Restaurant DH1…. Find yourself a real spot of pure pleasure

19 04 2014

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I have been a Twitter picture-fan of Stephen Hardy (Head Cheffy Chef at the new look Restaurant DH1 over Durham way) since our two paths collided on the social media site back in 2013. I just plain like the look of what he puts on a plate. It was the same feeling had when I saw work being done by Darren Goodwin at Losehill House in Derbyshire. I had a feeling if I was not disappointed by Darren’s food then, this young man’s skills would equally please me. Quite simply, I was not wrong one jot

Restaurant DH1 is located on the outskirts of Durham on the way up to Neville’s Cross. Not far at all from where I went to college back in the olden days. The main building is Farnley Towers and the restaurant and kitchen overlook the garden, which in turn overlooks the Cathedral in the distance.

A local architect built the property as his own residence in 1870 and from the look of it he had a thriving well-paying practice, it is a lovely property. After an extensive restoration in 1998, Farnley Tower reopened as a 4 star guest-house with a onsite restaurant.

The notion to call it the Gourmet Spot with a signage that left you in no doubt someone thought it amusing, they probably did not entirely help promote the quality of food seriously. All has now been suitably rectified. Restaurant DH1 re-launched and opened its doors in March 2014, now owned by the Head chef (Stephen) and his wife (Helen), the décor to this 22 seat little gem is tasteful and contemporary and modern.

It was Helen and her lovely young front of house team who greeted us warmly and took us through into the snug dining room and settled us with drinks and breads. Let me say this about the breads, eat them all and consider it as part of the meal, they were excellent. As I write this now a few days later and falling back on memory the though “Black Pudding bread… mmmm” pops into my head.

The dimension of the place makes it very intimate, and I found it and the other diners friendly and comfortable company. Nice to find ourselves seated next to a couple visiting from “The South” staying over, who reported a comfortable family room, and who also had enjoyed a wonderful dining experience.

The menu itself has a nice touch to it. I find the logo design has been done well, and its clear neatness marries well with the food ethos.

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Inside you will find a brief intro, one sees they wish the diner to be relaxed and welcomed to their world of tastes and textures.

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The selection we opted for on this our first visit was the tasting menu. Nothing on the meat selection ran across the bows of the Mrs. Zap, so we both opted for the tasting menu. Our thinking was that it would offer us a good insight into the ingenuity, qualities and skills residing in the mind and hands of the chef. At £50 per head for a wide selection of “fiddly food” I considered it to be an acceptable trade of our money for such gastronomic variety. A glance down the menu was very enticing.

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As a welcoming gesture (I like to think in some part due to our previous cross correspondence on the Twitter thingymajig, but he might do this as part of the meal and my narcissism is misplaced) we were presented with a couple of amuses; a lovely light mousse incorporating smoked eel and duck within a crisp filo pastry, first.

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This was followed with two delicate beetroot meringues filled with soft gentle tasting goats cheese. The sweet powerful beetroot flavours had us sucking our teeth and “mmm” ing long after the tasty morsels had been devoured. I just know that when that happens whatever is coming next is going to be pretty darned good. It is a great skill to extract that level of flavour and package it into such delicacies.

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Crispy Oyster with seaweed and  fennel was the first platter.Perhaps purists would frown at a cooked oyster but I like it, it made the texture more like a meaty mussel, the crumbed coat with the fennel and seaweed was not overpowering, and Mrs. Zap found the aniseed taste suitable for her palate, for me I would always go a little more obvious.. but then again I get told by Cheffy Chefs my taste buds are shot, so who am I to say.

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The Torched mackerel, cucumber, lemon and horseradish was beautiful. The fish marvellously pink, soft and sweet. The cucumber  seared rendering it as a melon like taste and the horseradish ice-cream …. superb, a lovely lovely combination of tastes in this dish.

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Following on next was the sea bream with baby leeks, mussels and seaweed butter. Beautifully plated, and excellently cooked and all flavours present and correct. A harmonious creation.

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Moving away from the fish we had the first of the big meats; pork cheek cooked in soy with Granny Smith apple, eel and shallot. This was rich and sweet and sticky, the pork melt in your mouth soft the acidic sharpness and sweetness of the apple a lovely taste contrast to the rich dark soy jus.

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Goosenargh duck with sprouting broccoli orange puree Juniper and turnip…. Well now… What a fantastic piece of duck. Pink, cooked to perfection, sitting on a symmetrically shaped finger of layered seared potato. Very neat. The orange taste bombs exploded magnificently on my tongue. I loved it to bits.

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Rhubarb, pistachio & gingerbread. All I am just going to say is, look at that pud … just look at it. It was that good.

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Lastly Aerated chocolate. salt caramel and popcorn. It says it all in the description; the set aerated chocolate was textured tasteful and tongue pleasing, the salt caramel was sticky, sweet and satisfying the popcorn was … well popcorn, and added a textural difference and went so well with salt caramel, just like the stuff I can eat by the bucket load in front of the telly and a good film.

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The wine I chose was a Mandrarossa Fiano. A good big, full-bodied white, which I sipped sparingly and took half the bottle home as I was driving. Golden in the glass, and filling the palate with rich tropical fruits and a nice long finish. My choice because of the variety of dishes from fish to meat to rich pudding.

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I am pretty sure in my thinking that Stephen and his wife and business partner Helen have put their hearts, souls and futures on the line in making DH1 theirs. It is a bold and scary thing to do, to step out and finance your own restaurant. I can’t see how it can fail. Quite how a two-man team in the kitchen can do what they do is beyond me. If I had known that there was just the two of them back there, plating-up the tasting menu and preparing regular meals for a full service, I would have just gone A La Carte. I apologise for taxing you so hard Stephen.

Table service was handled well by a great young server called Ashleigh, we thank you for being excellent. Kitchen cheffy dudes… we salute you. FOH team job well done, Helen you looked lovely and were superbly efficient.

In conclusion DH1 is worth the visit and still is a Great Spot to eat (in-joke I could not resist).

Thanks Stephen you are a fine, fine cheffy chef.





A man in a field, his shed and his supper

12 04 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone I call friend has asked if I would be kind enough to write a bit of a blog on his behalf, and seeing as the fellow is such a kindhearted man (always has a thoughtful word for “Gentlemen Of The Road”, and fallen women) who am I to deny him my generosity. I hope that I can do him the justice he so warmly deserves.

Somewhere up in the fields around the outskirts of Hexham toils a man of the soil, a true yeoman, stout of heart and earnest. His fingers are strong as you would expect from a man who is “The Salt Of The Earth”.

