20 September 2020

Lezzet

Food ✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪

Lezzet
Front Street
Four Lane Ends
Benton
NE7 7XE

0191 266 2777


Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free options? Yes 

What with one thing and another, there haven't been many new restaurant openings across the North East of late. Fair enough, really. This has meant that since things started to open up again back in July, I’ve taken the opportunity to visit a few that have been skulking around my to-do list for longer than I’d like to admit. It has been fun and interesting and instructive to check out places that have been doing their thing for years, where the paint is entirely dry and opening week kerfuffles are but a distant memory.

I get to hear about restaurants in all sorts of ways. A press release here, a tip from a friend there. I get emails from nice readers very much like yourself, and I even mooch about on Instagram once in a while. The Turkish restaurant Lezzet announced itself to me in a rather more old fashioned and compelling way than any of the above.

My real life (yes, I am a real person) causes me to drive quite regularly along Benton Park Road, past Four Lane Ends Interchange. It is an entirely unremarkable bit of suburbia. However: head past Kwik Fit in the direction of the coast, and breath in. Should the wind be blowing in the correct direction you will be assailed by one of the most wonderful fragrances known to our species, as the impressive extraction kit of Lezzet restaurant belches the aroma of animal flesh searing over hot coal out into the Longbenton air. People around here must be permanently starving.


So finally, instead of muttering ”Christ, that smells good, we need to try that place” to Mrs Diner yet again, we actually pulled in, parked up and got ourselves mentally ready to attack mezze and grilled meat. The place is housed in a sturdy length of pale stone. The main dining room is large and spacious. More so than normal, since they’ve removed around a third of the covers. Tables were clothed, seats were comfy, the welcome was warm and Hüsnü Şenlendirici was showing his clarinet who’s boss on the stereo. Nice. 


The menu is large, spanning the canonical list of hot and cold starters, grilled meats and stews that you will be on first name terms with from any previous Turkish meals enjoyed in these Isles.


Patlican ezme was your smokey aubergine dip, tamed by yoghurt, but with a fair whack of garlic and tahini about it. This was delicious, as were the wodges of sesame-flecked breads which we used to demolish it, crisp without and steamy within. 



Sucuk, that brick-red sausage I’ve always thought of as chorizo’s cheeky younger sibling, was full of sumac, but could have been charred a little more over the grill. 


Elsewhere, hummus was fine, but a bit under seasoned and came topped with cubes of lamb which were oddly lacking in much flavour. 


A prawn casserole mezze was better, plentiful shellfish bobbing in a homely and comforting tomato-based sauce which seemed to contain an allotment’s worth of veg. 


The best thing we ate was a main course of chicken Iskender, in which chunks of breast meat had been kept miraculously moist despite clearly taking some ferocious heat from the grill. They came atop a tomato sauce that tasted clean and light and sweet and which was soaked up by some honking great croutons. An unfussy blob of strained yogurt sat at one end of this moat of rather heavenly food. We saw the last of the sauce away with the last of our bread in a moment of appreciative reverence. 


The wonderfully named Tif Tif Tandir, ordered from the separate specials menu was rather less excellent. Again lamb - usually a de
ad cert in the flavour department - was oddly lacking in, well, lambness. It had been cooked down to shreds along with “Anatolian herbs” which to my palate comprised oregano and sumac. It wasn’t terrible, but just a bit dull and samey. 



The house salad of chopped tomatoes, peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses was refreshing, but made me rather wish better tomatoes had been employed in its construction. 

Portions are large and so we debated getting a dessert, but were delighted we did as there was a flourish for a finish. 


A freshly cooked, unrolled pistachio pancake was brought to the table. This was slathered in clotted cream before being tightly rolled by our waitress and scattered with fresh pistachios. Phwoar and blimey. This, friends, was frigging delicious, if possibly diabetes-inducing. I commend it to you without reservation.

Service was friendly throughout, although on what was a relatively quiet night, we were abandoned to our own devices for a while, meaning I had to get up and track down a waitress to order that pud. Lezzet seems very much a family outfit, and some of those with whom we shared the room were clearly regulars. I drank a solitary glass of Öküzgözü, a red grape with which I will admit unfamiliarity, but which went perfectly well with the tomato-based sauces. Our bill came to £83. 

