12 April 2013
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill
2-8 Fenkle Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
When I asked Bruno, the French greeter and seater, what sort of food we could expect from a place that describes itself as a steakhouse, he stiffened, raised his head and said proudly: It is not food, it is Art.
Just as well, I thought, as there’s no art on the walls of this modern, functional space. Unless you count three gigantic photographs of The Artist himself: Marco Pierre White.
Scowling and sprawling like an old roué, sporting his slightly scary, slightly camp bandana, the Godfather of modern cookery gruffly surveys the Newcastle outpost of his empire: circular lampshades, green and brown chairs, black and white walls in keeping with the rest of the Hotel Indigo in which it’s housed.
The restaurant also acts as the hotel breakfast room, so it’s understandable that it’s short on character, but it’s bright and welcoming, and Mrs Diner and I, seated by the window, had a view of the kitchen, where all was calm professionalism.
No sign of Marco, of course: he hasn’t been around for half a year now. But his spirit permeates the room.
Marco first invented these Brasserie-style restaurants many years ago, with Frankie’s, co-owned with jockey Frankie Dettori. Marco reckoned the public were tiring of Michelin-starred pretension, that we really wanted places serving real food at reasonable prices. Although Frankie’s has morphed into New York Italian, Marco pursued the vision with this chain of “steakhouses”. Except they’re not really steakhouses, but temples to British food.
So the à la carte menu has Steak and “The Guvnor” pie (containing his own beer, named after his father’s greyhound), real chips in beef dripping, braised oxtail with sweet potato, potted duck (the restaurant served foie gras until the anti-cruelty brigade staged a protest outside), belly pork with butter beans, shepherd’s pie and so on.
It’s straightforward and affordable, with main courses around £16. Like pub food ought to be, but with tablecloths and proper chefs. Marco clearly believes in his staff (he trained Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali), so I was delighted that he allows the local team design the lunch menu (£18 for 2 courses). Naturally that’s what we ordered.
I had smoked mackerel with well-balanced horseradish mayonnaise, wafer-thin radish, fennel, dotted with tiny confit tomatoes, and even tinier basil leaves. It was indeed a work of art.
Meanwhile, Mrs Diner had pumpkin velouté: it was supposed to come with parmesan, but this was barely detectable, though the soup had a satisfying undertow of pumpkin through its slightly insipid creaminess.
Mrs D’s wild sea bass was very fresh, covered with tiny crayfish and a chilli and coriander butter sauce with a tower of new potato mash.
Meanwhile I’d ordered a pithivier of venison. In many English restaurants this just means a posh pie. But a real pithivier is a beautiful glazed creation, made of puff pastry, etched and crimped, its innards pouring out when you cut into it.
And that’s exactly how it came. It was like a little castle, sitting on a hill of spinach and buttery potato, and around it a deep moat of puy lentils in an intense, oniony sauce. Inside, the venison was rich and spicy. Mr White hires very good chefs.
I finished with parsnip cake and splodge of banana and parsnip puree, with tiny parsnip chips on top, candied hazelnuts and a butterscotch sauce. Mrs Diner had sticky toffee pudding and promptly announced she was going on a diet.
The service, by Bruno and Trina, was professional and friendly. Though, Bruno, aren’t you supposed to open the sparkling water when you put it on the table? Never mind, everything else was almost perfect.