Not a born farmer he, but more like a priest who has taken Holy Orders and has been “called unto God” to work in his service, and evangelise his name. Ken Holland has been called by the clod and the sod, to grow forth from the ground the finest vegetables a cheffy chef could ever wish to plonk on a plate.

The man is what can be honestly called a muddy genius. Seeds sprout under his tender care as if  caressed by a botanical sorcerer. Vegetables, and all things green, sprout from where he once trod; it is as if The Gnole is not myth, but hard fact, and he walks amongst us quietly going about his growing craft.

He wants not for comfort and the trappings of success. No fast cars nor palatial home with amenities.Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 18.48.44

No he modestly prefers to live frugally and humbly amongst his green tenderlings, whispering arcane magical spells as he talks quietly to them; if you have witnessed this, know this; It is no madness nor garbled tongues of some simple-minded country bumpkin, but purely him expressing his gift.

Throughout the year, come hail or shine snow,  sleet, light or dark, Sagacious Ken Lord of  Veg Lore is amongst his flora, legumes and herbage, urging them on. Then as the clearing mist and dew and his arthritis allow, he harvests for the Kings and Queens of the kitchens so that they may craft the sumptuous meals the fine diners crave.

Quite how he manages such prodigious achievement is unknown but he is the very stuff of legend, a woven thread on the rich tapestry on the Northumberland landscape.

His remarkable stamina is rooted in his culinary abilities. He forages in the fields and hedgerows claiming for himself only the healthiest specimens, and when his supply of voles insects and small birds becomes sparse, the renowned and kind-hearted Chef Dave Kennedy up at the Vallum Farm Restaurant provides the odd off-cut of chicken, beef trimmings or offal to supplement the pot, and so ensure our Ken keeps his pecker up.

It was one ordinary night that Ken asked of me to show his abilities to the world. Sadly I have but a barely read and irrelevant blog, but I did not want to disabuse him of his dream so I agreed.

Using scraps of old paper for kindling and old socks whose country odour added pungency to the cooking, Ken brought a fire to flame. The ignition of the socks was quite startling and singed my eyebrows. One assumes his libations with the medical spirits and diluted shoe polish has created a remarkably combustible urine, and his tendency to urinate into his boots to prevent chilblains  has resulted in the  fermentation of volatile compound that would put the initial ignition stage of a Cape Canaveral launch in the shade.

The initial fierce flame instantly brought heat to the beaten lorry hubcap that Ken uses for  cooking, the fresh wild garlic and onions seasoning the rusty metal. Scraps from “the big house” were added, and the finest greenage one could hope to find this side of paradise stirred in a handful at a time. From a small box in the corner of his wheeled shed Ken produced a battered box. The signs of use were obvious, there were no words upon its aged and battered form save but for two letters written in an infant script, TZ.  His “Precious Things” he lovingly called them. Muttering under his breath he took a pinch of this and that, a dribble of something other that had the skillet lurch, hiss and bubble. What was required next, he informed, me in quiet anticipatory glee, was to leave it for about 5 hours glerking away on the incendiary embers while we went to talk to the vegetables.

What we came back to was this:

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I swear as you stare at it stares back at you. Served in glazed plant pot bases with hand crushed boiled potatoes (the man has hands of asbestos) and using spoons Ken has dug up over the years we sat down together and watched the stars come out and ate the rustic fayre.

Earthy, colourful and flavoured by such spiced ingredients I know not; Ken had created a culinary masterpiece of the like I have never tasted. With so little he had manifested little short of a moment of wonder.

Ken Holland, a man out standing in his own field……. I salute you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Artisan Takes The Biscuit

11 04 2014

Art is an expression of creativity. An artisan is a skilled craftsman/woman. An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure. This causes the water level in a well to rise to a point where hydrostatic equilibrium has been reached. It is worth knowing the differences between them all.

The Biscuit factory opened 2001 and is an impressive independent commercial art gallery. Aside from the main art gallery there is a Biscuit Room venue function suite set to open some time this year if all keeps on track, and it is home to a multitude of artist studios, and an existing function facility with a tidy café upstairs too. It is a great place to wander around casting ones lustful eye over the beautifully crafted artistic creations. A pit stop for a coffee and a snack is possible up stairs but if it a proper sit down and an enjoyment of gastronomic creation then the refurbished and integrated Artisan Restaurant is what you want to head for.

My recollection is that the original Restaurant was Black Door that became DK Food Social as Dave Kennedy began his independent operation. He has now moved on to concentrate on his other venture. DK at Vallum, thus leaving his old Head Chef Andrew Wilkinson to let loose his own epicurean imagination and ingenuity. Like Dave before him Andrew is a previous winner of The North East Chef Of The Year. My understanding that winning that accolade at the age of 22 (back in 2009) made him the youngest holder of the title. A young and gifted cook is what he is. So really what of it? What did the ol’ fella make of the re-launched venue? In truth the space is much the same, but subtle décor and special definition changes have been made. I think it has helped define the space better if I was pushed to comment. Staff-wise the main players are still there; Robin Price and Tracey Bain are very amenable in their front of house rolls, having been there for a good while, and very comfortable at trying to make the diner comfortable. We arrived a week or so after the rebranding exercise and were expecting a great meal. The night was with friends who may or may not share my enthusiasm for food and blogging so I am only giving a feel for what I had and have a modest amount of images to share due to my unusual discretion. A kind helper (non other than Tracey) helped to provide me with the best images she could muster, so my thanks to her for the canny effort xx.

