2 August 2011

Pan Haggerty (closed)

The interior of a cheap steak house...
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21 Queen Street
NE1 3UG 0191 221 0904

[ALERT:  Feb 17th 2014 - Pan Haggerty has gone into administration and closed]

21 Queen Street is the site of the best restaurant Newcastle has ever hosted, Terry Laybourne’s eponymous Michelin-starred eating house.

This former temple of haute cuisine has been occupied for the last few years by Pan Haggerty, a restaurant I’ve avoided in the past because of the large logos stuck on the window, which suggest it might be part of a chain of cheap steak houses. Recently I heard that the food was rather good, so I tentatively opened the door to discover – the interior of a cheap steak house.

You know the restaurants you find in airport hotels when you’ve been stranded by fog: brown and orange décor, with small over-laquered tables, leather seating and lounge music? That’s it exactly, a room without personality or charm. This is at odds with the name, of course, which suggests rustic home fare.

A “pan haggerty” is a cheese and potato bake, traditionally the poor Northumbrian’s winter dish. The restaurant serves it as a starter, topped with duck egg, and dressed, as it should be, with brown sauce. But elsewhere on the extensive menu, far from being rustic, it has a mix of styles – and I use the word “mix” advisedly, because “blend” would suggest some sort of cohesion. Here some of the dishes read like a buffet at a wedding.

So my starter had “star anise and vanilla sautéed king prawns, seared scallop and carpaccio of tuna with green gazpacho and pickled cucumber”: three courses of a tasting menu in one go. “Prawns” was a single prawn, sat next to a perfectly seared scallop and a tiny slice of tuna of excellent freshness and quality. Asia and Africa in a solitary shrimp: aniseed and the surprising aftertaste of vanilla would have been welcome at the start of any fine dining evening. But why throw three disconnected dishes onto the same plate?

Too fussy:  the chef should calm down and simplify
Our other starter was a fine salmon, cured with beetroot and vodka and thickly sliced on a nice beetroot puree. But it too had an intruder: another king prawn, sitting inside a beignet with toothless horseradish.

The fussiness continued with the mains. Though the cooking was consistently good – tender loin of beef and succulent ox tongue – here too was an interloper, a little lobster tortellini. Turf and a tiny surf. Our most successful plate was rabbit wrapped in bacon with merguez sausage. With aubergine puree, an intense little tomato, and a really good ginger and apple jelly, this chef has talent and is obviously trying very hard, but he should calm down and simplify.

Main courses were around £18 and starters around £7.
I thoroughly recommend the chocolate cherry tart with its cherry marshmallow.

Pan Haggerty on Urbanspoon

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