21 August 2019

Violets (Dinner menu)

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

5-7 Side 
Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 

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

If you can grab it, the window table on the lower floor of Abbie and Kenny Atkinson's Violets Café affords some of the most startling and evocative views that Newcastle has to offer. I’m not talking about the many architectural glories of the Quayside, nor even of the steel and granite heft of the Tyne Bridge itself, although these are both visible from that perch. No, I’m referring to a rather more sociological vision. And, now that Violets is open into the booze-filled evenings, it’s even wilder than it used to be.

29 July 2019

Banyan Newcastle

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

3 Monument Mall 
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 7AL 

0191 814 7478 
www.arcinspirations.com 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Sometimes I reckon that, what with having spewed out nearly half a million words on the topic, I know a thing or two about the restaurant industry. At other times, I’m left thinking I know nothing at all. The subject of this week’s review made me feel the latter, and how.

18 July 2019

MEATliquor Leeds

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

Behind Victoria’s Secret 
Bank Street 
Leeds 
LS1 5AT 

0113 246 1308 
www.meatliquor.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I wonder how many punters at this Leeds outpost of MEATliquor are even hazily aware of the almost mythological origins of this burger chain? 

Meetings in Peckham car parks, burger van thefts, a bollocks-to-it attitude and an awful lot of painstaking research went into making MEATliquor what it was, and is. These burger-slingers were among the first to do things that are now taken for granted in the food and booze game, from their origins as a food truck, their use of social media and the generation of buzz through word of mouth and food blogs which, back in 2008, were still something quite new and fresh. Simpler times. 

What's even more impressive is that, on this evidence of this dinner, they’ve maintained the consistency. The food and the experience were as close as makes little difference to my recollection of my own burger epiphany at MEATmission in Hoxton, London six years, numerous openings and even a couple of closures ago.

6 July 2019

The Salt Cove (Park Hotel)

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪ 

The Park Hotel
Grand Parade
Tynemouth 
Tyne & Wear
NE30 4JQ 

0191 257 1406 
www.saltcove.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Allegedly 

As we wound our way through the throng at the bar to our table in the dining room the sound of Pulp’s “Do you remember the first time?” was playing. For once, yes, I most certainly could. 

You see, decades ago I worked at the Park Hotel during a school summer holiday. I remember a huge scary head chef with a talent for vulgarity, a tall and very camp head waiter, and a diminutive wine waiter, who was Portuguese. One day the head waiter was ill and so the wine waiter deputised. I’ve never seen anyone so proud, pompous and nervous all at the same time.

It was the regular “Bank Managers' Lunch” where the besuited heads of all our local branches got together -  20 of them around a large banqueting table. Lamb chops were on the set menu; I was promoted to wine duty. I had just poured everyone a glass of Niersteiner Domtal when the little Portuguese waiter, covered in sweat, emerged from the kitchen carrying a huge platter displaying 40 neatly arranged lamb chops resting on a bed of watercress. 

He approached the head of the table and, with a theatrical flourish, presented the dish to the regional head of (I think) Lloyds Bank. In doing so, he didn’t realise that beneath the layers of chops and greenery was an ocean of scalding hot gravy, which poured like a river into the top man’s crotch. He leapt skywards, taking banqueting table, cloth, and all my neatly poured glasses of wine with him. The Portuguese waiter burst into tears and ran out of the restaurant, never to be seen again. 

Sad to say there was almost as much ineptitude on display on our recent visit, just without any of the pride, and a good deal less comedy. It’s a safe bet that in twenty years I’ll still be recounting the bit I’ve just told you as opposed to what must now follow.

30 June 2019

El Paso

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

61 Osborne Road 
Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AN 

0191 240 7777 
www.elpasojesmond.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I am not so completely naive or romantic as to believe that all restaurants should make every single item from scratch. Some things that come in jars or cans are perfectly reasonable additions to the larder. A local baker may be turning out loaves that are so good you’d be daft not to buy them in; I've been served bought-in tiramisu that has made me cry (admittedly made by an ancient Sardinian in the next village, but bought-in nonetheless). But at some point the opening of a packet becomes an expression not of sensible economy but old-fashioned laziness. If you claim to be a Mexican restaurant, that packet is the one that contains corn tortillas.

