Well it is about time I sat down again and burbled away to myself. Only seems 5 minutes that I stepped onto the slippery slope of good intentions and began my slide to hell. Back then I imagined I would be diligent in keeping an update of what I ate and where … that went well didn’t it?
All in all, it has been a good year being a creature that does not venture overly far. Typically, there have been revisits to the place we like to roam and graze, but also a couple of new locations that have drawn us to them, and have left us delightfully satisfied.
While I sit here and contemplate making a coffee, wince occasionally as my newly scoped knee whinges once in a while, and I stare regularly out of the window at the bird feeder (incidentally wood pigeons, rock pigeons, green finches, gold finches, robin, great tits, and dunnocks all putting in a visit today) I will try to remind myself of the what?and the where? this year was.
It seems as I ponder I have a bit of a beast on my hands, so I will use this as a variant of my usual narcissistic expressionism and skip along lightly through the list. It will probably be little more than a superficial .. “Ooh look where I went”. I make no apologies mind you, I am as vacuous as I sound. Empty drums make the loudest noise after all.
I might as well start with Jesmond Dene House (JDH). Traditionally we have our Christmas day lunch here (2015 was no exception), and then follow it up with the odd meal or two elsewhere. We are always made so very welcome by the team here. It struck me that they were one of the first places to be hit (2016) by what I call the “Cheffy Shuffle”.
Let me explain. The Cheffy Shuffle is the movement of chefs from restaurant to restaurant. . In truth, it is a totally natural part of the Hospitality employment process, as some people are brought in temporarily to cover staff shortages, some people are being trialled to see if their abilities match the CV etc. This extends to beyond the Chefs and includes all service staff whether it be kitchen or FOH; People come, people go. But for me I really do enjoy the social interaction with those who work hard to make my meals-out a pleasure, and when one visits places in some semi regular capacity, it is pleasing to see the familiar faces. So, old softy that I am, I feel a little sadness when a face is no longer there. Aside from my poor, feeble, abilities to cope with change, there is a serious side to this natural phenomenon. If a team (chefs or FOH) has developed a relationship and everyone knows each other’s rhythms and abilities, the loss of one member of the team can create waves and ripples that disrupt their flow. When a new team member is found, it can take them time to fit into the mechanics of the existing structure. I have observed that it is a difficult and complex issue to find “the right person”. However, the show must go on and appear seamless as Joe Public can be a (and often is) a disproportionately critical beast. If I am honest I am more likely to judge the diners in a restaurant on their behaviour than I am the restaurant. Some people’s standards of behaviour and self-control are just appalling to me, and these can often be people who purport to be educated and classless. Yet more often than not, they can let themselves down with social displays of entirely the opposite.
While too-ing and fro-ing to JDH I noticed that they have had more than their fair share of The Cheffy Shuffle. Not entirely surprising, because as a business they really do have a considerable number of staff. However, it did lead me to make mention of it when I was there one time which, in itself, led on to a very enlightening conversation about the national shortage of good staff within the industry; something which is worrying a good number of chefs and managers throughout the country.
Before I totally lose it, let me try to get back to the feeble plot. JDH. The location and facility is still of the highest order, with a strong team of people working as hard as they can to make a visit there thoroughly enjoyable. They seem to have been swamped this year by an expanding phenomenon of people wanting Afternoon Tea. This social exercise is not really my thing (well it would be if vol-au-vents and pork pie and sausage rolls and scotch eggs replaced half of the sandwiches and cakes, and the tea was substituted for a small and cheeky glass of beer) but is a HUGE thing to a great many it seems. The Pastry department in JDH works flat-out to provide for functions and restaurant, and then some more for the High Tea Brigade. No idea how or if they stay sane.
Aside from the super service we have had, excellent meals plated artistically and prepared perfectly, we got a surprise request from Peter Candler the co-owner. Out of the blue he asked if we would like to take on a small garden project and manage a flower bed. So we have. We have adopted the flowerbed to the right of the lower exit gate and populated it with cyclamen, tulips narcissi, alliums, Crocosmia Lucifer amongst other things. It is our hope it will become a changing palette of colour throughout the year and mature quickly. So, if you are visiting, keep an eye on that corner as you say good bye, with luck it will be a colourful little thing in time.
