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Masterchefs cook up May Day banquet

Jesmond chef Dave Coulson is teaming up with the woman who beat him to the Masterchef: The Professionals 2010 title for a special fine dining banquet at his restaurant Peace & Loaf

Claire Lara, from Merseyside, who won the title over Dave and the other North East finalist John Calton (of The Staith House), is joining Dave to cook a selection of the dishes they created during their time on the television show.  Since winning Masterchef, Claire has been head chef at The RiverHill Hotel and Restaurant in Birkenhead, Wirral. 

The one-off event, which marks the 6-month anniversary of Peace & Loaf, is on Thursday 1st May and costs £65 per head, with an 8-course set tasting menu. Bookings are now being taken on 0191 281 5222, with a £10 deposit. Peace & Loaf already has 5 Secret Diner stars – see the review here. The banquet's menu will be announced on the weekend of 19th April.


New head chef at Seaham Hall 

Simon Bolsover has been appointed Head Chef of 5-star Seaham Hall. 

He joins the hotel from Great Fosters, in Egham, Surrey, where he was Executive Chef for 5 years, raising its Oak Room restaurant to 3 AA-rosette status before, in 2013, it became the more relaxed Estate Grill, which currently has 2 rosettes. 

Before that Bolsover was head chef for 15 years at 3-rosette Linthwaite House on Windermere. 

As head chef, he will be responsible for both of Seaham Hall's restaurants: the hotel’s recently launched Byron’s Bar and Grill, and its Ozone restaurant within the Serenity Spa.  It's unclear whether how Bolsover's appointment will affect the hotel's relationship with Martin Blunos, who is culinary director.  Byron's Bar and Grill currently has 3 Secret Diner stars.

“Seaham Hall has a vast amount of potential,” said Simon, "and I am looking forward to developing that potential, sourcing the finest regional ingredients and building on its already excellent reputation.” 

“We are delighted to welcome Simon to Seaham Hall, said general manager Ross Grieve. “Not only does he bring a wealth of experience but his creativity and skill will make him a crucial part of the team.” 


Rare burgers back on the menu

In a legal ruling that could have implications for all restaurants in the UK, a landmark legal victory by a chain of London wine bars has brought rare burgers back onto menus across the country. 

Last month, after two years of legal wrangling with Westminster City Council, Davy’s Wine Bars and Restaurants won the right to serve its burgers rare. 

Davy’s had appealed against a hygiene improvement notice in 2011, which had cited the restaurant’s burger preparation, claiming that: 

1. there were inadequate measures in place to control risk related to pathogenic microorganisms and their toxins in burgers served medium rare or rare; and 
2. there were inadequate documented procedures in relation to the safe preparation and cooking of burgers. 

Davy’s argued that the Food Standards Agency and Westminster City Council had failed to acknowledge the role played by provenance, quality and transparency in sourcing policies. 

They sourced their mince from an award-winning and royal warrant-holding butcher, Donald Russell in Scotland, which prepares its mince freshly each morning from offcuts of prime aged beef. As this is the first product prepared each day, the equipment is bound to be clean, and the mince is then vacuum packed and chilled for delivery to Davy’s, where it is stored in its original packaging until required. 

Davy’s also prepare their patties first thing each day, wrapping them in cling film and storing them in the fridge until needed. 

Westminster Council had argued that rare burgers should only be prepared using a “sear and shave” method, where a cut of beef is seared to a high temperature, then the outer surface of the meat is shaved off and the central part minced for the burger. 

The Judge dismissed this method as not “reasonable or necessarily safe in itself”. 

Davy’s won their appeal against the ban in June last year, and the final part of the health improvement notice collapsed on December 17th after the council offered no evidence in court. Costs were awarded to the restaurant. 

In her judgment, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe said “There is a balance to be struck between ensuring the safety of the public and allowing them the freedom of choice that they would wish and have a right to expect.” 

At last, sanity has prevailed over a ruling that was threatening to make Britain the laughing stock of the culinary world. Burger lovers across the UK should be grateful to Judge Roscoe for allowing reason, and consumer choice, to prevail. 

I expect all good restaurants (and butchers) in our own region to take note. 

[With thanks to @ArtisanFoodLaw and The Grocer]


2013 Secret Diner Awards - WINNERS Announced


The winners of the 2013 Secret Diner Awards are announced in a special double-page spread in today's The Journal and in the 2013 Awards section of this website.

For more details, see here.


Jesmond Dene House to open gastropub


Newcastle's leading hotel Jesmond Dene House is creating a new gastropub near Morpeth.  

St Mary's Inn will be housed in the administration building of the former St Mary's Hospital, at the centre of the new Stannington Park development.  It is expected to open its doors next September.  

Although plans for the pub are still being finalised, and construction does not formally start until January 1st, I've learned that it is likely to have 4 bedrooms, and that the menus will be created and overseen by Jesmond Dene's Head Chef Michael Penaluna.

Jesmond Dene's Nicky Sherman told me, "It will not be a restaurant or a mini-Jesmond Dene House, but a gastropub serving simple, quality food at reasonable prices.  We will also be serving afternoon tea." 

Jesmond Dene also has an orchard and fruit and vegetable garden at Stannington which will be developed to supply both the pub and the hotel's restaurant, which I recently awarded 6 stars for its new tasting menu.

Stannington Park is a new development by Bellway Homes of 2,3,4 and 5 bedroom houses and apartments.  Set on a 136 acre site of open spaces, gardens and woodland, it's effectively a new community set within open countryside, with the new "landmark gastropub" at its centre.

I've already booked my table. 


Michelin inspectors snub North East restaurants


Once again, the world’s most famous food guide has bypassed the North East’s restaurants, with just one star awarded by the 2014 Michelin Guide across the entire regionIn the latest edition, which was published yesterday, only The Raby Hunt, in Summerhouse, near Darlington, has retained the star it was awarded last year. By comparison, London’s restaurants now have 78 between them, and Edinburgh has 5. Even Cumbria has 4 stars, including the 2-star L’Enclume in Cartmel. 

So why does the North East lag behind the rest of Britain in culinary excellence? 

In fact, over the past year the standard of cooking in our region has actually risen, with a growing number of restaurants focusing on fresh, local ingredients. However most of our chefs, and possibly their customers, don’t aspire to Michelin’s exacting standards of complexity and presentation. 

Multiple courses of “tasting” plates, with exquisitely beautiful but time-consuming preparations, are hard to find north of Yorkshire. 

There are exceptions. Jesmond Dene House’s tasting menu, which I awarded 6 Secret Diner stars a few months ago, could easily match the offerings from many starred establishments in this year’s guide. However, chef Michael Penaluna is also running a busy kitchen that has to supply weddings, bar snacks and room service 7 days a week, whereas almost all the establishments listed in the Michelin Guide focus on a single restaurant. 

If you are in Newcastle, and you want to sample Michelin-standard food, give Jesmond Dene a try, or take a short train ride to James Close’s fabulous Raby Hunt. 

They’ll soon have competition: later this year, former Michelin-starred Kenny Atkinson will be opening a new restaurant on Newcastle’s Quayside called The House of Tides

As the standard rises, I confidently expect the region’s eateries to have rather more success in the 2015 Michelin Guide. 


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