26 November 2020

Dining Under Lockdown: House of Tides

Food ✪✪✪✪✪
Value for money ✪✪✪✪
Pandemic friendly? (Ease of procurement, social distancing etc) ✪✪✪✪✪

House of Tides
28-30 The Close
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 230 3720

Gluten free options? Email regarding dietary requirements.

I like to think I’m handy enough in the kitchen, but I didn’t imagine back in the first flush of 2020 that I’d be knocking out Michelin star quality food by this point in the year. Not, mind you, that I can take any particular credit for how nice dinner was the other night, other than a spot of reheating of this and scattering of that. I imagine that Kenny Atkinson didn’t start 2020 thinking he’d be serving his food into little plastic containers for masked punters to take home and bung in the oven either, but here we all are. Not an original thought, but a true one nonetheless: strange times.

Lockdown number one saw a few restaurants quickly turn themselves into takeaways, or offer DIY meal kits of some sort. This rather rubbish sequel has seen a good deal more getting involved, not just in the North East, but up and down the land. The determination to keep things moving one way or another, to keep staff employed, to find a way to keep stock coming in and get it out despite not knowing whether the doors will be allowed to open from one week to the next as we all look forward to traversing the snakes-and-ladders tier system again; it’s all very impressive. Among those getting in on the act is House of Tides.

Getting hold of our bag o’goodies was hassle free. You log onto their website on a Friday and buy the thing (£90 for two people), then collect it from the restaurant the following weekend. For twelve further quid they’ll deliver it. NB: you might want to set up a twitter notification for when the menu gets announced, as this has been a popular offering.

Unpacking was a lot of fun. There are piping bags and metal cartons, and plastic punnets, and smaller plastic punnets. What does this go with? Aha, that’s the purée for the terrine! Etc and so forth. The instructions cover two pages of A4, although not much more needs actually to be done than put things in the oven or the microwave for the right amount of time. Even at this rather simplified, fairly idiot proof level, and with all the cooking basically already done, it’s a tiny insight into the complexity of producing food at the top end of things.

We got going with a gougère into which I piped an assertively spiced baba ganoush. Nice, if not as featherlight as they may have been after their first baking , and allowing for the fact that the concept of a non-cheesy gougère is one I struggle with. 

A small loaf of malted bread was excellent, crisp outside and pillowy within after a few minutes in the oven.

A pot of cured trout tartare was mercifully thin on instructions. “Using a small teaspoon, enjoy straight from the pot”. Mrs Diner, ever the rebel, debated using a massive soup spoon to scoop the thing up in a one-er. In any case it was a pretty little pot of fun. The rosy fish was seasoned by the inky pop of caviar, crunch being provided by teensy nubbins of cucumber and radish and the powerful celery-like flavour of lovage adding some savoury depth.

A terrine of partridge and ham hock was merely nice, perhaps a little thin on the latter, which made it very mild, merging on meek. Its pear chutney was good but a parsnip purée was a bit nondescript, although the bitterness of some curly endive perked things up. 

By this point we were starting to really enjoy a bottle of earthy and hedge-packed non-AOC Beaujolais, procured for the occasion, from KORK in Whitley Bay. If you’ve any interest in natural or low intervention style wines, definitely check these guys out.

That wine absolutely sang with the main course, which was a glorious triumph of pig. A cuboid each of rich, almost gamey, belly came with charred onions, a few lumps of delicious spud, buttered cavolo nero and a splash of the type of rich, reduced sauce that just about justifies the price of high-end food all on its own. Perfectly suited to this “re-heat chez vous” format, this was as joyful a plate of food as we have had in quite some time. 

Pudding was another open-the-pot-and-devour job, and another bracing blast of flavour. Atkinson has been doing wonderful things with chocolate for at least as long as I’ve been eating in his restaurants, and I imagine a good deal longer. His pavé is a thing to behold. This chocolate pot - possibly a custard based ganache? - was rich, smooth and just frigging great. It was thoughtfully accessorised with bitter coffee jelly, cistrussy Kalamansi and crisp tuiles and nuts. I’ve eaten, throughout childhood and into adult life, an awful lot of chocolate pud out of plastic pots. I like a Rolo pudding as much as the next person. I liked this way, way more. I can scarcely give greater praise. 

A couple of crisp-shelled white chocolate truffles, rolled in toasty roasted coconut rounded out a hugely enjoyable evening of eating.

As my finger hovers over the publish button, Matt Hancock has stood up at the dispatch box and the gov.uk website has crashed as the whole country tries to find out what tier they're in. The entire North East, for now at least, is in tier 3, so no eating out for a while yet. House of Tides @Home boxes are sold out for the coming weekend of the 28th of November, but given today's shenanigans, there may be more of which this review speaks

If not, well, we’re a way off getting everyone vaccinated and a lot of people may not feel - for many understandable reasons - like they want to go out to dinner for a while anyhow. This way of eating nice food may be around for longer than we think. House of Tides did 100 covers worth of these boxes on day we picked ours up. And if our restaurants do get to reopen soon, then I’d invite you just to take this review as a massive thumbs up for one of our region’s absolute best.

At the risk of making a very flippant point, it would be great if some of those charting our collective course through this tumult had just a portion of the creativity, work ethic and good sense to be found in the very sector that has taken perhaps the greatest gubbing at the hands of the ‘rona. Anything that can be done to keep as much of team hospitality alive through all of this is, I reckon, time and money very well spent. Help out if you can, to eat out sometime soon.

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