The menu and wine list below will show you the choice of courses we had for the evening:

HOMEMADE FOCCACIA, OLIFERRA, DUKKA – £2.95

STARTERS

NORTH SHIELDS FISH SOUP, ROUILLE, GRUYERE, GARLIC CROUTONS – £5.95

NORTHUMBRIAN GOATS CURD ‘SPRING ROLL’, BEETS, CURED SALMON– £5.95

CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT, HOT TOAST, WATERCRESS & ROCKET- £6.50

CARAMELISED KING SCALLOPS, MUSCAVADO GLAZED PORK BELLY, TUNNEL SHOOTS – £8.95

HERB PANNA COTTA, CURED HAM, ROASTED PEPPERS, GARDEN PEAS & SHOOTS – £6

(V) CRUNCHY HEN’S EGG, WALNUTS, ASPARAGUS & TRUFFLE – £5

HOMEMADE BLACK PUDDING, PEA PUREE, POACHED EGG – £6.95

 

MAIN COURSE

10OZ RIB EYE STEAK, DOUBLE DIPPED CHIPS, CHEF’S SALAD – £25

CARAMELISED HALIBUT, FORAGER’S CROQUETTE, ASPARAGUS CREAM – £21

CRISP FILLET OF SALMON, SPRING VEGETABLE MINESTRONE, WILD GARLIC PESTO- £15.50

RUMP OF LAMB, ROASTED PINK FIR, SHALLOT PUREE, NEW SEASON GARLIC & LEEKS – £17

(V) GRUYERE CHEESE & THYME SOUFFLÉ, PEAR & WALNUT SALAD – £13

BACON CHOP, CARAMELISED APPLE, BUBBLE & SQUEAK, MADEIRA SAUCE – £15

(V) TOASTED SOURDOUGH, FRIED DUCK EGG, ASPARAGUS & WILD LEEKS- £12.50

 

SIDE DISHES £3 (per option)

DOUBLE DIPPED CHIPS FRENCH FRIES,

GRUYERE & ROSEMARY PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI

CHEF’S SALAD BUTTERED NEW SEASON HERITAGE POTATOES WILTED LETTUCE,

PEAS & WILD GARLIC

 

DESSERTS

VANILLA CRÈME BRULEE, ARMAGNAC PRUNES, SHORTBREAD – £6

DARK CHOCOLATE DELICE, HAZELNUT ICE CREAM, PRALINE, LIME & GINGER – £7.50

SELECTION OF HOME-MADE ICE CREAMS & SORBETS – £4.95

LOCALLY SOURCED CHEESEBOARD, BISCUITS & CHUTNEY -£8.50

COCONUT PANNA COTTA, SPICED PINEAPPLES, MANGO & LIME SORBET – £6.50

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING, HOT TOFFEE SAUCE, VANILLA ICE CREAM – £5.95

BAKED WHITE CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE, POACHED RHUBARB & SORBET – £5.95

 

WINES WHITE

PETIT BALLON BLANC, GASCONY FRANCE BOTTLE £16.50|250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 LIGHT AND FRESH SOUTHERN BLEND WITH HINTS OF LEMON AND GREEN APPLE

SAUVIGNON BLANC, ROSARIO ESTATE, SAN PEDRO CHILE BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 WONDERFULLY EXPLOSIVE PASSION FRUIT AROMAS AND MOUTH-WATERING ACIDITY

IL BARROCCIO BIANCO,(GARGANEGA), VENETO SICILY BOTTLE £18 | 250ML £6.80 | 125ML £3.50 BURSTING WITH FLORAL AROMAS OF PEACH AND CAMOMILE & A CRISP ACIDITY

VIOGNIER, PUERTAS ANTIGUAS,VALLE CENTRALCHILE – £19 LIKE WAKING UP IN A FLORISTS STOCKROOM! EXPECT PEACHES, ORANGE BLOSSOM & SPICE

TORRONTES, DOMINIO DE TOYO, FAMATINA VALLEYARGENTINA – £20.50 AROMATIC EXAMPLE OF THIS DELICIOUSLY DIFFERENT VARIETAL. JASMINE & HONEYSUCKLE NOTES

VERDEJO, VINA GAREDO, RUEDASPAIN – £21 A REFRESHING, CITRUSSY BLEND OF VERDEJO, SAUVIGNON BLANC AND VIURA

PINOT GRIGIO, CECILIA BERETTA, VENETO ITALY – £22 A PINOT GRIGIO WITH RARE DEPTH AND ELEGANCE FROM TOP-CLASS ESTATE BERETTA

UNOAKED CHARDONNAY, UMBRELE ROMANIA – £23 RIPE, RICH & SUCCULENT – EXACTLY WHAT A CHARDONNAY SHOULD BE

PICPOUL DE PINET, DOMAINE DE MORIN LANGARAN FRANCE – £24 DELICATE, FLORAL YET PERFECTLY BALANCED WITH CRISP ACIDITY

SAUVIGNON BLANC LOFTHOUSE ESTATE, MARLBOROUGHNEW ZEALAND – £28 INTENSE KALEIDOSCOPIC FLAVOURS. IMPOSSIBLY TASTY AND DANGEROUSLY EASY TO DRINK

 

CHAMPAGNE & PROSECCO

PROSECCO BRUT “LE COLTURE” NV ITALY BOTTLE £24.95 | 125ML £4.95 BEAUTIFULLY HAND-CRAFTED SPARKLER FROM THIS FAMILY RUN ESTATE

ROSE SPUMANTE BRUT “LE COLTURE” NV ITALY BOTTLE £27 | 125ML £5.95 BRIGHT RED FRUITS WITH A BEAUTIFUL FLORAL FINISH

CHAMPAGNE DELAMOTTE BRUT NV, LE MESNIL FRANCE BOTTLE £49 | 125ML £10.95 DISTINGUISHED, STYLISH AND SUPREMELY DRINKABLE. WORLD CLASS WINEMAKING

 

ROSÉ

PETIT BALLON ROSÉ, GASCONYFRANCE BOTTLE £16.50 | 250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 PINK, PERT AND DAMN NEAR PERFECT. RED FRESH FRUITS & HINTS OF WILD STRAWBERRY

MAS OLIVERAS CABERNET ROSÉ SPAIN BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 DEEP IN COLOUR WITH BRIGHT SUMMER BERRY FRUITS & A JUICY PALATE

PINOT GRIGIO BLUSH, MONTEVENTO ESTATE, VENETOITALY BOTTLE £19 LIGHT AS A FEATHER AND SUPER FRESH. A GLUGGER FROM THE TOP DRAWER

 

RED

PETIT BALLON ROUGE, GASCONY FRANCE BOTTLE £16.50 | 250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 A MAGIC MASH UP OF MERLOT, CABERNET, GRENACHE & SYRAH. SMOOTH, SAVOURY & SPICED

IL BARROCCIO ROSSO, (NERO D’AVOLA), VENETOSICILY BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 STEREOTYPICALLY SEXY, DARK BERRY AROMAS AND VELVET-LIKE TEXTURE

SHIRAZ, PUERTAS ANTIGUAS VALLE CENTRALCHILE BOTTLE £18 | 250ML £6.80 | 125ML £3.50 SUPER RICH & SMOKY WITH COFFEE, CHOCOLATE & SPICE ON THE PALATE   MERLOT

