35 Grey Street
0191 230 2306
The PR of Barluga, a large buzzy place in Grey Street, confidently invited me to visit. I so wanted it to be good because I like their Central Bean coffee shops – they do a classic flat white cappuccino that’s perfect for waking up with over the Sunday papers. They’re also opening a Barluga Deli in Morpeth, which demands a look once it’s settled in, as it’s a town with scarcely any Secret Diner stars to recommend it. So there was a lot riding on our trip up Grey Street.
A “gastrobar” sign welcomed us at the door. I liked the warm and busy atmosphere. The staff downstairs were friendly and efficient, but upstairs on the balcony, our waiter was unsmiling and unenthusiastic. He needs to chill.
Barluga’s website offers “delicious modern British cuisine”, but the interior suggests sophisticated California grill: we expected fresh Caesar salads, ahi tuna, giant prawns, blackened chicken, ribs, seafood and burgers. In fact, the menu swings wildly from Mexican and Thai to Indian, via English boozer. Seafood chowder sits alongside vegetable samosas, gnocchi, rigatoni, steak and ale pie (with, horror, a puff pastry lid), sausages, tiger prawn stir-fries and even tandoori chicken. In short, unlike Caffé Vivo, it has absolutely no idea what it wants its cooking to be. Being all things to all palates sends the image inexorably downmarket. You just know a menu this size can’t be good. Gastro it most certainly ain’t.
Nevertheless we pluckily ordered scallops on minted pea puree, tempura prawns with ponzu dip, crispy belly pork with creamed cabbage, and just in case they knew how to cook Mexican, chicken fajitas.
Mrs Diner is an expert on fajitas. These were disastrous: the chicken and peppers arrived in a cloying, manufactured sauce. There was no salsa or guacamole and the sour cream had lime squeezed into it (which completely defeated its point). Even the tortilla chips were stale. Meanwhile my scallops had lost their flavour in the defrosting and sat on a loose mush of frozen pea that lacked any minty intensity and some bitter fried onions.
Tempura prawns were also of poor quality, and came with a dip that was far too vinegary for a quality ponzu. My belly pork was crispy and tender but, like everything else we tried, quite tasteless – no five spice or ginger or star anise to stir the palate – and it was floating on an ocean of unpleasant, creamy sauce with a pile of mashed potato that had been mated inappropriately with baked apple.
The presentation was as lazy as the menu: as a dining experience, Barluga is disappointing. But the house wines were fine.