1 Boyd Street
0191 260 5216
Food 10am – 9pm daily
***BEST CAFE 2013***
Ernest is actually Gavin: Gavin Marshall, a local glass artist who started out life as an Ernest, but hated the name so much, he dumped it. Last year he resurrected it when he sold his kiln to open this excellent café bar.
Next to the car repair shop under the arches of the Byker railway bridge, Ernest is certainly out of the way. The building used to house an indifferent Italian called La Gabbia, but Gavin has transformed it into a quirky gastrobar.
It isn’t pretending to be a restaurant, it’s part of the new wave of café cuisine, attracting a creative community that really loves good food.
In fact, the cooking is so good that, having enjoyed one lunch there, I went back again the following day to check it wasn’t a fluke. By the third visit I decided I could quite happily move in.
It’s not just comfortable, it’s so laid back that you could arrive for breakfast and still be there when it closes at midnight. By day it’s a place to hang out, play chess, write a novel, or enjoy a very long brunch with good friends. The music policy appear to be whatever Gavin and his very friendly waiting staff fancy that day: some very diverse world music the first time I went, then Dylan and the sounds of the 60s.
In the afternoon it fills up with young Mums ordering tea and traditional homemade cakes. There’s a library with a big pile of board games including, I noticed, the 50 Shades of Grey party game and Risk: World Domination.
I’m not sure if those are for the Mums or the students who appear to move in for the music in the evenings and a weekends – there are turntables in the middle of the bar suggesting the music gets louder by nightfall.
Ernest has gold painted walls, masks over the light fittings, a glass Legoman man head on the windowsill and a unicycle parked by the door. A hole in the wall is occupied by an Action Man clutching a poppy for Remembrance Sunday. The interior not so much been designed as borrowed from art studios. It’s eccentric and fun, and so is the menu.
Now I normally complain about restaurants with “eclectic” menus.
“What are you actually good at?” I moan like a sourpuss.
But this menu reflects the idiosyncratic, creative nature of the decor. It’s a mixture of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Latin American and British, but I’d no more want it to specialise than I’d expect Grayson Perry to only make teapots. That’s because everything I’ve tried so far is very good indeed.
There’s an all-day brunch, offering a gigantic fry-up breakfast with a twist: apart from the usual sausages, black pudding and so on, it has home-made baked beans and a little nest of fried vegetables, like coloured vermicelli, which Gavin calls rainbow rösti. Raymond Blanc does something similar with leeks.
Somebody in the kitchen is having fun – it’s the opposite of serious cooking.
I did notice that they offer huevos rancheros, which should see a flood of Mexican customers, except that they serve the eggs poached, rather than fried, and English muffins instead of proper corn tortillas. Shame.
The steak in my sandwich was sourced from Wallington, presumably from Simon Bainbridge, who produces some of Northumberland’s best beef, with creamy chunks of very good Stilton.
On another day I enjoyed a doorstep of granary bread sandwiching quality buffalo mozzarella, savoy pesto, sweet peppers and sultanas, together with a bowl of smoked bacon and lentil soup for just £6.50.
There was also Thai pumpkin soup, which had a great sweet and spicy balance, infused with lemongrass, partnered by a salad of beets cooked and sliced several ways, dotted with feta, olives and peppery mizuna leaves, which raised the humble beetroot salad to gourmet status.
A couple of my friends had flatbreads. They’re big as pizzas, and range from wild mushrooms with parmesan to Boquerones anchovies with feta. The spicy Moroccan lamb flatbread, with feta and pine nuts, almost made me resolve to give up pizza. Almost.
|Apple and Sultana Sponge|
|Brioche bread and butter pudding|
In the interests of food journalism I tried several desserts. They have huge tombstones of brioche bread and butter ladled with chocolate sauce, and cinnamony apple and sultana sponge.
|Bread and Peanut Butter Pudding|
They serve Newcastle’s best coffee – from the Ouseburn Coffee Company – Love Leaf teas and real ales from Tyne Bank Brewery.
Ernest has embraced all the local suppliers, and the locals appear to have embraced Ernest. Now it’s over to the rest of Newcastle to fill it every day – but please save me a table.