LA COMBE DE GRINOU, BERGERAC (ORGANIC)FRANCE – £21 BRILLIANCE IN A BOTTLE. ALLURING, EASY DRINKING, BORDEAUX-STYLE RED WITHOUT THE PRICE TAG

MALBEC, CHAMUYO ESTATE, MENDOZA ARGENTINA - £22 DUSKY DARK FRUITS WITH A SMOLDERING SASSY CHARACTER. THE PERFECT PARTNER TO BEEF

CABERNET SAUVIGNON-MERLOT, BIN 19AUSTRALIA – £23 BLACKCURRANT & PLUM FLAVOURS WRAPPED IN A SMOKY, VANILLA EDGED CLOAK

TEMPRANILLO, LAGUNA DE LA NAVA, VALDEPENAS SPAIN – £25 SOFT BRAMBLE FRUIT WITH WONDERFUL OAK AGE. IF YOU LIKE RIOJA YOU’LL LOVE THIS

QUINTA DE CHOCAPALHA TINTOPORTUGAL – £26 A MODERN, COMPLEX BLOCKBUSTER FROM THE OUTRAGEOUSLY GOOD ‘HOUSE OF CHOCOLATE’

THE RUINS PINOTAGE, ROBERTSON (ORGANIC)SOUTH AFRICA – £27 A PROPER, UNAPOLOGETIC PINOTAGE, CHOCK FULL OF PLUM AND SPICE

PINOT NOIR, LA TUNELLA, FRIULLI REGIONITALY – £29 PINOT THAT OOZES SOPHISTICATION. DELICATE SPICE & JUICY CRUSHED RASPBERRY FLAVOURS

 

My selection for the evening followed the following lines: For the wine, as we were a party of four and to cater considerately for mixed palates and menu options a white was the preference, hence:

UNOAKED CHARDONNAY, UMBRELE ROMANIA

As an unoaked it is decently well-rounded with soft peachy flavours.  Nicely chilled offers up its crisp, ample, ripe, tropical fruit tones and a good finish.

A taster of Pork croquettes, Smoked Salmon Roulade on crisp rustic bread and Asparagus, Truffle & Parmigiano Soup was offered, I hope in appreciation of some spice offerings I had brought. If not I still owe for them them.

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They were all excellently cooked. the pork succulent and meaty inside a crunchy outer coating accompanied by a great little tart, creamy dipping sauce (I forgot to ask what it was… my mouth was too full and happily engaged in its masticatory duties). The crisp crunch of the bread offered both texture and sound to the eating pleasure, and a counterpoint in physicality to the lovely soft, smooth, smoky discoid delight of salmon. The soup was that fantastic brilliant green one gets with asparagus… and maybe pea was involved, along with Thermomix duties, as nought else seems to get close to delivering the smoothness at that level. It was cheek suckingly gorgeous and savoury, excellent seasoning too.

I was drawn through natural, predisposing weaknesses to a starter that offered the prospect of a runny egg

HOMEMADE BLACK PUDDING, PEA PUREE, POACHED EGG

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A dark, and slightly crumbly texture to the black pud and probably to my peculiar taste preferences slightly down on a little spiciness. Still it was rich on the tongue and the runny egg really did go well with the pud. The little fried bread crisps offered more audiological pyrotechnics and gave a nod in the direction of a firm breakfast favourite. My modest suggestion would be a bit more seasoning in the BP and a shade more fat but otherwise a lovely little plate it was. My Mains rapidly landed on this one.

BACON CHOP, CARAMELISED APPLE, BUBBLE & SQUEAK, MADEIRA SAUCE

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And I will tell you for why. I had a bacon chop previously at  Cafe Vivo and considered it to be a fabulous cut of meat and fabulously tasty, oddly something many people do not chose to try, the silly fools. Honestly it is lovely stuff to eat if you can find it. The meat was served off the bone and sitting atop a fine round of the bubble and squeak. the tuille of pork crackling was an absolute belter, bags of taste and a sound like a thousand cinder bricks being crushed when I chewed it. Oh how I love pork crackling! the accompanying apple compote bringing in a lovely sweet and tart moistness to the event. I loved every mouthful, and suspect it to have come from non other than The Meat Merchant fellows, the one at Vivo did so I will continue to think it was the same lads that provided the chefs with such a great piece of meat.

 

Now then this dessert….. COCONUT PANNA COTTA, SPICED PINEAPPLES, MANGO & LIME SORBET

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My oh my! utterly lovely. It passed the Panna Cotta jigle and wobble test with flying colours. This is my initial test of a good PC it must not stay rigid and be a bouncy little swine but must have stability under directional stress and the will to remain on the plate. It also must have a soft moist outer skin almost at the point of melting buuuuut not quite. I also like it to cut easily with a spoon and grip slightly in protest as one does the scooping. As I said flying colours. The flavours of the fruits were fantastically intense and rich, I find myself salivating as I type because I am looking at the pictures again.

 

I can confidently report that the Hen’s egg starter and Halibut main were equally up to scratch because I stole some off the OH’s plate, sadly I had to trade back a little of my dessert, but hey ho! swings and roundabouts. Head chef Andrew was not in on the night but his superbly able team lead by Dave delivered superb results. The restaurant was busy with a mixed bag of diners and atmosphere was convivial, helped along at our table by a super little server. Thanks to all of the craftsmen & women involved in the creation of our lovely meal. Artisan definitely takes The Biscuit by storm.

 

The Head Chef Andrew Wilkinson on the loose from the furnaces

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Flooded With Flavour

9 03 2014

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One is enormously lucky to have fallen into the orbit of the massive Epicurean Star that is Mr. Ken Holland: Proprietor and grower, leading the charge at North Country Organics, a man deeply embedded in the bosom of some of the finest of Cheffy Chefs in the UK. I really should stalk him a bit more and do a proper bloggywoggy about him and his veg I think. It would be rude not to.

The day job requires of me attendance to events to maintain my Compulsory Professional Development (CPD), and most of it just sucks out my soul. My compensation for such events is to treat myself to something enjoyable, like a lovely meal and night out. You can imagine my sense of impending doom when three of my top choices replied with biblical disappointment: “There is no room at the inn”.

The sheer horror of it all. But then in steps my Saviour in the form of Ken Holland, offering me to see if his friend and Cheffy Chef, Kenny Atkinson, at House of Tides can “table” me………….Imagine my joy at being told yes.

Why so joyous? You ask. “Because so many nice things are being said on Twitter”, I reply to you. And it is all so new and it is in Newcastle, yet another beautiful plume in the feather of the culinary cap of The Toon. Yay! Go us!

