Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 233 3732
I try not to spend too much time casing out places on the net before I visit them. Too much digital overture can give you the wrong idea. Besides, I’m reviewing the food and service, not the web developer.
This was just as well in the case of Aveika, a new “modern Japanese” joint on the Quayside that has risen from the unmissed ashes of a bar called Chase. A quick scan of their website gave me scant clue as to what they were serving up, but it did provide a clear sense of their target clientele.
There was a gallery of generously war-painted beauties, each clutching an exuberantly priced vodka or fizz, with identical identikit pouts and chests so pneumatically gravity-defying as to make Newton have second thoughts. An unwittingly hilarious video pans across hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of motor parked by the front door before the camera slinks inside, ogles the electronic chandelier and settles on a bottle of Ciroc vodka. Are you beautiful (or want to be) and rich (or want to be)? Come on down!
Never one to miss a bit of gratuitous glamour, Mrs Diner was happy to help me roadtest the food, so she strapped on the stilettos and I booked an early Friday evening table.
Inside, it took us a while to actually locate the restaurant, which is up some stairs, affording a grandstand view into the bar/club area below. Gainford Hotels, the team behind The Vermont Hotel and Bar Livello just round the corner have hit upon a pretty nifty idea with Aveika: you can have your night out and eat it, all under one roof.
“Reminds me of the kind of restaurant-club set-up you get in Singapore,” observed Mrs Diner as we settled into comfy chairs and took in the sleek surroundings, all potted cherry blossoms and flattering lighting. It actually reminded me of Peter Stringfellow’s.
They’ve clearly spent a lot of cash on this transformation. It may not quite match its website’s promise of combining “style and sophistication”, for I could detect neither, but it’s probably perfect for Newcastle’s Quayside crowd, if you know what I mean.
The menu revealed itself to be a bit of an all-rounder, featuring sushi, tempura and charcoal-grilled items from the Robata grill. This is very much not the way things tend to be done in Japan, where a restaurant will usually specialise in just one preparation method, but no matter: I was hungry and intrigued, so we ordered enthusiastically.
After suffering all manner of stodgy, flaccid dross masquerading as tempura batter in recent months, it was a relief to find somewhere that makes it properly. Ebi (prawn) tempura was a greaseless delight, featuring some whopping crustaceans.
Tara cheese puffs were more crisp batter encasing pieces of cod, cheese and sichimi seasoning. We ordered these because they sounded odd, but they went down a treat.
Best of all was a dish of lightly cooked scallop, prawn and asparagus in a thriller of a miso butter sauce.
Sushi lives and dies by the quality of its rice, and here it wasn’t great. Overly claggy, it required a splash or two more vinegar for seasoning. In order to rescue it, any fish would need to be superb. These weren’t.
The eel in a dragon roll lacked the deep umami flavour I expected, while the wild bass on nigiri was bland.
The salmon in a fried Philadelphia roll had been marinated in something that tasted like raw cayenne, destroying any flavour of the fish.
However, a selection of skewers from the grill heralded a welcome return to form.
Wagyu beef was as tender as you’d hope, while kimchi-marinated chicken had taken on a lovely smokiness, if not quite the fermenty zing of the preserved cabbage.
Tofu skewers were texturally fun, custardy soft within and crisp without. Best of the lot were skewers of lamb in which top-notes of lemongrass provided an unexpectedly good foil for deeply flavoured sheep.
The less said about dessert the better. A mixed sharing plate was a huge flat slab of white dotted with a jelly here, a pancake there, a crumb of something and a squirt of whatever. None of it tasted of anything much; this was a dish designed to be instagrammed, not eaten.
Consolation came via a glass of the estimable Nikka Coffey Japanese whisky from a varied drinks selection. Before this, we had enjoyed a bottle of the peachily delicious Akashi-Tai Junmai sparkling sake.
Service was excellent, mainly because there was a lot of it — doing the region’s unemployment statistics a favour. Our waitress was absolutely lovely, while other staff wore headsets and serious expressions. Obviously waiting for the supercars to arrive.
Unfortunately we couldn’t wait for them ourselves as we had to leave for a concert, so we didn’t quite get the full Aveika experience. Perhaps we will return another time, staying on to sample, under the neon chandelier, the talents of DJs Danny ‘O’ Sullivan and Infiniti Stylz. Then again, perhaps not, especially as our bill, with modest booze, had already topped a hundred quid. You could raise quite a formidable tab here once you got stuck into the Cirocs and Belvederes. Which is, of course, the whole point.
Despite this, I’m going to recommend Aveika. The food we tried was mostly good and some was excellent. If eating in a fairly modern, low-carb sort of way before dancing it off under one heavily branded roof, is your kind of thing, then you’ll probably love this place.
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