This was perhaps not quite the knockout flavourslam that the unbelievable aromas coming out of the kitchen had led us to expect. Perhaps we didn’t order brilliantly. However, Lezzet is still well worth your custom, doing a range of Turkish favourites in a room that feels like a very comfortable place to be in the current climate. What is more, it will continue to feel that way even as other places who have relied to some extent on their outside areas can no longer do so. 


The complimentary Lezzet-branded facemasks we got with the bill were a reminder that everything is still not right. But every good meal in a nice restaurant makes the world feel a bit cheerier, and that will do for now.

1 September 2020

Lobo Rojo

Food ✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪

Lobo Rojo
40 Fish Quay
North Shields
NE30 1HB 

0191 257 6986

Accessibility? No
Gluten free options? Yes

Until the end of August at least, Tuesday lunchtime was the new Saturday night. Based on the anecdotal evidence I’ve been able to gather over the last couple of weeks it seems like the Eat Out To Help Out (snigger) scheme has been a runaway success. I’m sure this will not have been experienced evenly - some of my own personal fave places aren’t even open Monday to Wednesday, and haven’t opted to do so during August - but there are sufficiently grim portents for the hospitality world for it to be impossible not to be cheered by a bunch of extra midweek bums on seats. Dishy Rishi - who seems to have the happy knack of being personally associated with some of the rare good news stories kicking around these days - understood one thing well enough; we all bloody love a bargain.

Some rare time off together on just such a midweek afternoon saw Mrs Diner and I take in the sea air during a very pleasant stagger along the coast, pitching up at rather gorgeous Irvin Building on the Fish Quay, the bottom floor of which now houses Californian-influenced Taco joint Lobo Rojo. We’d booked, the comforting certainty of which feels more important what with the ‘rona and everything than it ever did, and just as well too; trade was brisk.


The place has had a bit of a do-over since its days as Irvin’s Brasserie, which I remember being all open plan and light woods. Walls have been taken back to bare brick, the earthy tones of which now contrast nicely with soft greens and an enthusiastic quantity of on-brand vibrantly hued paintings. If you like Frida Kahlo then come on down. Here she is on the upholstery; over there on a portrait sporting boxing gloves, next to the loos on another portrait smoking a tab, like a right legend. The picture on the actual ladies toilet is of...you guessed it!



We kept our order taco-centric as most of the larger stuff - burritos, loaded fries and the like - seemed to consist of the same fillings scaled up to gut-busting proportions. 


Some introductory guacamole had a pleasingly uneven texture and came zhuzhed up with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. Tortilla chips were clearly made in house and were excellent, a promising sign. 


Promise that was delivered on by some Yellowfin tuna tostadas which were just lovely; healthy chunks of pristine fish moistened by a soothing yet spicy chipotle crema, and a lime-spiked salsa, all heaped onto more crisped corn. Light, delicious and perfectly summery.

A whole flotilla of tacos swiftly followed. The basics are in good order. Tortillas are made in house from masa harina, and it shows. They had a lovely pronounced cereal flavour and were pliable little discs of fun, the better to grab and messily devour. For the most part the things that came perched on them were equally good.


Pick of the bunch were the fish tacos and the carnitas. The former featured crisp fried fingers of cod, the crunch of raw white cabbage and the zip and vim of a fresh pico de gallo salsa. 


The latter was all about the depth of flavour that can be obtained from pig, slow cooked down to a tangle of fibres, brightened up by vivid green sauce and more of that excellent chipotle crema stuff. 


We also enjoyed a shrimp job that featured thumping big prawns cooked in some sort of moreish blend of spices that I would be more specific about if I hadn’t I preceded my one of these with a healthy dip of some scotch bonnet salsa that had a kick like a luchador. There aren’t a whole bunch of options for you vegans, but some thought and care was evident in a cauliflower taco that accessorised fried nuggets of the titular veg with some bassy black beans and crisped kale. Not bad at all. 