9 June 2019

Hjem

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

The Hadrian Hotel 
Wall 
Hexham 
Northumberland 
NE46 4EE 

01434 681 232 

www.restauranthjem.co.uk 
Accessibility? Not currently 
Gluten free? Yes, but call to discuss
Vegetarian - Yes, but please pre-order

Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to help you find something special in your own back yard. An outsider can get excited about things that might have grown mundane to a local; a stranger with genius and skill, can transform the banal, rendering it new and fresh again. Revelatory: that’s my opening salvo in trying to describe the experience at Hjem, a wonderful new restaurant in the village of Wall, just north of Hexham.

26 May 2019

Karma Kitchen


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

6 Bigg Markett 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1UW 

07473 908 309 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes
www.karma-kitchen.co.uk (for delivery)  

Can there be anything more stereotypically and pejoratively “Geordie” than the sight of two boozed up lads heading to the Bigg Market for a curry? Until someone figures out how to joyride a Greggs Sausage Roll, probably not. 

You might think that this wouldn’t be my kind of thing. Surely my gentle and genteel disposition would prevent such larks from floating my boat? Well, think again. Granted, this wasn’t a conventional Bigg Market curry story. My friend and I, finding ourselves with a rare free afternoon, didn’t stagger to the curry house filled with pissy “Australian” “lager”, in search of the world’s spiciest hell-broth - I like to think we are at least a little better than that. For our destination, Karma Kitchen, purveyor of home-style vegan cooking, is a great deal better than your average Bigg Market curry house.

24 May 2019

Beeronomy

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

Hood Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JQ 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes
0191 260 2454 
www.beeronomy.com 


I know the ol’ catering biz is well known for its quick-sharp comings and goings, but sometimes I can’t keep up. 

The last time I ate chef Ronald Robson’s food was in the spring of 2017 at The Merchant’s Tavern down at St Peter’s Basin, where he was brought in to make their menu a bit more serious. It wasn’t quite a success, or at least not on the night I tried it. I subsequently discovered he’d moved on round about the time of my visit, so I wasn’t really eating his food at all. Just as well – I wasn't very enthusiastic.

28 April 2019

Spanish City: 1910 Steak & Seafood/Trenchers


1910 Steak & Seafood 
Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

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

Spanish City 
Whitley Bay 
Tyne and Wear 
NE26 1BG 
0191 691 7090 

www.spanishcity.co.uk 
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

A small part of me is sad that the remarkable reboot of Spanish City hasn’t incorporated some element of the dodgems, waltzers and arcade machines that I hazily remember from a sepia-tinged yoof. 


On the other hand most of me is impressed by the sight of its dome, beautifully decorated inside, the exterior gloriously floodlit at night. And all of me is delighted that, in its rebirth, we now have eight new venues to get fed and watered by the coast in Whitley Bay. I suppose that costly refurb was never going to get funded through sales of rollercoaster tickets. 

The current food and beverage options include an outpost of decent Newcastle micropub The Split Chimp, a pancake and waffle house, a Champagne bar, a chippie - of which more later - and a tearoom. The premium offering, 1910 Steak & Seafood, is named after the year in which Spanish City originally opened; it also reflects the menu.

30 March 2019

Taco Bell

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪ 
Service ✪ 

84 Grainger Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5JQ 

0191 230 1309 

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

Sometimes, after dishing out a bunch of stars to the worthy, or more often withholding them from places that think their customers are mugs, I’m asked about my judging criteria: how can I review both upscale Michelin-starred restaurants and down at home diners? Am I biased against chains and faster food in favour of fine dining and independent restaurants? 

Well, to be honest, I do prefer my meal to be cooked by a real chef, rather than arrive pre-prepped in a catering van; a homemade scotch egg of runny yolk and loose, well seasoned forcemeat will always trump one of those tight, orange-crumbed supermarket jobs. But to my mind, if a place calls itself a fish and chip shop it ought to be able to offer good batter and fresh fish; a burger place should stand or fall on its burgers; and when a place calls itself a taco house, it ought to really know how to make tacos.