9 November 2013


 Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 

1 Boyd Street 
NE2 1AP 

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
Best of all was a special: bread and peanut butter pudding. It was sweet, rich, eggy and salty at the same time. If I had a cardiologist, he would have resigned. 

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.


  1. couldn't agree more, the staff are mint, gav is a hero and the food and drink options are exactly what is needed. Just need to stop trying to get a degree and give myself more time to chill out at Ernest. Great post.

  2. Doug, learn to speak please...

  3. I've given up on Ernest because though the food is good the speed of the kitchen is dire. Regularly waiting 45 minutes to an hour to get food in front of us goes way beyond acceptable even for somewhere that's "laid-back". And that's when the place isn't full. I've raised it with them and they've acknowledged it's a problem, but when it continued to happen again and again after flagging the issue, it's hard to believe they're fixing it.

    1. We are just in the process of putting new menus together , on them we explain that we have opted to cook proper homemade food over re-heated rubbish and at busy times this may mean longer waits. In order to serve busier people we are going to start stocking our takeaway fridge with sarnies and salads and we also intend to get better at communicating to our customers how long the wait might be on any given day. We’ve also recently had a little spring clean in the kitchen and streamlined our staff slightly in order to get better and better at what we do, having been open just 18 months and come to this as novices its a steep learning curve and one that we are trying improve at all of the time.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sitting in here now, in amongst the neighbours dishes who left 20 mins ago.

    It's approaching an hour since we ordered :-(

    My other half has already eaten, they mistakenly brought her someone else's food otherwise she'd still be hungry as well. They explained there had been a kitchen error and mine would be a further 10 mins (actually 20)

    No offer of a complimentary drink , food just arrived I'll update in a bit.....

  5. Well, we're home now, and having had the spicy Moroccan flatbread, in line with the secret diner, I can certainly recommend it!!

    It was very very tasty & came served with a nicely dressed bit of crunchy side salad :-)

    It was however brought to the table without a second apology for the delay, & for a customer who has given the benefit of not cancelling an order and walking out after both a long delay & then a kitchen error that is inexcusable.

    As promised the sweet potato chips with spicy mayo quickly followed. The chips were OK but the spicy mayo had no discernable kick that my palette could detect, & compared to the zinggyness of the spicy lamb just tasted a bit flat, more like standard run of the mill Hellmans or whatever.

    While I ate we watched another table be cleared but then not wiped down. When the next customers arrived at it, it was still dirty so the customer proceeded to dust the food remains into the middle with one of their own hankies. :-(

    At no point did anyone approach us and ask if everything was OK, and when we left there was no goodbyes & the neighboring tables dishes were still sat there, that had to be getting on for 40 min's they'd been left.

    All in all the food was good, but service & standards were poor, & this was at 3 ish on a Sunday afternoon with only about 15% of the tables covered.

    Would we visit again? Probably not, & certainly not without seeing a good few reviews saying the service issues had been addressed.

    Maybe we just expect too much from somewhere billed as a cafe?

    Or just rate good old fashioned service far more highly than fashionable laid back eclecticism?

  6. I ate at Ernest a couple of weekends ago and the food and the service were amazing...can't wait to go back! The food came quickly and could not be faulted. The venue is individual and quirky. Need to also check out the music nights there too.