It is only as I sit now (and try to put it all into appropriate words) do I feel daunted by my task. I suppose in the end it will be easier, as my fall -back are my poor photographs of Cheffy Chef Kenny’s “Beuatiful Things”. I fear my burble will not do it justice.

Kenny is a man I had heard of through his well-earned reputation, but I know little about the splendid fellow on a personal level. He seems to hold a solid rep amongst his peers, which I deem very worthy. I figure if the guys at the pointy end of the business recognise your abilities and craft then one must be utterly top draw.

That which I can say, is that Kenny is a local lad practically born on the Pitch at St. James Park (well I stretch the point a bit, he  lived quite close to it as a nipper). He spent time in the local markets but dug himself into food craft at Newcastle College in the catering and hospitality game and moved about a wee bit ever gathering himself more of a fine reputation. Along the way he has picked himself up a fair-sized fan-base and a couple of awards and a couple of worthy Michelin Culinary Stars to boot. After pinging about and putting his face about on Telly and filling the breach in The Great British Menu and being named the Chef of the Year in the Catey Awards, Wor Kenny has come haem t’ tha Toon, bonny lad that he is.

Kennny’s gaf, The House Of Tides is bang next door to the old landmark, The Cooperage, on Newcastle’s Quayside. It is a listed building and an old Merchant’s dwelling  dating back to somewhere about the 14th or 15th Century at a guess. As you walk in you can peek into the Engine Room that is the kitchen, from the street. I suggest you smile and say hello and be charming. I did, after all these are the people who are going to graft off their body parts to provide you with an excellent culinary experience. Howver you will appear to be some random person unknown to them smiling and waving through a window, but let that not stop you.

Once inside you are walking in an historical piece of Newcastle, something drawn from the past lovingly into the present. Flagged floors partially exposed walls, ancient timbers and cast iron supports abound.

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Here we were greeted by a face I remember from Dave Kennedy’s DK Food Social, Yvonne. A friendly, efficient  and hard working young woman. Not far behind in the meet’n greet was Rob Green, the capable and enthusiastic FOH supremo and manager. This is when I unloaded some promised spice doings upon him.

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I had brought a wee pot of my Wor Shy Sista’s Geordie Sauce (tweaked its name a bit), some Tip Top Oddvod, some Moreish Salt Seasoning Pooda, a couple of suspiciously bagged Ginny’s to adulterate some vodka with and a bag of the Toad In The Holy Mole. I think it was well received as shortly thereafter, Dave (the gifted mixologist and Bar Manager) whizzed up a couple of cocktails using elements I had provided. Jings he made them taste bloody good!

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Nimbu Pani (Whiskey, lemon, soda Moreish on the rim and a few bits) wow! the spices on the inhalation as one drinks through the straw were fabulous and if you pat your tongue on it and slurp what joy!

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Fresh Bitter Smoke (Tip Top Oddvod, St. Germain elderflower, Dandelion & Burdock, bitters) phwoar! Summery and a great waft of cucumber as you sip, terribly consumable.

A swift look at the menu had us choosing one Menu 1 and one Menu 2.

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Wine was an equally easy task. As I have said before Mrs. Zap is  less fond of red than Mr. Zap is, so out of deference and being fond of an easy life I chose the A2O Albarino. It is a clean sharp wine with a real clean, zippy, citrus tang and a lovely honey finish, and a lovely fruitiness about it. I declare it to be eminently quaffable.

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While we were gently going about our business drinking cocktails and generally relaxing into the seductive ambience, distracted by a communicative and enthusiastic FOH crew, our host drifted out from the kitchen accompanied by his Commis Chef, Callum MacGregor. They were not just aimlessly wandering about, but bringing us food delights, along with an appreciative description of the comestibles.

First out of the traps were Ken holland’s baby leeks with onion and truffle. The leek is served whole and I urge you to eat it root and all. Don’t be a daft sod and cut off the root ball. It is packed with a chewable tastiness. The combination of leek and crisp charred onion was a savoury wonder the truffle … well I would sell my soul for truffle. I am genetically predisposed to like it in the same manner I can curl my tongue and have freckles.

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Following on the heels was a Lindisfarne oyster with cucumber pearls, lime and ginger. These things are a sublime delight on the palate and gone so quickly so pay attention to the moment.

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From Menu 2 the hens egg baked hay and woodland mushrooms enjoyed by Mrs. Z was fabulously eggy and creamy nicely rich textured on the tongue.

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All the while we were oooohing and mmmmming Kenny had theatrically set the stage with a bowl of smoking stones and seaweed creating an imaginary boiling mist upon a becalmed sea, it amused me reader it did amuse me.

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And about this time I realized this was just going to be the best of nights.

A relocation to the restaurant upstairs was now in order, so we tappylappied up the lovely timber stairs into the ancient room that is the main restaurant, and it has to be said it has a bucket load of charm. You can imagine that (built when it was) if you set a laser spirit-level off in there it would just refuse to work. Wonk is the order of the day and it is fabulous, minimalistic and tasteful. There is a small room off to the side that copes with perhaps 14 or so covers, but we were in the main room; drinks located at one end and the dessertery at the other.

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Once seated we made sure we knew who was our server for the night; Sophie you were totally on the ball and did a grand job thanks.

Next for me: Western Ross Salmon, cauliflower, golden sultana, coriander and curry granola. The salmon delicately pink and moist, the crisped seared cauliflower and granola adding texture for the tooth with little explosions of coriander and cilantro.

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The veggie option similar but minis the salmon but plus more of the cauli and bits n bobs.

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The Ayrshire scallop, with pig’s head braised and rolled, apple celeriac, eel and white truffle. Oh you beauty! The scallop superbly seared and soft in the middle and the pig’s head reminding me of the lovely simple Italian rustic fayre that Glen Robinson does with aplomb at Café Vivo. Superbly marrying with the seafood to add a neat savoury touch.

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Off menu 2, the pink fir apple potatoes 1850, with apple, celeriac, celery leaf and white truffle echoing that of the scallop but a very pretty finger of delicateness. A deft touch and visually so pretty.

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Craster Fish Pie from the 2009 Great British menu pops up on menu 1, served in a small black cast iron pot. Superbly crispy top and rich creamy layer oozing underneath with a deeply fishy flavour enriched with a mussel or two in the base. Yup I would down a whole football sized bowl of that in no time. Lean in close to the screen and just smell that fab thing.