At the end of last year, I ended up trampling the streets of Newcastle with David Coulson (Head Chef from Peace & Loaf) and his crew. Our mission was to find and feed, with a hot meal he had made homeless people on the Saturday before Christmas. We indeed found 25 people living the toughest of lives and gave them a good meal. For a last-minute idea without a clear plan it worked well. My belief is that the idea could be an annual event of some magnitude. It would require joined up thinking and some PR, but if it could be pulled together coherently, every year in the 2 weeks before Christmas and the 2 weeks after, kindred souls in F&B/Hospitality could #FeedTheStreets. By combining with the likes of Shelter and People’s Kitchen Newcastle. Since starting this prattle a couple of weeks ago it seems some coherent event did take place with relevant bodies organised and Dave Coulson perhaps managing to bring his Hairy Biker friend, the very amiable Simon King, into the event.
We have the odd edible flower and bits n bobs we grow in the garden that we drop in on David at P&L when there is surplus, and have eaten there a couple of times throughout this year. We feel very at home in the place and the staff very welcoming. David’s vision for his food is uniquely him and it is always a treat to eat. At the heart of what he does is the simple fact that you do what you are doing as well as you can. But within that is an understanding of the classical elements and principles of cuisine, be it sauces, prep, butchery, fish work, using natural seasonings, or practical knife skills. The New Year’s Eve dinner (2016) was fabulous and packed with a serious number of his regular clientele; the atmosphere was very convivial and relaxed and the food simply outstanding.
Something that grew a little this year was the #MenOfMeat events. This daft little notion developed over drinks with a friend as things often do. I don’t often go and hang out in a pub owing to a variety of life variables I shall not bore you with. However, on the evening in question, one was having a lovely time with a very dear friend called Tom. During the rounds of: “ahhhh you’re great”… “no, you are greaterer”.. I suggested we should just get some lads together, go out, blether and drink beer and eat meat. All very hair-shirt and early Cro-Magnon. And it was decided we should, if I arranged it. A little while later we had our first little gathering. We drank beer in Broad Chare, had large meat platter and indecent amounts of fabulously charcoal Jospered steak in Cafe Vivo.. and very little veg. I believe we had fun. “When is the next one?” I was asked. Which led to the second event in Broad Chare and bigger meat with more people. It seems that an amount of lady-companions had heard of #MenOfMeat and wished to join in. Not really wishing to be a spoil sport, but needing to preserve the redundant mindset of the curmudgeonly thinking of old men in a Gentleman’s club, and allow in those of the fairer sex in a manner that would not cause seizures to the old duffers in the comfortably buttoned wing back chairs, I had a ponder. I leant heavily upon Blackadder for inspiration. What then followed was a glorious riot of meat in the shape of a specially commissioned suckling pig, in Broad Chare. There were those present, called Bob and sported a variety of moustache designs, and then there were those called Not-Bob. No one seemed to notice that there were in fact ladies present. One of those present was non other than Cal of Cal’s Own fame. Very keen man to host a #MenOfMeat night too. And so on to #MenOfMeat No. 3. This time it seemed appropriate that we do something a bit more meaningful. To this end I thought that aside from using the night for a bit of fun and food, we could also try to raise money for a men’s mental health charity. One was chosen, people notified and numbers had now risen from the original night of @8 to the second night of @14 to close to @40. Generously the #MenOfMeat raised £400 for the charity. There was a good raffle too with prizes donated by Cal, Peace and Loaf, and House of Tides. It would seem by and large it went well, and Cal deserves thanks for all the hard work he put in. At this stage there is a proto-plan to stage the next event at Peace and Loaf, possibly in February, and the theme will be meat of one animal. Unlike past events it will be of a finer dining element and will look to raise money for another charity. This charity is the one that P&L support, namely Brain Tumour Charity. Tentatively pencilled in (with no date and no details at this stage) is a further event at @Artisan at the biscuit factory. The plan is a nose to tail event and support another Charity.
Artisan at Biscuit Factory, this year gave us a couple of super meals out and Chef Andrew Wilkinson demonstrating very ably why he won the NE Chef Of The Year when he was still in short trousers. His skills for presenting what one might describe as “simple”, massively understates what he is actually doing. I am a very big fan of his style and abilities.
Located upstairs in the always impressive art gallery and shop, The Biscuit Factory, is Factory Kitchen at The Biscuit. This is the recently expanded café restaurant run by Michael Waugh. One of the NE hidden culinary gems. Michael’s pedigree is a very impressive one and worth finding out about. He has pitched the food in a vegetarian style with a nod towards that of Mr. Ottolenghi. Food is fresh and is of a very honest and simple style very well made. Also on the establishment they have a very seriously impressive ice cream making machine and the range of superb ice creams is a joy. I intend to eat my way through the cabinet one at a time. The café space is bright and has a view over the Ouseburn & Byker Bridge area so one can keep abreast of its development as one ponders life and drinks coffee or whatever. Then you can wonder about enjoying the fabulous range of arty artifacts that are for sale. I always walk away having mentally spent a fortune, and sometimes modestly.
