217 Jesmond Road
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 281 5222
It’s all change for Newcastle’s fine dining scene.
Recently I reported that Kenny Atkinson’s House of Tides has abandoned his tasting-menu-only policy, and introduced a Market Menu option for lunch and dinner. Now I can reveal that two Newcastle restaurants are adding tasting menus to their offerings.
In March Artisan introduces a seven-course “nose to tail” menu for just £37.50 per person while, later this month, former Masterchef runner-up Dave Coulson adds a tasting menu for his loyal and enthusiastic clientele at Jesmond’s Peace & Loaf.
So loyal are Coulson’s customers, that their votes gave it my Journal Readers’ award in 2014.
It deserves its success. When I first visited, shortly after its opening in November 2013, I gave it five stars, complimenting its modern, complex cooking, ambition and charm. Not resting on laurels, Dave Coulson tweeted that he wasn’t ungrateful, but he hoped that in due course he’d earn a sixth.
Now I only award six stars to cooking I consider of the highest standard, like James Close at The Raby Hunt in Darlington or Tommy Banks at The Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire, and, more recently, Kenny Atkinson’s House of Tides. Places I consider worthy of a Michelin star, whether or not the Michelin Guide inspectors agree with me.
That’s why, when Coulson told my office about his new tasting menu, I was keen to be the first to judge. I’m coming clean here: I didn’t pay for this meal (though I made a pretty hefty contribution to the tronc, so this was by no means a freebie).
The tasting menu is a £70 banquet. I’m sure my few niggles, detailed here, will be fixed by the time it’s available to the public from February 24th.
Little snacks came out first – Coulson has always served a selection of delights from the outset, and these were very good – a confited carrot of intense sweetness on carrot purée with some sharper onion jelly; a little fish ball rested on crispy kale, sprinkled with dessicated anchovy; crunchy chicken skin with ultra-smooth chicken liver parfait.
They still serve quirky bread here: last time it was tomato ketchup flavoured, this time it was black pudding that arrived with a very large dollop of brown sauce butter.
For the first course proper, Coulson and his team, which includes the talented Cevat Robert Elat, formerly of Jesmond Dene House and Café Royal, had clearly been out foraging in the local gardens and hedgerows. Among the “NE2 shoots” that came with light goats curd on crispy, thin, peppery sourdough, I spotted common chickweed and, a first for this season, the tiniest sprigs of wild garlic. This formed a deliciously fresh, cleansing starter.
Next came a roll of dashi-braised beef with a smear of smoky black garlic, celeriac puréed and roasted, and wild mushroom. It was a balanced, interesting dish, but probably a little early in a tasting menu, for it rather overpowered what followed: meat fruit.
This is a Heston classic, collected from medieval times, which takes an age to make and is a bit of a party piece: it looked like a chocolate-covered apricot, served with a slice of grilled sourdough. Where Blumenthal uses chicken liver and foie gras parfait, with mandarin jelly as the fruit’s “peel”, Coulson creates a kind of oriental version, with duck and a hoisin plum jelly peel, and sage for the fruit’s leaves. I would have preferred the plum a touch fruitier, more acidity to cut the richness of the duck, so I used a glass of Chilean Pinot Noir instead. It worked.
Fish came next: flawless wild sea bass, with seared onion and cauliflower, pickled, puréed, thinly sliced and deliciously charred. This was an imaginative mix of bitter, sweet and velvety flavours and textures, nicely paired with a zesty New Zealand Albariño (Coopers Creek - recommended).
My next course almost worked: hake, squid and pig cheek placed together, with pomme purée and a rich, dark jus.
My only misgiving was a lack of contrast: hake and pig cheek are similar in texture and tone, so perhaps a more robust monkfish might have worked better.
My grande bouffe then got even more bouffed, with top and tail of lamb – tongue and rump – with Jerusalem artichoke, tiny mushrooms, and a good dark jus and a young Australian Shiraz to match. A very substantial dish - perhaps even a little too generous for a tasting menu.
After a pre-dessert of an Oreo biscuit with a lemon cheesecake-flavoured middle (they should copyright this idea), Coulson's finale was a clever combination of pear, frangipane and crumbs of sharp, creamy Stilton.
A memorable dessert.
£70 a head (plus £40 for a wine pairing) places this meal in the special-occasions category. As an alternative there’s the à la carte menu, or the lunch or early evening prix fixe at £20/£30 - still good value, but pricier than this time last year. However, as a three-hour food fest with exceptional cooking and unbeatable service under maître d’ Liewy, this tasting menu is hard to beat in Newcastle. I thoroughly recommend it.