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Sorry about the rubbish photo it does it no justice at all. Heritage carrots feta cheese, pine nuts fennel and cumin. Zingy pickled slivers of carrot and fennel loaded with intensity and sharp and crisp. The saltiness of the fetta sublime with the crisp, pickled veg.

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The next course was similar. Option menu 2: swapping the meat for an intense and green creamy risotto that was masterfully made.

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Mine from menu 1: Beef fillet, morels, asparagus, wild garlic nasturtiums. Rich jus, wrinkly little nuts of fungus, and sweet fresh wild garlic like a soft onion. The Beef as perfect and pink as I like it, and so easy to cut.

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This leads us to the cheese and a slight change from the menu. We had an Old Peculiar ale flavoured number that I found particularly good with the sweet figgy jelly. Mrs. Bell’s Blue which is a fine example of a tangy sweet blue as you could wish for and an Isle of Mull number soft and mature, served with a thin salty unleavened crisp.

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The mini rhubarb and custard, ice cream lollipops rolled in white chocolate and adorned with cinder toffee honeycomb was gorgeous, you just have to look at it and read what it is to know it ought to be a bit of tongue fun.

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The second dessert was the Dark Chocolate Pave. Pear, red wine, pistachio and meringue.

A great combo. Intense dark chocolate slice and soft (but not squishy) fruit and little texture bombs knocking about the plate. One could only avoid licking another plate by the skin of my teeth. But the result allowed me to write a brief appreciation to Mr. Cheffy Chef.

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We ended with a decent coffee and a plate of “nice things”. Memory is deserting me but it involved one with chocolate and peanut butter at its heart (vei, vei lovely), one that was a passion fruit jelly (mouth-watering and sharp) a zingy lemon tart pastry delight (yup that describes it) and possibly a coconut cream but don’t quote me.

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So was it good? Oooh Yeah! Was it worth it? Ooooh Yeah! Do I recommend it? Ooooh Yeah!

Thanks to Kenny, Rob, Yvonne, Callum, Dave, Sophie and everyone else.

Go dear reader! enjoy!

TZ





The Chef, the farm, the restaurant, and his diners

18 02 2014

Inspired by the title of a well-known film, I bring you the following:

 “The Chef, the farm, the restaurant, and his diners”.     

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THE CHEF

That would be non-other than Mr. Dave Kennedy himself. Dave is a passionate chef, dedicated to quality food made from the best ingredients, at a fair price.

He is no stranger to working at the sharp end of cuisine having previously worked in his earlier career at several Michelin-starred restaurants in London.  I believe he possibly began at The Grosvenor House in London, as a third commis chef, but showed his talents to good enough effect that they had him joining the top Tyneside venue, 21 Queen Street; he possibly even plied his craft at The Apartment and Eslington Villa along the way.

Dave even found time to be named North East Chef of the Year in 2007 and won a string of top accolades for the Black Door, his first foray into being an independent Chef in his own Gaff.

The Black Door moved to newer and very much more contemporary premises at the Biscuit Factory Art Gallery in Shieldfield, before renaming the restaurant David Kennedy’s Food Social (now called Artisan @ The Biscuit) when he and his former business partner went in different directions.

Our quiet, self-effacing Mr. Kennedy opened David Kennedy’s River Café on the North Shields Fish Quay, which achieved a solid reputation and a Michelin Bib Gourmand after just 12 months of opening.

THE FARM

http://www.vallumfarm.co.uk/#about-us

 

This is Vallum farm a proper working farm owned by the lovely couple that are Peter & Vicky Moffit.

I will name the Epicurean Enterprise “ The Vallum Farm Food-Village Courtyard” and who knows it may even catch on.

Embracing modern farming and business diversification, Vallum is the home of Ken & Tracy Holland’s North Country Growers. They specialise in micro and heritage vegetables. Ken is something of a legend and an innovative grower, his knowledge and produce are very much in demand by some of the finest Chefs and restaurants in the country.

The Food village is also home to the very excellent Bywell Fish and Game Smokery, Murray Rhind artisan baker, The Vallum Tea Rooms (where they serve their own fantastic, award-winning home-produced ice cream) Vallum Farm Shop, a wildflower florist and Grant’s Butchers.

This place is worth the trip out and is bang on the Roman Wall walking pathway. Don’t be surprised if one day you see they have managed to add accommodation for the weary traveler and the Food Tourist looking to indulge maximally at the farm’s fabulous epicurean enterprises.

THE RESTAURANT

David Kennedy at Vallum

The Cow Barn

Vallum Farm

East Wallhouses

Millitary Road

Northumberland

It stands newly built in the cover of the old cow barn. The kitchens are visible to the public from the Farm Shop downstairs. The produce in the shop is dedicated as much as possible to local produce, and those things that have definable quality, Murray Rhind’s artisan bread made on the premises is a must-buy as is Ken Holland’s veg grown from the field behind the tea room.

The comfortable and unpretentious restaurant upstairs has a magnificent view through its large windows (in good light and clement weather of course) of the surrounding countryside.

The imaginative menu changes as the availability of the produce changes, sometimes day by day. To be able to walk from the kitchen into the meat locker, the dairy, the bakery, the smokery and out into the field to choose the best freshest vegetables that clever old Ken Holland has to offer every day must be Food Heaven!

 

THE DINERS

No prize sorry yup that’s me again and the Mrs Zap.

Well enough of that eh! What did we eat?

It would be rude not to snack on a little of the Great Baker, Murray’s bready bounty, so while we looked at the menu and scanned it a couple of times we made sure we had some freshly made bread and a dunking of the oil and balsamic. The bread is just fabulous, light and flavoursome. We had a lovely, soft wholemeal and a bubbled ciabatta. Honestly at that point if you had just thrown cheese at me I might have just made it a meal.

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Starter for me was the Truffled ham hock pressing with the mustard dressing and bacon salad.

Oh what a savoury big hammy slab of meatiness that was. A good slice packed with loads to chew on, dotted with herbs, crunchy crispbread, fresh salad and the glory that is TRUFFLE OIL. Yes, it has to be said I am partial to TRUFFLE OIL; the bacon bringing in little bangs of intense flavour while the mustard dressing offering a piccalilli zip.

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For the Memsahib it was the marinated Vallum beets, Ribblesdale goats curd and tunnel shoots.

At first sight you would think one really should not eat it, but just stare at the colours and arrangement on the plate. The curd was cloud-soft and mildly tangy, distinctly goaty but not overwhelming. Ken Holland and his crew are Veg Gods I am sure. The beets were earthy, sweet, crunchy and succulent.  True beauty on a plate. Food miles? Pah! Food yards more like.