The one slight dud was the chicken mole, in which the sauce lacked the trademark depth and breadth of flavour that comes from the painstaking process and cupboard full of ingredients needed to make a really great mole poblano sauce.


We had been talked down from ordering a steak quesadilla on account of us overdoing it somewhat, which was fine; it shows that the waiting staff are engaged and know the dishes. So anyway, we smashed through all the tacos and re-ordered it. It was a cheesy, meaty, bready mess of a thing. Delicious, in other words. 


Churros - you’ve got to really, haven’t you? - were hot, crisp, covered in cinnamon sugar and came with a bowl of nice chocolate sauce, so they absolutely hit the spot. Bonus points for arranging them in Jenga format. People don’t do that with chips any more, do they? I miss the 90’s.

It being the afternoon, and us having things to do, drinks were limited to one Modelo for me and some Jarritos for her. There were some interesting sounding wines, in particular a Californian bourbon barrel aged red. Next time, maybe.


And there will be a next time. Our bill came to a meagre £70, not including the August discount. Even without the taxpayer coughing for twenty of that, Lobo Rojo is still very good value. I had slightly cynically read the “lads go on road trip to California, eat great food, come home and open restaurant” spiel and suspected that Lobo Rojo might not necessarily be terribly good. 

Au contraire. Clued-up and enthusiastic service, a thoughtfully if enthusiastically done out room - which felt comfortably spaced out, by the way - and really, really tasty tacos done to a standard that you just didn’t see round these parts until Barrio Comida showed us what was what. It’s about as high a complement as I can give to Lobo Rojo to mention them in that esteemed company. I’d encourage you to keep helping out by eating out, even though Rishi’s August bargain season is but a memory.

17 August 2020

Meat:Stack (Bigg Market)

Food ✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪

Meat:Stack
41-43 Groat Market
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 1UG 

No phone number


Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free options? Yes 

One of the first things I ate from a restaurant once they opened up again after the you-know-what was a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese. It was a matter of necessity and convenience rather than lusty desire. There's a time and a place for everything - even McD's. Early July, during a long trek down the M1, for example.

Apart from being impressed with how Covid-19 had re-humanised the experience - A welcome at the door! Table service! - the flaccid, pre-digested yet still compelling burger-like matter in my hands reminded me just how much better the real deal is. I resolved to find a proper burger at the earliest opportunity. With almost eerily serendipitous timing, I clocked on Twitter that celebrated burger-slingers Meat:Stack were attempting to swerve the death-meteor that seems destined to collide with planet hospitality by opening up a new joint in the Bigg Market.


It’s nearly four years since I first raised an eyebrow at the quality of output from Meat:Stack, or The Grind as they were known back then, at Newcastle’s Quayside Market. I’ve been a bit of a starry-eyed cheerleader ever since, as they moved from pop-ups in pubs to premises in the Grainger Market, and now this permanent home. So much so that a visit to the loos for a spot of pre-meal hand washing brought me face to face with the review I gave them while they were at No28. They’ve even framed the thing. Excellent taste, this lot.


The menu for the Bigg Market restaurant comprises plenty of old faves with a few talented upstarts. The key offer - god-tier burgers, smashed and steamed and served with hectically good beef dripping fries - is mercifully unmolested. We ordered, were given a vibratey “food’s ready” thing, and took two of the 30 currently very well spaced out seats. Even with fewer covers than were initially planned, it’s pretty loud. No soft furnishings to speak of so music and chatter fairly bounces round the attractive bare bricks and polished floor. This isn’t somewhere you’re going to spend all night, so it's not a major issue.


The drinks game is pretty strong. From a small but decent range of cans I went for Hoults Yard brewery Full Circle’s excellent Repeater. Mrs Diner effectively had pudding before her burger by going for the full dairy onslaught of a peanut butter shake, which was excellent, although possibly not the most refreshing accompaniment to a meal majoring on rendered animal fat.


Our tray o’goodness arrived and all looked well. A portion of chicken tenders were an enjoyable overture, even if the batter could have been a little more crisp, but they succeeded in being a vehicle for a pot of sauce that was called Carolina Gold, and frigging delicious. Fruity, and tangy and yum.

