12 August 2018

The Roxburgh

 
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4 Roxburgh House 
Park Avenue 
Whitley Bay 
Tyne & Wear
NE26 1DQ 

0191 253 1661 
facebook.com/theroxburghonparkave 

What’s happened to Whitley Bay? It’s fast turning into a food and drink paradise: Hinnies, Nord, Papa Ganoush, Left Luggage Room, Elder and Wolf, Storm Cellar, Omni, the new Spanish City – where have I missed? Every time I visit the town, or a Metro stop either side of it, there seems to be somewhere new and good. 

I’m sure locals would give a shrug of their collective shoulder at this; they know just fine what they’ve got, thanks. But for anyone not from the area, with hazy recollections of Whitley Bay’s grim, stag-frenzied past, this new state of affairs is nothing short of miraculous. 

As far as I know, the upward trend all began with this little place: The Roxburgh. I had a great brunch here when it first opened at the beginning of 2015. My review began with the understatement: “It’s not exactly our region’s culinary capital”. I couldn’t really understand why a chef of Gary Dall’s skills and pedigree had chosen to open his first restaurant here. This chef from Wallsend had worked under Laybourne, and in Sydney, and used to be the private chef of touring rock bands. Why a tiny dining room in Whitley Bay?

4 August 2018

Antler


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55 Degrees North 
Pilgrim Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6BG 

0191 261 1066 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

www.antlernewcastle.co.uk 

In my world, there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I refuse to feel remorse about eating anything I enjoy, though there are a few things I don’t feel especially proud about.

Naturally I’m all about the gourmet ice cream, but the Fab lolly, eaten in layers (brown, then white, then red, obviously), is pretty damn good too; in my time I have stolen more than one miniature Snickers bar from my child’s secret stash; and while meat-wise my preference is for well aged rib-eye or long braised ox cheek, I’ve been known to enjoy the odd Ikea meatball. Quite a few, actually, and that’s all down to the Aged Diner.

25 July 2018

Papa Ganoush

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240 Park View 
Whitley Bay 
NE26 3QX 

0191 253 5550 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes
www.papaganoush.co.uk

The move from street food operation to a bricks and mortar restaurant must be absolutely fraught. 

Making a few informal dishes from the limited confines of a truck or tent is comparatively easy compared to coming up with a whole menu, and then cooking it consistently. You quickly know what works when you get an instant response from a hungry crowd outside your van; it’s harder to get feedback from a bunch of hired staff. Now you have to do HR, and find premises with non-crippling rents. And buy plates, and tables and cookers and stuff. And figure out your order of service and your supplier network. Maybe better just stick with the street food thing after all, eh? It is festival season after all. Restaurant next year. Maybe. 

So all credit to those brave souls, like Papa Ganoush, who have rolled the dice and taken that plunge. I had always been impressed by their falafel, zingy salads and sauces, all piled into steaming fresh flatbreads at Jesmond Food Market or down on the Sunday Quayside Market. But a restaurant cannot just serve up wraps: what else would be on the menu?

16 July 2018

La Famiglia

Food ✪ 
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80 Queen Street 
Amble 
Northumberland 
NE65 0DD 

01665 711 862 

www.boathousefoodgroup.co.uk/la-famiglia 

Among the restaurant-going public it’s a longstanding belief that the words “home-made”, or any variation thereof, denote something good. Maybe that’s why they appear so frequently on menus. The sauce is always the “chef’s own”. Or the soup is “our chef's special recipe”. Yum.

At La Famiglia, in Amble, all the pasta is “handmade on the premises”. What then to make of the fact that, at least on the cheerily bright lunchtime of our visit, it wasn’t very good?

8 July 2018

Tomahawk Steakhouse


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95 Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DH 

0191 222 1122
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

www.tomahawk-steakhouse.co.uk 

I rarely order steak when eating out, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it scarcely allows a kitchen to demonstrate its talent; seasoning and heat applied to a lump of protein doesn't really justify all that time spent at catering college. Keep your sirloin and instead show me the daube of feather blade. 

Secondly, steak usually arrives with crashingly dull accoutrements. Chips, a grilled mushroom and a barely warmed-through tomato, you say? Innovators just keep innovating! Sauce Diane is it? Well then, let’s dust off the flux capacitor out and set it to 1972. 

No, for the most part steak is something to cook at home. Buy expensive meat, make an insanely buttery mash, open a good red, fire up the charcoal: enjoy. 

I do make an exception though, when steak is the whole reason for a restaurant’s being. In such cases, one hopes the folks in charge have taken the care to find some dry-aged cow of distinguished lineage and prepare it in a manner that does justice both to the beast and to those who reared it. 

Over the years, I’ve found some really disappointing steak specialists in our region: like The Rib Room at Ramside Hall (which took three goes to get me one medium rare), or the chain restaurant Miller & Carter, where just about everything was poor. 

Nowadays for good steak in Newcastle I rely on Terry Laybourne’s Porterhouse in Fenwick, with its Glenarm beef and heat-belching Josper grill. But now there's a new option, also named after a nice piece of beef on the bone: Tomahawk.

2 July 2018

Route


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35 Side 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes

0191 222 0973 
www.routenewcastle.co.uk 

I eat my way through a lot of mediocre to middling food in order to bring you these dispatches. And for what? Completeness, I suppose. There’s a bit of text at the top of my home page declaring this site to be “The definitive guide to restaurants, gastropubs and cafés” across the North East. 294 down so far. It’s a heavy cross to bear. 

As a result, I hope for the best, but all too often find myself set against “tempura” squid, some lazily reheated ribs or yet another so-called sticky toffee pudding that is in fact micro-pinged sponge with bought-in sauce and dud of ice-cream. 

So, you’ll forgive me if I get a bit excitable when I catch wind of what promises to be somewhere genuinely good; when I see a list of slightly off-piste wines that I really want to try and a fun set of dishes to go along with them. If what follows comes over a little bit fanboy, then sorry, but Route, the new place on Newcastle’s Quayside by The Staith House’s John Calton, is exactly my kind of place. I really liked it, and that’s just how it is.

23 June 2018

Kiln

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Unit 4 
Hume Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 1LN 

0794 956 5013 
www.kiln.cafe 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

As the years skid past, painting my hair in ever lighter tones of grey, I become increasingly aware that I must be losing any credibility I may have had in the past to pronounce on what is, or isn't, cool. Unless, of course grey hair itself is cool (Lord knows, fashion is so daft that it might be), in which case I’m getting cooler by the minute. 

Anyway, forgetting how uncool I really am: every now and then I find myself somewhere in Newcastle that is so clearly, unambiguously cool (or hot, as I used to say back in the day) that it might as well be in Dalston, Kreuzberg, Williamsburg or wherever. It fills me with no little civic pride to note that Newcastle is able to see such places survive and maybe even thrive. And, usually, they’re in the Ouseburn. 

Whether it’s Anna Hedworth’s soon-to-be-moved-to-larger-premises Cookhouse, the ever-dependable Ernest, The Ship Inn with its riotously bright, tasty vegan food or any one of a few first-rate boozers, there is more good food and drink per square metre in Ouseburn - and always at wallet-friendly prices - than anywhere else I can think of outside the city centre. To this list you can now add the subject of today’s review: Kiln.

10 June 2018

The Granby Inn @ The Dyke Neuk


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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 ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

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

Food ✪✪✪✪
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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.