17 May 2013

The Stand

Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

The Stand Bistro 
Mon-Sat 10am - 9pm 
Sun 12 – 8pm 31 

High Bridge 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1EW 
0191 232 0707 

The Stand isn’t a traditional comedy club. It’s not a dingy dive, smelling of old beer and bad jokes; it doesn’t admit hen and stag parties; and it treats its customers and its comedians with respect. It’s a proper modern venue, with a bistro serving food all day. 

It’s also easy to miss.
Set in a little cobbled lane off the main drag of Grey Street restaurants, outside it looks like a coffee shop. Inside it’s a bright, cosmopolitan café – the sort of place you might find in London’s Notting Hill, rather than behind the Bigg Market. It has brick walls, on which hangs artwork from the excellent local collective Prefab77. 

I went for lunch with friends, one of whom was immediately impressed by the choice of music. “It’s Pavement,” he said. Pavement, the indie rock band, was a phenomenon in the mid-1990s. Which is also the period that inspired the food at The Stand. 

You could tell that from the menu: beef and pickled ginger burger, labneh balls with pomegranate molasses – this could mean only one thing: fusion. 

The godfather of fusion was a chef called Peter Gordon. In 1995 the brilliant young New Zealander, who had travelled throughout Asia, brought a Pacific twist to modern British cooking when he opened The Sugar Club in All Saints Road. 

Everyone who was interested in food went there: it was inspirational. 

He did things with belly pork that brought tears to your eyes, marinating it in star anise and cinnamon, Thai fish sauce, tomatoes and ginger. His scallops with crème fraîche and sweet chilli sauce were legendary. 

It was subtle, original, humorous and probably the most exciting food in Britain in those days. In the noughties, fusion cooking went out of favour. But it’s still to be found, nearly 20 years later, on the menu of a comedy club in Newcastle. The problem is, there’s an awful lot of other stuff on the menu too. 

In fact, there are several menus: there’s Brunch, served from 10am till 5pm, with classics like eggs Blackstone (eggs Benedict, but with bacon and tomato); there are grand sandwiches, like lamb kofta burger, served with soup and parsnip crisps and amazingly good value for a fiver; and then there’s a grown-up menu, with starters at £6 and mains at £12. We raided all three. 

Creamy Garlicky Mushrooms on Toast
Creamy garlic wild mushrooms on toast were nice, but my belly pork starter was tough as boots and had been marinated in nothing at all. We tried Thai Chesapeake eggs (an Asian twist on the traditional crabcake and hollandaise). 

The sauce was far too acidic to be pleasant, and conflicted with the ginger in the fishcake. Why mess with a brunch classic? 

I was confused by the “Yakitori beef burger”. Yakitori are little Japanese kebabs, usually marinated in a sweet sauce. This beef arrived as a slab of spicy meatloaf – doubly fiery because of a drizzle of mayonnaise infused with shichimi (a mix of hot spices). Rather than seducing you with layers of Asian subtlety, this just smacked you in the face. 

Yakitori Beef and Pickled Ginger Burger with Shichimi Mayonnaise

One friend went with plain fish and chips, which the menu said was “from our local trawlerman”. We reckoned it had been a while since the trawlerman’s visit: the fish was dry, as if it had been frozen, though the batter was light enough. It certainly wasn’t worth £12, despite good chunky chips. 

However, the deep fried labneh balls were spot on, and worked well with their sweet dip and we were very pleasantly surprised by chilled linguine with apple and walnuts (though spiced walnuts might have worked better, and why it came with garlic bread is beyond me). 

Finally we took a deep breath and went for roast smoked salmon and prawn Chiang Rai curry. 

I’ve been to Chiang Rai: it’s very hot. So was this curry, but not in a rich Burmese-Thai way – it was harsh. Far from complementing the salmon, the curry and smoky fish destroyed each other. It was more collision than fusion. 

I have a feeling that, reined in with a smaller menu, chef Andy Drape could produce some quite interesting food. 

For now, The Stand is a bit of a minefield. Some dishes are good; others just blow your head off.

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