Their fries are as epic as ever. Thin enough to have lots of crisped-up surface area, but thick enough so that there’s some fluffiness to their innards, even after they’ve cooled down. You know how the ones at the aforementioned multinational turn to regurgitated cardboard once their temperature decreases past a critical point? None of that here. Brittle and rustly all meal long, with a glorious bovine note derived from their being fried in beef tallow. We even ordered an additional portion of these beauties with cheese wiz and jalapenos on top; it turned out to be an excellent idea.

To the burgers: look, sorry to be dull, but honestly they’re still the best I’ve had in this town. The beef tastes of decent quality, the charring on the patties is great, steaming them makes the whole thing cohere correctly and the size is just right. The first bite is a meaty, cheesy, salty/sweet sniper shot to the pleasure receptors and they’re not so massive that you don’t want to finish the thing.


I went for the New Mexico, in which the tingle of griddled jalapeno worked a treat against the comfort blanket of a smear of cream cheese. I think this one may be new: it’s a fine addition to the range. 


Mrs Diner took on a more familiar quarry: the Yellowstone. The baconnaise and French onions in this one bring it close to being a bit sickly, but I still rate it pretty high. Plus, it’s got a hash brown in it. If in doubt, stick a hash brown in it. Whatever it is. You'll thank me for this advice.


We tried some blueberry meringue soft serve for completeness, rather than out of any need to consume additional calories. The ice cream was decent, but there was rather too much of it and not enough blueberry or meringue. Easy enough to fix.


I’ll mention the Covid-19 bit because, it’s part of the deal right now. If you're reading this in the loos at Meat:Stack sometime in the post-Covid future, just skip the rest. Tables were nicely spaced, there were markers on the floor to encourage social distancing and staff took orders from behind perspex screens. There was no hand sanitiser and no contact details were taken. This very last point came as a surprise, and had me scurrying off to Google to find that this is a guideline, rather than an absolute necessity. I say this without any particular judgment so that you can make your own.

Just a week or so after opening, the guys at Meat:Stack were already making the whole opening a new restaurant thing look easy. The quality and consistency of the food offering has been tip-top for years now, so it’s great to see them pitch up in their own place, somewhere I can visit whenever the mood takes me. The general upgrade and hipsterfication of the Bigg Market continues apace. Soon you might struggle to find a pint of terrible lager or an Iron Brew WKD for a couple of quid. But you can at least now bank on a shit-hot burger, and that’ll do for me.

13 July 2020

31 The Quay

Food ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪✪ 

31 The Quay
Smokehouse Two
Duke Street
North Shields
NE29 6BZ

0191 257 5310

31thequay.co.uk

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free options? Yes

I’m tapping out these words shortly after having had my first meal out since before you-know-what. Not in the restaurant that's the subject of this review, but in a place that, for now, will remain nameless. 

We were among the first through the door on the Saturday when restaurants were finally allowed to reopen. For me, the whole thing felt a little bit like an awkward first date; we and the staff were all smiles and politeness, but also just a bit nervous. It’ll take a while for things to settle in I think, for the rituals to feel natural again. 

The food there was underwhelming too, but I have no intention of slating the first meal that some chef had prepared for a paying customer in nearly four months. That wouldn't do anyone any favours. For now I’ll only be pointing you towards places that I think are really worth your custom. Things are difficult enough for the hospitality trade without a chancer like me using whatever online presence I have to whinge about unseasoned chips or a collapsed soufflé. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the snark and the grump soon enough.

For now, I'm only writing about the good places, and this one really is a cracker. Or it was four months ago - it's actually the last restaurant I visited before everything went kaput. The meal was everything that makes eating out something I’ve missed so much: excellent ingredients, precise and considerate cooking, and charming service from lovely people. They’ve all been furloughed throughout the lockdown, but they say they’re back to work on July 31st, which seems apt given the restaurant in question is called 31 The Quay.

30 June 2020

Dining Under Lockdown: Hjem Comforts Box

Food ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Value for money ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Pandemic friendly? (Ease of procurement, social distancing etc) ✪✪✪✪✪ 

Hjem
The Hadrian Hotel
Wall
Hexham
NE46 4EE

01434 681 232

restauranthjem.co.uk

Gluten free options? A number of items contain wheat, rye and barley- full allergen sheet provided in box.