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On to the mains. For me roast rump of lamb, Montgomery & rosemary polenta, sprouting broccoli, with a side of buttered kale and spinach.

The jus oozed intense lamb and garlic flavour )the roasted whole cloves helping that along nicely), the meat a good portion size and beautifully pink wonderfully succulent, raised up on the farm fresh broccoli, and lurking beneath a herb scented, orange and crisp seared polenta block. Everything fitted together fabulously.

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The vibrant colour of the vegetable sides is quite simply beautiful.

Mrs Zaps opted for the Fillet of turbot, morel risotto, salsify and wilted greens.

The risotto was superbly flavoured with the morels, their earthy mushroom taste not overwhelming delicate salsify in the slightest. The risotto was moist and complimented the excellently cooked turbot, juicy sweet and the perfect sear to add colour and surface crisping.

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Throughout our choice of wine, a 2012 Domaine Coste Viognier Grenache was a good match for taste. I would have liked a glug of soft, fat red with my lamb but I was driving so I paced myself well. The Viognier was crisp, citrusy, clear with a soft rich fruit finish. So well-behaved was I, we even had half a bottle to drink on our return home.

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Desserts were a sharing half/half experience as is our norm. Apple and date tart tatin, caramel ice cream was one and the other, lemon tart, lemon sorbet, salt butter caramel.

 

Oh Dear Lord! I think I might return and just settle in for my own pudding club so I can just have dessert for my entire meal, eating my way through the dessert menu might overload my arteries and give my pancreas a hammering but what the hell it would be a glorious event.

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Sadly I did not take the picture of the apple and date tart tatin soon enough as I was busy pfaffing about with the iphone camera doodah so the ice cream had softened a tad. However it was a dessert of the highest order, sweet with a marvellous stickiness, easy on the eye, smelling wonderful and the apple soft but with some texture remaining. I had to wipe the plate clean with my finger I must admit, simply because the spoon was not up to the job.

The lemon lemony tart was sharp, sweet, and rich (all gloriously lemony, I mean really lemony) and achieved the golf score of a-hole-in-one. The salty caramel was terribly appealing I must report.

My/our thanks to all at the restaurant who had their hand in the show, deliberately or by happenstance. And thanks too to everyone plying their trade at The Vallum Farm Food Village Courtyard. A little bird tells me we have to keep our eye open for Vicky & Peter Moffit’s cheese soon too. How simply divine.

The Zap

xx





Bang-on Bangers!

10 02 2014

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Day off. What to do? Where to go? Simple dilemma easily solved by a cheeky little trip to one of Newcastle’s newest, freshest, fun, on the down-low eating pads. Non other than Little Gravy’s Sausage Emporium, to be found near High Level Bridge and the Castle Keep. Number 6 Westgate Road to be so very precise; it is one of the newly refurbished and modernized Railways arches that is becoming part of a village of micro-businesses that populate the area around where such things as The Boiler Shop Steamer Street Food, Ale & Music Nights can be found. I suggest it is one of the hip places to go. A bit like if you are into coffee and tea you really should be hitting places like Flatcap Joe’s, Quilliam Brothers, Pumphreys Coffee, Pink Lane Coffee and 9 Bar Coffee.

The Sausage Emporium is the brainchild of John and Briony Holliday partially inspired by their rescue dog, Hannah, a little loving and lovely wire-haired miniature Dachshund, generally to be found mooching about the place looking for friends.

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John is the head chef and senior kitchen dude and Briony the Queen Bee of Front Of House. Both are a joy to meet, and have looked to make the dream of having their own restaurant a reality. It is a family thing, as John’s Granny has done a bit of knitting of tea-cosies for the gravy teapots and Briony’s father using his woodworking skills to make chairs and such-like.

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Tom Mullins is a good Sous Chef to have about the house and constantly vies for title of Most Handsome Bloke In The Roost. One thing that strikes me about the set up is that they want people to feel happy, comfortable relaxed, have a great meal/night out and they really want to feed you. In particular they want to provide you with good old tasty, hearty nosh.

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Briony (Queen Bee), Tom (Tom 1), John (Big Dog)  & Pretty Boy Jake (thrash metal guitar monster)

A portion of the menu revolves around the good old Banger. But no out-of-a bag or bought-from-a-wholesaler sort of thing, mind you. These are all freshly made, gluten-free, by John (a trained butcher from a butchery family) to his own recipes, and there are even veggie ones. However the best ones are lovely juicy, meaty little wonders by my reckoning. The rest of the menu varies.

We picked the alcove at the far end, downstairs, because I like to watch cooks do what they do, and here you can because the kitchen is all out in the open. It’s also where you get to see them happy in what they do. No doubt when they are hard pressed it can get fraught but when all is more calm they enjoy a bit of light banter and laughter, which is nice to be about.

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The menu itself is a fun design; some playfulness has gone into the branding and is in itself reminding you that this is meant to be a fun place.

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I chose the oxtail and sweet potato pastillas starter with fresh salad and mint jus, . The pastillas wrap was wonderfully crunchy, rice and oxtail filled. The mint jus adding some nice savoury moisture to the dish.

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For my mains I selected the onion bhaji sausage accompanied with home-made naan bread and a fritter of pea and sweetcorn. Obviously I lean towards spice do I not I am The Zaps after all. The sausages had a great blend of spice, was meaty and succulent, cumin hitting home nicely from the smear of sauce. I liked that a lot and would have enjoyed a splodge more to be honest as I like “a bit of wet” and it was so nice too.

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accompanying me on this fun feast was a pint of Wylam Turbinia. The thoughtful Saugsages are fortunately in good relations with Wylam Brewery and have their ale on tap.

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The Mrs. Zap picked pork in cider sausage, creamy mash, cider jus and fresh seasonal veg. Bags of cider flavour running through it and well-cooked veg. I know because I stole some like a boss.

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I finished with a comfortable selection of cheese:

Lord Admiral Collingwood which is moulded and washed in Newcastle brown ale as it matures. It develops an orange rind over a smooth yellow paste. The lovely flavour is full and mellow with a subtle lingering ale aftertaste. Unpasteurized

Redesdale  (prize-winning no less) a pasteurised Sheep’s Milk made with Vegetarian Rennet. 

It is a lovely sweet and mild sheep’s cheese. With its rich, velvety texture, characteristic taste and a wee tang

Morden Blue, another award-winning cheese, blue-veined, soft, mild and with a creamy texture. Known to get stronger with age.

