was a little uncertain about who was actually in charge the day I visited. The service was, how can I put it, unobtrusive. I had to do a lot of armwaving and “excuse me please, can I have a fork?” Alert it wasn’t.

2 May 2015

Ramside Hall Hotel (Rib Room)

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Ramside Hall Hotel 
DH1 1TD 

0191 386 5282 

Dinner in The Rib Room didn’t start well for Mrs Diner. 

“Outrageous,” she spluttered. “Is this in a 1950s timewarp?” 

She wasn’t talking about the huge signs in the hotel car park, which would have out-brashed any Harvester Inn. Nor did she mean the tired, swirly carpets, or the strange combination of castellated manor house and log cabin, with its plain vaulted wooden ceiling and heavy Victorian interior. 

Nor did she mean the restaurant itself, a cross between Angus Steak House and French brasserie. She was staring at the menu in front of her, mouth agape.

25 April 2015

Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse

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10 Mosley Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1DE 

(Fri/Sat 11pm) 
No reservations 

Ever since man discovered fire, he’s been arguing about the best way to barbecue. Direct or indirect, rubbed or marinated, gas, charcoal or wood? 

There’s nothing sadder than seeing male egos preening themselves over hot grills. Mrs Diner likes to deflate mine, when I emerge, red-faced and triumphant, my shirt stained with marinade, bearing chops, joints and wings, by telling our guests that it’s not really the grilling that counts, but the meat and the spicing. Ah, there’s the rub. Literally.