Under the normal run of things I try to keep this site relatively comprehensive, taking in every notable restaurant opening across the North East, and even a few further afield. This inevitably means the occasional long, hopeful trek ending in bitter disappointment. If you want to experience real pathos and melancholy, try journeying the length of our wonderful region only to be rewarded by a microwaved, bought in sponge with the temerity to call itself a sticky toffee pudding. It happens. The struggle is real. 

8 June 2020

Dining Under Lockdown: The Patricia At Home

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Value for money ✪✪✪✪ 
Pandemic friendly? (Ease of procurement, social distancing etc) ✪✪✪✪✪ 

The Patricia at Home
139 Jesmond Road
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 1JY

0191 281 4443

the-patricia.com 

Gluten free options? No choice menu, changes weekly. Check website. 

Well, hello there. How are you doing? No, really, how are you doing? Alright, I hope, and if you or someone you know isn’t, or hasn’t been, then I’m very sorry. I know it’s a terrible cliché, but I just checked which the review was that I last uploaded to here, back in early March; it seems like both five minutes ago, and as if it is a despatch from an entirely different universe.

10 March 2020

The Beaumont Hotel

Food ✪✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪✪

Beaumont Street
Hexham
Northumberland
NE46 3LT

01434 602 331

thebeaumonthexham.co.uk

Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes


Man, I love a good pudding. Is anything so totally unnecessary yet quite so important as pudding? We all need protein and carbohydrates and fats and stuff like that to survive, a fact that can render that lot a bit workaday and utilitarian. On the other hand not one of us requires sugar. This makes it, literally, a luxury. Pudding is the Cruyff turn of the meal time, the over-the-top cadenza, the showy literary ending of the last chapter. Pudding is what happens when food becomes more than just sustenance. It is culture, nostalgia, comfort and joy. 

5 March 2020

Barrio Comida

Food ✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪✪

34 Church Street
Durham
DH1 3DG

0191 370 9688

barriocomida.com 

Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free options? Yes 

 
I normally spend a few days looking forward to a meal out. Always with optimism, you understand - I'm a glass half full kind of guy (especially when the restaurant has a decent wine list). 

Sometimes the anticipation extends to a couple of weeks, certainly if it’s somewhere a bit fancier. You’re only talking months when it’s some gastro-palace with more chefs than punters, or an up-and-comer that threatens to smash up a paradigm or two. So if I tell you that I had been looking forward to eating at the new Barrio Comida for about two and half years, understand that this was a meal shouldering an awful lot of expectation.

29 February 2020

Purnell's

Food ✪✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪

55 Cornwall Street
Birmingham
B3 2DH

0121 212 9799

purnellsrestaurant.com


Accessibility? Yes, inform when booking
Gluten free? Yes, advise when booking



The Michelin Guide has an interesting place in the modern British culinary picture. It is on the one hand sniffed at and derided for being out of touch, or for making awards and deletions that are hard to understand. How can Sketch in London get a third star this year when the classical brilliance of (South Shields’ own!) John Williams at the Ritz sports but one? Whatever did Castle Terrace in Edinburgh do wrong to lose theirs a couple of years back? And, more locally, why was a restaurant cooking at the stratospheric levels of Hjem overlooked for a star last year?

22 February 2020

Little Green Social

Food ✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

83-89 Goldspink Lane
Sandyford
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 1NQ

0191 230 5167

littlegreensocial.co.uk

Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free options? Yes 


I’ve started viewing vegan meals as a sort of mental preparation for the time when we all are forced, by choice or peer pressure to eat this way. That time is probably here already really, it’s just that the majority of us who are still partly subsisting on things that once mooed, clucked or bleated are doing our best to delude ourselves. I know I am. On the one hand, I do bloody love steak. On the other, I saw a map recently which made it quite clear that should global temperatures rise 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels, my house will be underwater. Maybe by then Elon Musk or one of those other tech guys or girls will have invented wearable gills? Here’s hoping.