Now comes to the bit where I start clumping things together, as I am sure to sound stupidly repetitive, and the depth of my shallows reveal themselves on the outgoing tide of my ideas.
The Quayside is where I am off to take you next. The Quayside are is a good area to prowl with a number of watering holes some more agreeable than others to me. Perhaps before I wander along the waterside I ought to in fairness just mention The Free Trade Inn, The Tyne Bar, and The Cumberland Arms. These pubs are superb boozers, and in fine old school tradition you get great proper beer in buildings largely untouched by the passage of time. Free Trade has a superb view too. All three can on occasion have a street food vendor of the highest order parked up outside. If you are ever there when the food is on, you really ought to buy something of whatever is on offer and scoff it.
So now, to the Quayside only to find the 21 Group represented in decent force with 3 venues; Café Vivo is the superb Italian styled restaurant. The skills in the kitchen with Manu & his crew are authentic and admirable and matched in the front of house by the skilful Mr. Clarkson. Just next door to Vivo is the fabulous little award-winning Gastropub, The Broad Chare. Designed to look like a pub of old and using a good few bits of reclaimed this and that; one finds the bar downstairs, with a great array of tap and bottled beers and canny bar snacks too. Upstairs is where you find a great menu with traditional hearty fayre like steak and kidney pudding all done with sympathetic modern twists. Superb food. Great service.
The flagship of the group, the “Mothership” if you like, is 21 Newcastle. Stays classy at all times. One only has to reflect on how long it has been going. and how consistent it is, and how many have tried and failed to realise it is quite something in the restaurant world in Newcastle. Terry Leybourne is a man well-deserving the title of local legend. Anything that wants to be taken seriously as a restaurant (in Newcastle) has to match this benchmark of standard. Year in and out the 21 ship steers a true course and marches on. Much of this remarkable consistency relies in its own ethos of excellence, and the family of chefs and service staff that beats at it’s heart and. You guys I salute you.
Pottering along the Quayside we have two new boys. There is Shilling, which is a bit hard to classify, occupying the old Rumpoli site. My visit there found a bunch of familiar faces from many places, all looking to make for a fun café/bar/restaurant/cocktail bar, it has serious hip credentials. There are super cocktail mixologists and knowledgeable bar staff, and a canny chef in Matty Stephenson. Matty makes one of the best damn burgers in town, and with a good pint of what you like, with good friends a definite must to visit.
Dobson & Parnell too is new, and is on the site of the original 21 Queen Street and I suggest you just cycle back through my posts to find the full review on the excellent meal I had there. I imagine this place will go from strength to strength, they certainly have a team very capable of bringing a good game to the table.
The Bridge Tavern has now established itself as a great little pub with good in-house bar food, the bar staff are great and have a good selection of beers no doubt because of its close ties to the Local brewing company, Wylam Ales. For those that have not been in, they have brewing vats in operation at the back-end of the pub.
Now if you walk diagonally cross the road you will find yourself outside what was once one of the restaurants that awoke me to what real cheffed food actually tastes (the other one was 21 Queen Street). Back then it was Mike & Karenza Courtney-Carr’s restaurant, Courtney’s. It is now Violets Café owned by Mrs. Abby Atkinson. It is simply lovely. The design is a kind of modern vintage tea room, serving superb light meals as well as coffee, tea and cakes. The kitchen is small, tiny even, but they know what they are doing and it is using the best kit for the purpose. Service is friendly and effective and the view if you wish is of the passing footfall along the Side on to the Quayside proper. It can be a great people watching site on a good day. Abby herself is a lovely person too. Definitely a place to call in to.
A bit further along heading towards the West you walk under the High Level Bridge and it is here you will find the much-lauded Michelin starred establishment The House of Tides. Chef Patron Kenny Atkinson (a friendly soul he is too) has created a superb dining experience within a centuries-old (and significantly historical) Quayside warehouse. The kitchen has just been refitted with some seriously good stoves and cooking gear so the chefs are like cats with two tails at the moment. Arrival has one greeted downstairs in the original flagstoned ground floor; drinks and meal are ordered here then onwards and upwards to the well-oiled operation in the restaurant proper on the first floor. We found our fellow diners on the bench seats to be very convivial and as it turns out, enthusiastic diners and fans of all the other finer dining venues in Newcastle. Actually, one couple were due to get married in the November at Jesmond Dene House. Imagine our surprise as we were tending our flowerbed on a cold November morning, to see these newly-weds. It seems their wedding had been utter perfection and they were positively glowing with praise. Meanwhile back in House Of Tides food is precise, superbly cooked and artistically presented. Just as you would expect in a classical Michelin starred establishment.
