27 February 2016

The Bottle Shop Bar & Kitchen

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

Waterloo Square 
St James Boulevard 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4DN 

0191 261 4193 
www.bottleshopbars.com 

Pity the hipsters. Already fretting over whether their vintage specs and organically grown taches (the men anyway) are sufficiently post-ironic, and now they’re having to take brickbats of invective from the media, social and otherwise, poking fun at their Cereal Cafés and fixed-gear unicycles.  

You’ll have seen them: 20- and 30-year-olds with liberal arts degrees and clothes that look like they come from charity shops or Grandad’s attic, urban bohemians into indie rock and witty banter, the men with shaggy hair so long it’s wrapped in a bun at the back, the women with their side-swept bangs and their hipster men. There’s a very funny (but not for the narrow-minded) Twitter account called @getinthesea that pours scorn on these latter day folk-devils. 

Well, eager to swim against the tide of reactionary opinion, allow me to offer them some support. A welcome byproduct of their never-ending search for the retro-novel, is the creation of markets for better-quality, more interesting products for un-hipsters like me. They may have deconstructed cultural norms in Williamsburg, and turned the fashion world back to the past, but they’ve also given us craft beers.

It isn’t so long ago that the presence of Guinness in a bar, or the odd real ale, was a discerning drinker’s only refuge from the hellish fizzy bilge of corporate lager. No more. Over the last five or so years a wild array of enterprising breweries has taken seed in cities, coaxing proper flavour from grain, hops, water and yeast. Although it sometimes comes with a pungent side order of pretence, this is a welcome development. 


The latest venue in which Geordie hipsters can moisten artfully trimmed beards with zeitgeist-bräu is called The Bottle Shop Bar and Kitchen, occupying the space vacated by the late but not much lamented (by me) Electric East near Newcastle’s Central Station. Gone are the Communist-realist Vietnamese murals, replaced by a huge graffiti’d Tolkien quote and bare-wood benches. 

Plateau, by Burning Sky Brewery

On a Friday evening we joined the hipsters, and a packed crowd of ordinary people who just like good beer, and snared a Chesterfield and a menu. For I'd officially come not for the beer, but the food. I’d heard that they had taken on former Pan Haggerty chef Matthew Stephenson. 

Pan Haggerty, which went bust two years ago, had imaginative but overfussy food in an atmosphere like a Marriott Hotel. Aside from overcluttering the plates with too many items, the kitchen certainly knew what it was doing. So Mrs Diner and I came to The Bottle Shop to road test its interesting, regularly changing menu of small plates – and the odd glass of beer. 


A flying start involved deftly cooked mackerel, all crisp skin and yielding flesh, paired with that ultimate vintage vegetable reborn – some charred cauliflower. 


Spiced lamb skewer also had excellent flavour, although it required some serious molar-work to extract it, presumably a sign that the meat wasn’t rested sufficiently. It sat in a pool of silken Jerusalem artichoke purée, the seasoning of which allowed the nuttiness to shine. Tapas sized portions of these dishes work out at £4-5, depending on how many you order. Not bad at all for some proper cooking. 


Ham and pease pudding is a wonderful, homely combination. Adding pineapple salsa and flecks of chilli to it seemed like madness and therefore it had to be ordered. The first two ingredients were excellent – the other two were indeed madness. However I’d happily see pease pudding on more menus up here. 


The final small plate of roasted celeriac with braised lettuce and poached egg would have been bang-on had the root veg not become a bit of a sponge for the oil in which it had been cooked. A shame, for the contrast between the bitter lettuce and rich, perfectly cooked egg yolk, was a good one. 


Halloumi and wild mushroom filo parcels, ordered from the separate bar snacks menu, were nicely fried, if a bit short on their filling. 

At this point, aided by Wylam’s wonderfully clean and tropical “WXY”, I was enjoying myself immensely and getting ready to pour effusive praise all over the place. Yes, Bottle Shop, you had four gleaming stars for your food at this point. But then came the downer. 


There was only one “large plate” available to us on the menu other than a sandwich, so the steak and ale burger had to be ordered. It was a total clanger. 


Over-seasoned and over-cooked, the meat had the density of a moderate-sized collapsing star, the cheese was insufficient and the bun stodgy. I can only guess that the patties had been made up and seasoned way ahead of their cooking. Chips were decent, though. 


Our dessert went some way to redeeming the situation. Cubes of carrot cake were moist and full of nuts and seeds, with just a hint of bitterness coming from tea ice cream. This paired well with a glass of Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, a 12% coffee-laced leviathan of a beer. Yes, 12%. Approach with caution. 

It’s hard to comment on the service, as ordering anything involved a trip to the bar. Staff were certainly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about both the food and beer, and everything came in good time. I noticed other people around us were mostly ordering just the terrible burger. I hope this isn’t always the case, as our small dishes showed skill and imagination, as well as an enthusiasm for ingredients you don’t see on every menu. 

I was particularly delighted to note the complete absence of tempura prawns or salt and pepper squid, which fact alone should encourage you to visit The Bottle Shop. While you’re there, raise your glass to hipsters everywhere, and all that they’ve done for us.

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