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.

9 December 2017

Côte


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

120-122 Grainger Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5AF 

0191 731 4733 
www.cote.co.uk 

My attitude towards chain restaurants is ambivalent and ambiguous. It’s all too easy to point an accusatory finger in their general direction and prattle on about how they suck the life out of a town’s dining scene, what with their capitalistic economies of scale, hedge-fund backing and lowest common denominator menus. But, as with most things in life, it’s a touch more complicated than that. 

There are, of course, some seriously duff chains kicking about that meet the above description neatly enough, and add nothing to the variety or liveliness of our dining scene. A wander through our bigger shopping malls will acquaint you with some of these overpriced predators. But there are also others who manage to turn out good quality at reasonable prices, and, crucially, offer us something that wasn’t there before they pitched up. 

That’s the reason I gave a thumbs up when Byron came to town. On a good day, their burgers are some of the best in Newcastle. It’s also why I was less enthusiastic about Red's True Barbecue, arriving as it did at a point when the whole smokehouse thing had been done to death, and then dug up out of its sooty grave and done once more, just for good measure. 

And that’s why I was actually pleased to hear that Côte were moving into the old Barclays Banks in Newcastle’s Grainger Street. Over the past ten years (the first opened in 2007) I’ve visited several branches in other parts of the country and always enjoyed their incredibly cheap lunches (3 courses for £13.50, just like in France) and very good selection of house wines. I really hoped this one would match the rest. It does.

2 December 2017

The Laundrette


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

48 Westgate Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1TT 

0191 261 2334 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

www.thelaundretteuk.com

Walking past Newcastle Central Station towards Grey Street and clocking the billboard for The Laundrette, I couldn’t help but think that the barrel of restaurant themes was showing distinct signs of having been scraped too far. Why name a restaurant after a service that nobody needs anymore and which is scarcely glamorous? And what kind of specialism is their tagline “Cocktails and Carbs”? 

This Newcastle opening is the group’s third, the other two being in the Manchester area. The original, in the pleasant suburb of Chorlton, is housed in what used to be an actual laundrette, so fair enough on that score. But Cocktails and Carbs? Pff. If the alliterated naming of a drink type and nutrient group is reason enough to open a restaurant chain then we’d better brace ourselves for “Pilsner and Proteins”, “Lilt and Lipids” and “Vodka and Vitamins”. All coming to a mixed-use development near you soon. 

As it happens, the theme has more bark than bite, as the menu turned out to be fairly standard summat-for-everyone fare including pizzas, burgers, salads, steaks and quite a few dishes with few or no carbs at all.

25 November 2017

Linden Hall (Dobson Restaurant)


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Macdonald Linden Hall 
Longhorsley 
Northumberland 
NE65 8XF 

0344 879 9084 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk 

It’s funny how the past can turn up in the present. A couple of weeks ago I decided I’d walk, rather than drive, to a meeting in Jesmond Dene. Traipsing past the sad, burned-out husk that used to be Fisherman’s Lodge I was, Proust like, whisked back to memories of its former glory. This used to be the number one place in Newcastle. 

I remembered, in particular, a perfect dish of enormous scallops, seared to rusty bronze, with a purée of spiced golden raisins. Given the number of restaurant meals I've consumed over the years, it takes something rather special to stand out in my mental Rolodex of plates, especially decades after the bill was settled. 

Later that night I got chatting to a waiter called Leo. I was dining at Linden Hall, a country house hotel about 10 miles north of Morpeth, and I could have sworn I recognised the guy from somewhere. Turns out he was the very gentleman who'd served me that plate of scallops all those years ago. 

We got to talking about fine dining, restaurants and what a special place Fisherman’s Lodge had been. He'd worked there for ages. Suddenly I felt quite old.

18 November 2017

The Ship Inn, Ouseburn

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

Stepney Bank 
Ouseburn Valley 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 2PW 

0191 222 0878 
www.facebook.com/shipouseburn/ 

Accessibility? No
Gluten free? Yes 



Alright, vegans: this one is for you. Except that, actually, it’s for everyone. Let me explain. 

It has not been easy to find somewhere in the North East to heartily recommend to those following a strictly plant-based diet. There was the Painted Elephant, but it closed a while back. In spite of their apparent popularity, The Bohemian and Grumpy Panda both wound up with 1-star reviews, thanks to their over-reliance on pretendy meat products which tasted bad and had weirdly grim textures. Surely someone could put a menu together using actual vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds and all the rest of it, and still make it taste nice? Well, they have now. 

Make no mistake: The Ship Inn isn’t just for the flesh-shy. Mrs Diner and I, committed carnivores both, enjoyed a recent lunch there as much as we have any meal for quite some time. There was talent, invention, colour and variety on display in every dish we tried. The meal was a pleasure.

11 November 2017

Restaurant DH1

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

The Avenue 
Durham 
DH1 4DX 

0191 384 6655 
www.restaurantdh1.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes (call in advance) 

It’s a fickle and scary business, this restaurant trade, especially when you’re attempting to run your own gaff. Crazy-long hours, deliveries not turning up on time, unappreciative customers, tax returns and all manner of other hells. Oh, and worst of all: food critics. You’d have to be a bit mad, wouldn’t you? 

But still they come, the brave and the foolhardy, to put themselves through this heart-wrenching mangle of an industry. For those of us who think sitting in a nice room being fed lovely things is about as good as life gets, thank goodness they do. 

So, when an email plopped into my inbox from Stephen and Helen Hardy, proprietors of Durham’s Restaurant DH1, proclaiming that business had been tough of late and that to drum up extra trade they were launching a new, moderately priced midweek menu (£30 for three courses), I thought it no more or less than an act of straightforward citizenry to try it out.