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I do like cheese, and one was greeted with the site of a small portion of a spiced salt for dipping cheese into or the celery nibbles. Something I think called My Cellar Salt… but you know, do you not possums? it is one of my spicethings. Obviously modesty prevents me from saying how bang on it is and how it messes with your taste buds.

La Zap opted for Chocolate melt-in-the-middle soufflé. One word; utterly bloody fabulous, but normally written as Cor!

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My thanks to John, Briony, Tom and the team for the meal and light banter, and the friendly service from Pretty Boy Jake (the man who has the mane of perfect hair, and plays guitar) also to little Hannah for the love. I have to say I broke the rules and picked her up for company and cuddles.

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I thangew.

The Zap

xxxx





14-54-21

1 02 2014

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Numbers you say? What manner of mad, hairy nonsense is this?

Hold fast, it is nothing short of my usual idiotic standard. It merely refers to 3 things; this current year, my age and the location where I decided to dine to treat myself for The Birthday.

Much has been written (by those with far more guile, and greater gift of prose) about 21, which actually is called Café 21, and for good reason. Possibly an equivalent has been written about locally renowned Head Chef Terry Laybourne; MBE, Patron, Executive Chef, Consultant Chef, Culinary Award Winner, superlative mentor, NUFC fanatic and very nice bloke. Also affectionately known as The Governor or Sir Terry.

Actually there is every good chance that what I write here is something that someone else has written in some form or another before. That was your last chance to ignore my musings and look away.

What can I tell you that I think I know about Café 21? Well it began its life as 21 Queen Street when it was on Queen Street at the other end of Newcastle Quayside. It was nestled into the Quayside fabric on Queen Street for about 19 years, garnering a reputation as The Quality Restaurant in the region. It was the first in the area to be given its Michelin Star for its stylish, bistro dishes created with genuine flair. Taste, presentation and quality ingredients have always been at the heart of Terry’s cuisine.

With a reputation for great chefs and a consistency many fail to achieve, the “Flagship” moved into a new, modern, sleek abode on Trinity Gardens in 2007. A year later it was gonged as the Gold Winner in the Taste of North East England Awards. The menu still produces food steeped in classic cookery craft, with light touches of creativity without needing to fall prey to the extremes of modernism. 21 has its own style, it is consistently good, all the chefs are masters/mistresses of what they do, and the quality of ingredients has to be of the highest.

So my birthday treat organised, all that remained for us was to show up and let the evening take its course. We were greeted warmly by Pierre, formerly known to me from the restaurant at Jesmond Dene House Hotel, and the last I had heard he had headed off to Seaham Hall, and it was lovely to see him again. Pierre I find has that wonderful gift of conviviality married with courteous professionalism. He also rides a motorbike, and that makes him a jolly good egg.

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Once seated comfortably in the busy restaurant we eyed up our menu over a crisp glass of Prosecco.

I opted for the Iberian charcuterie plate and was greeted with a clean simple spread of meat around the pork rillettes. Cured meats included: tissue like Parma style ham, and two marvelous examples of Iberian salami. The sides of pickle included: gherkin, red onion, carrot, white onion and cauliflower. They were mouthwateringly sharp, tangy, sweet and freshly crunchy crisp. The rilletes was beautifully porky and creamy rich. I could happily tuck into a bowl of that with a toasted ciabatta any day.

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The OH plumped for the salad of roasted beetroot with soft hen’s egg and fresh horseradish as her starter. One can best describe it as candy on a plate made from fabulously sweet beetroots, almost looking like Turkish delight. The egg was creamy and yolky and fabulously deeply coloured. It has to be considered a visual delight, very attractive and tasty.

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Mains were selected to be monkfish osso buco (bone with a hole) on a bed of saffron risotto, gremolata and veal jus for me. Beautifully set risotto, colourful and just the right amount of firmness in the rice along with superb saffron flavour that I love so much and an excellently cooked piece of monkfish. The fish was succulent and soft separating from the bone so very easily. For me the jus was just a little down on strength of flavour but hardly worth mentioning. It is well known that I tend towards a strongly flavoured experience most of the time, so very possibly I failed to appreciate the subtleness (and I had the beginnings of a cold too).

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The Mrs. went for the pot roast pheasant choucroute, smoked sausage and bacon:

Succulent, soft smokey notes. Hearty and just right for a cold winter’s night; a good filling portion. Presentation was tidy and unfussy and well proportioned and balanced. The dressed sauerkraut and vegetables were a lovely accompaniment to the wonderfully soft meat of the game bird, and the gravy bringing more of the delicious stock juices to the fork.

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Wine Casa Silva 2012 chardonnay Semillon. A delightful drinking wine with a hint of oak and citrus, good balance and body. Colour is pale lemony green, perhaps apple and pear and juicy to my tongue. Big enough to go with a pheasant and not overwhelming a monkfish I thought, and it worked for me.

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Desserts were finalized with me opting for the glorious apple and calvados parfait with cinder toffee in blackberries. Really just look at the picture to see how lovely this fella was. Scattered with a few green pistachios this delighted my eye and tongue in equal measure. We had boozy parfait, blackberry ice cream crisp sweet crackly cinder toffee, rich soft sweet berries a  wee crisp and nutty crunchiness all in a bowl. As Yoda would say: “ Mmmmm, like it I did, much”.

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SWMBO plumped for Florentine doughnuts, strawberry jam and Chantilly cream. Always a winner when you combine sugar, cream and jam in my book. The little doughnuts were soft and fluffy, offering bite sized morsels you could indulgently pick up and dunk in the pots of jam and cream, then spend the next few moment licking the sugar off your fingers and lips before doing it all again.

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Mentions of thanks to Pierre, Hannah and Roy who handled our service with politeness and efficiency, and with an easy affable aplomb.

Chris Dobson (Head Chef), Martin Malinowski (Sous Chef) and Helen Doyle (Head Pastry Chef) deserve mention for excellently putting together a wonderful menu.

Actually everyone at Café 21 probably contributed even if I had no idea what touch they put on the tiller. Thanks too to Sir Terry and Mr. Nick Shottel for maintaining such high standards year on year.

So, thank you one and all.

Just as a side note. I decided to extend my birthday indulgence for a second day and dined with friends in the sister restaurant that you all know I love, Café Vivo.

It was a belter. Chef, Glen Robson, presenting me with a fantastically, authentic, rustic Italian meal upon request. Real proper food to be sure, and bang on service from the front of house crew as usual too.

Big thanks to all at Café Vivo. Once again you made my night.








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