86 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 07544 323547
Phone for opening times
[Following the departure of Simon Snowball from the venture, this restaurant has now been renamed Jukesie's]
[[Yet another change: Peter Jukes has left, and the catering is now down to Juniper's Pantry, the Sunderland deli people]]
I had high hopes for Snowball & Jukes. Simon Snowball, whose name it takes, is a talented chef and really nice man who, with his wife Maggie, runs one of Newcastle’s best cafés, Quay Ingredient, directly beneath the Tyne Bridge.
He and Maggie have really made a go of QI, which is packed almost every day (except Tuesdays, when it’s shut). Maggie brings the charm and efficiency from her years fronting up the dining room at Jesmond Dene House, whilst Simon earned his spurs under Jean-Christophe Novelli and at a number of good North East eateries, including Irvin’s. They have great breakfasts, Robson’s Craster kippers, interesting salads and generous sandwiches served on slate platters, with excellent homemade soups.
In this new venture, which opened in August, Snowball shared top billing with Peter Jukes, who is less experienced, but has cooked at Pan Haggerty and the Hotel du Vin.
It looked like an interesting combination, so Mrs Diner and I trekked some friends up the steep stairs to the second floor of the building in Pilgrim Street. It used to be the home of one of our favourite Italians – Secco, now sadly demised.
This small eaterie is actually the kitchen of a bright new cocktail bar called Nectar, the sister to No 28 in Nelson Street, which recently won a “best bar in the North East 2013” accolade. “Charming, quirky & fiercely independent,” was how the press release described this new venture. “Creative, fresh and exciting,” was its food promise.
Cocktails and creative cuisine – what could be nicer on a Saturday night?
Except that Jukes has lost his Snowball and Nectar’s cocktails are nothing to crow about. Simon has quit the partnership after just a few weeks for personal reasons, to spend more time in the family café. And as for our drinks: well, even though the bar was scarcely busy, it took us more than 25 minutes to get margaritas that tasted premixed and oversweet, and a whisky sour that was just horrid.
After that, I wasn’t convinced the lady mixologist had the slightest idea how to mix anything, so I just had a glass of white wine.
To a certain extent the menu mirrored the eclecticism of Quay Ingredient, which serves both eggs benedict and more exotic offerings like confit duck salad and teriyaki chicken sandwiches.
Here, the choice ranged from lamb curry to teriyaki salmon. Between the four of us we crossed continents with wontons, salt cod croquettes, sweet potato fries and beer battered squid to start, followed by burgers, chicken and confit of duck.
After our dire cocktails, we were desperate for decent red wine, but there was no wine list.
“The wine menu is in my head,” the waiter said proudly.
That’s impressive, we thought. Which reds do you have, then?
“Cabernet or Merlot.” That was it.
“So which type of Cabernet?” we asked.
Sadly, that little detail wasn’t in his head. Instead, he brought us the bottle: it was Barefoot 2011 – about as cheap as Californian Cabs can run. Fruity enough for spicy chicken wings around a hot barbecue in Santa Barbara, but far too angular for decent food.
Which was just as well, because the cooking was, I’m sorry to say, variable.
Sweet potato fries with chewy skin, pallid pork and coriander dumplings tasting not at all freshly made, and underfried squid rings.
However the salt cod croquettes were actually quite good, with a nicely balanced saffron aioli.
My duck came with a hearty Toulouse sausage and cannellini bean cassoulet, and the chicken was generous and glazed with balsamic, arriving with half an almost roasted sweet potato. Both were comforting, but, to be honest, nothing to write home about, and no better or worse than you’d find in thousands of little brasseries across the land.
However, the bacon cheeseburgers were huge and enjoyable, even though our hand-cut fries, big as potato wedges, were severely undercooked.
If you want a reasonably good burger with some pretty rough wine and don’t mind hanging around for a while to get served, this is the place for you. Two courses for 4 people, including drinks, cost us £95.
I do hope Pete Jukes finds another cooking partner soon. He is a pleasant, welcoming man, and clearly ambitious, so he deserves to succeed. I wish him well, and I’m only sorry I couldn’t score his first solo venture higher.
If this place improves in a month or so, please let me know, and I might give it another try.