70 Pitt Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 261 7744
‘Situated within a stones throw of St James' Park’, claims the website, which might be unfortunate, given the mood of most Newcastle United fans right now. Thankfully The Earl of Pitt Street is protected from vengeful missiles by the barrier of new Newcastle University buildings that have sprung up around the stadium.
In fact, if there were a Secret Diner award for least likely restaurant location, I reckon Mark Lagun, the man behind Electric East, and now The Earl of Pitt Street, would be in with a good shout. Electric East (formerly Barn Asia), tucked away behind Dance City, has always struck me as somewhere that might struggle for passing trade. Likewise this gastropub, located in the former Greyhound boozer (a hostelry more renowned for alleged shady dealings than its beer), is clearly relying on its new owner’s philosophy of “if you build it, and it’s good, they’ll come”.
And come they certainly had on the Saturday night we visited, with both the downstairs bar and the restaurant above doing brisk business.
While still ostensibly a pub, it’s clear that the food is now the focus, and that the place is targeting a mixture of businessmen and students, plus the fortnightly hordes of fans (if there are any left after this disastrous season).
With Mrs Diner out of town, I took a friend. They describe the interior as “Alfred Hitchcock meets Vivienne Westwood.” Well, it’s certainly bonkers, and rather scary.
Giant pictures of unusual breeds of chicken peer down disdainfully from the walls.
Furniture is deliberately mismatched and upstairs there are camoutartan curtains and tablecloths of a wipe-down brown that wouldn’t look out of place in a strip-joint. If you’re tired of the ubiquitous exposed brick and chemistry-lab thing, you might really like it. I did.
Meanwhile the menu is even more eclectic than the decor, taking in a dizzying number of culinary destinations. Fish & chips and pasta dishes nudge up against Korean-spiced this and North-African that. So far so Electric East, a place I marked down because of its inability to do anything Eastern terribly well, possibly because its geographical reach is so widespread.
I do worry whether a single kitchen can ever hope to sling out (sorry, but that’s how it read to me) lots of different styles of food, hoping to please all of the people some of the time. I’d rather they found something they were really good at, and brag about it.
This menu mishmash turned our ordering into a bit of a lottery: did we reckon they were better at Moroccan lamb than baked Alaskan salmon burgers? Is the chef more competent at cooking Korean spiced prawns than panfried sea bass? I stuck in a pin and hit chicken shawarma, then ordered a starter of lamb pastilla, just to keep a bit of internal logic to my meal.
The pastilla, like big fried samosa stuffed with spiced minced lamb, was a winner: crisp and greaseless and studded with fruity sultanas. It sat on light, fresh Israeli couscous, though the advertised harissa and honey yoghurt tasted like it had visited a thousand islands enroute to our table.
Meanwhile my friend, who is vegetarian, was happy enough with his spiced parsnip soup, which came with its flotilla of mini bhaji and raita.
The chicken itself was delicious, moist but with good char, as they had sensibly used thigh rather than breast. The flatbread had a nice smokiness and the hummus was smooth and not too heavy on the tahini. The sweetcorn was heavily laced with butter and therefore very nice indeed. Another dose of the couscous I’d had on the starter was my penalty for trying to order coherently, while some sort-of-coleslaw was really not very good. In general, though, this was well cooked and a nice combination of flavours.
The same can’t quite be said of my co-conspirator’s pasta dish. I suspected that goats’ cheese and cranberry tortellini had the potential to be a wrong ‘un. The pasta itself was well made, but the cranberries had no business being inside it, while the goats’ cheese was cloying.
Sure enough, “Too many ingredients here!” came the complaint. He was right.
We were returned to more familiar selection headaches by the pudding list. Rhubarb crumble and triple chocolate brownie were edged out by a good sticky toffee pudding with light sponge drenched in salt caramel sauce (sorry Mrs Diner, but I had to try it).
Being in a pub, and so close to a football ground, we felt it would be disloyal not to drink beer. Alongside a selection of more traditional ales, Wylam Brewery offered some of its forward-looking recent brews included Cascade, which turned out to be very food friendly. The bill topped out at just over £50. During the week, the same menu is available at three courses for £18, which is good value. Service, both upstairs and down, was thoroughly friendly and efficient.
The food and decor leave you with the impression that the person in charge likes an awful lot of things, yet can’t settle on one style. While it could all have gone a bit wrong, there’s a charm and enthusiasm about the place that I found hard to resist. A large amount of this must come from The Earl himself, Mark Lagun, who is as cheery and convivial a host as you could hope to find.
I recommend you seek it out. If only to take a look at those chickens.