9 August 2013

Irvin's Brasserie [CLOSED]

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

The Irvin Building 
Fish Quay 
North Shields 
NE30 1HJ 
0191 296 3238 

Wed/Thurs 10am – 10pm 
Fri/Sat 10am – 12am 
Sun 9am – 7.30pm 
Closed Mon & Tues 

Richard Irvin was a fishing pioneer. His steam-powered trawlers were the envy of the world’s fleets, and a century ago he had more than 90 boats, with smart headquarters on the fish quay in North Shields. 

The building is still there: R. Irvin & Sons Ltd. But now it’s a spacious, laid-back brasserie. 

The building sits rather uncomfortably in tatty surroundings. I know the fish quay has been improved a bit over the years, but it’s a missed opportunity for the north east. A straggly row of pubs and restaurants, many offering cheap Italian meal deals, and a couple of fish and chip shops scarcely makes it a tourist destination. 

Anyone who’s visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco can see what could be made of an old quayside with some money and imagination. Even without the Golden Gate Bridge, the view from North Shields quayside is pretty inspiring, with huge ships being towed to sea, and the constant movement of the river. 

It needs some proper shops, a permanent market, boutiques, coffee houses and galleries. It needs young people handing out samples of clam chowder. In short, it needs a council with some guts and imagination to properly transform the area. 

View from Irvin's
Diners arriving at Irvin’s instinctively head for the brighter tables by the window. That’s a mistake. They’ll be rewarded with a view of a grubby pub car park. A sign hangs limply over the New Dolphin declaring, “New management, all welcome.” The pub was locked up long ago leaving behind a pile of litter and an old tyre – that’s the outlook from Irvin’s. 

A better spot is near the pass. It’s one of those big open kitchens, where you can see the sweat on the chefs’ brows.

There was plenty of sweat the night we went. Graeme Cuthell and his team must have miscalculated the demand on a warm summer’s evening. Even thought the restaurant was less than half full, and we arrived early, it took over two and a half hours to serve three courses – a poor performance by any standard. 

Fortunately, what eventually arrived was good. The menu is divided into Meat, Fish and Veg, with starters and mains lumped together in each category. I quite like this idea. Although, as you might expect, the sea is the star, there are also plenty of interesting meat dishes, like acorn-fed pork steaks, calves liver with polenta, and saddle and shoulder of spring lamb. 

I wanted to try razor clams, there was a duck salad that looked good, and I also fancied the mussel chowder. But there were just two of us, so to start Mrs Diner ordered Caesar salad (which sat in the fish list, so we assumed the anchovies would be special), and I selected pig’s cheeks. 

The anchovies were indeed special – big white fleshy specimens. They needed more dressing, and the dressing needed more garlic. I prefer Caesar salad with full-blown romaine leaves, rather than silly little bits of baby gem. But the pig’s cheeks were tender, and came with aromatic carrot and cumin puree and nicely sticky Vichy carrots. Perhaps this was a dish for a cold Autumn day, but it was a tasty start. 

Mrs Diner's turbot
Now wild turbot is my favourite fish. I think Mrs Diner ordered it first to rile me; I couldn’t have the same as her, so I chose cod. The turbot sat on spinach, with good parmentier potatoes, and some little wild mushrooms. This was a nice idea: turbot and mushroom combine well, especially if there’s a hint of truffle about. But, though the turbot was baked perfectly, the mushrooms were bland and fried to a chewy crisp. At £19.50 for the dish, they should have got this right. 

Grilled cod with creamed cabbage and chorizo
The grilled cod was much better: it sat on creamy savoy cabbage with carrot, dotted with excellent chorizo. We also had thin fries and broccoli with a squirt of hollandaise. We asked for more sauce but they brought béarnaise instead. 

My dessert was a set lemon cream (like jellied pannacotta) and smooth blueberry ice cream, garnished with confited lemon zest.

Carrot cake with prune puree and coffee ice cream

Mrs Diner’s little towers of carrot cake sat on prune purèe with excellent coffee ice cream. Coffee arrived with fresh madeleines. 

The wine list is as interesting as the food: we had a bottle of Tinpot Hut pinot gris, which contributed to a £110 bill for two with service.


  1. A pity you didn't try the razor clams, they're a great indicator of the quality of the kitchen - which seems to have been severely overstretched if your 2.5 hour wait time is anything to go by. Why such a low mark for the service I wonder? 2* is an "ouch!" score. I also wonder what you made of the puds? Were they (apart from the ice cream) any good?

    1. The carrot cake was -- carrot cake, rather too roughly cut out of a larger one. Wouldn't have been surprised to see them serving squares of it with icing for tea. Not enough prune puree to make an impact. Delicious ice cream.

      The set cream a little too set for me. As I said, a bit like a pannacotta with too much gelatine. But sharp and fresh, and nicely presented, and contrasted well with blueberry.

      The service was marked low because of the kitchen pace, and the fact that the waiters didn't come to apologise, or even notice that it was slow, they brought the wrong sauce, didn't offer advice on the wines or the meal, weren't properly briefed on the dishes, and didn't offer bread. Front of house rather amateurish in general, though very friendly - indeed, whole place is friendly and fun. I would certainly go back.

      Mrs Diner and I reckon it would be a good place to come with a party of 6 or so. Not good for an intimate dinner for 2. And quite pricey - £19.50 for very small turbot when the wholesale price has dropped this month. Cod was very good value at £11.

      Anything else?

  2. I guess there's a word count to meet, I appreciate you couldn't include everything :) This is really useful, thanks!

  3. Yes, I had to make room on the page for your comments about Carluccio's!

  4. I'd agree about the service and front of house - it is at times lacking and amateurish and they would'nt get away with it in London. That said - it is a nice place to eat out and the food can be good. Irvins is a worthwhile alternative to the overwhelming and too cheap Italian fare that dominates the fish quay.