Before I get off the Quayside let me mention the Sunday Quayside market food scene. It is a glorious place (better on a day when weather is clement) to walk and graze till your belly bursts and your face resembles a fat hamster. For here amongst a classy few others, like Papa Ganoush, you will find the truly epic BBQ Cab Company. This is a bright red London cab owned by the Mighty Jock Broon (Andy Brown). Jock is a fabulous crusty and loveable giant of a man with serious Chef credentials. I met hem first when he was a tall bairn working in Courtney’s shortly before he won (if my memory serves me correctly) the first Raymond Blanc Scholarship in 1995. As I said this man has serious Cheffy credentials. Jock serves the best pulled pork bar-non, and on rare occasions he will have a monster 14oz meat patty burger which is just bloody stunning.
Riley’s Fish Shack by the law courts has now become occupied by the Barrio Comida boys serving up their own amazing taco’s in the industrial reclaimed shack. Again where simple is done well.
North Shore Coffee is found at yon end of the market at the back of the Old Guildhall. Best coffee on the quayside, for sure.
Now the need for street pizza can only be satisfied by a good mouthful of pizza from the canny Scream For Pizza lasses. They move about a bit with Goldie their van so if you need to know where and when they are.. best check via Twitter I guess.
Back up in the town Fenwick is in the midst of reinventing its food concept and I suspect there is still a bit of change to come yet. But for now we still have the ever reliable 21, the café that really allows “Ladies wot lunch”, to lunch in the best spot. The most refined of cafes in Newcastle. It is a 21 I will say no more. However in the recently redefined food hall 21 Group added two belting little eateries. Ko-Sai is the Thai food space Head Cheffed by the deeply loveable Plar Kirby who has been with Terry L for an absolute age. She and her team cook food they like to eat, so it is good enough for a bunch of Thai’s it is def good enough for me. Next door to it is Saltwater Fish Head Cheffed by another absolute star and stalwart, Chris Eagle. Having a counter full of the freshest seafood enables Chris to be creative and at the same time sensitive to the delicate needs of this remarkable product. It never ceases to amaze me that with Newcastle being so close to the sea, that it is not awash with quality seafood eating spots. Fish and chips as good as it is, or can be, does not count. However … there are persistent whisperings and “word from the street” that this year we may see a quality seafood restaurant arise. I do hope so.
Also in Fenwick is the hugely popular Fuego. This Spanish/Mediterranean tapas-style eatery is wonderful, the little plates of food are just simply gorgeous, as is its superb perching bar on the fringe of the lovely, lovely offie. Such good people watching to be had in Saltie’s and Fuego.
Meanwhile in the Grainger market I suggest eating on the hoof with Fez for your Turkish fix, probably the only place I would trust the kebabs. Drift along to
Nan Bei for your delicious and morish, juicy Chinese dumplings. So good with a little dribble of soy and chilli oil.
La Petite Creperie will satisfy your sweet tooth with a whole raft of fabulous thin little crepes. They also will lash up a very tasty savoury crepe as needed too.
If it is authentic Spanish deli products from big-hearted Spaniards you want, then La Casa Delicatessen is where you need to be. Look well in the fridge for outstanding charcuterie and Manchego cheese. They also have probably the best range of Spanish wines too.
The seafood counters at the end furthest from the monument are worth the visit for huge prawns fish crab scallop or whatever you want. They have a decently good selection, not only that they will cook up something from the kitchen across the aisle if you buy it and take it to them too.
Good to know Flat Cap Joe has opened a much bigger place at Carliol Square now and it will function as a venue for a number of interesting ventures too. The Recent Christmas week Lantern Rouge, Belgian nights were a great, and a canny place to hang out with friends eat cheese, salami and drink good Belgian beers or glug some good wine.
Blackfriars Restaurant is probably the most historic site you can go and eat a meal I should think. A good solid menu served in a baronial/ecclesiastic venue. Chris Wardale and his chefs, do a good job prepping meals that are based on good locally sourced product wherever they can find it.
Now if you are looking for amazingly good authentic Italian-style pizza, made by a man on a mission to elevate the humble pizza, to award-winning and nationally recognised levels, there has to be a trip to Cal’s Own down on your list of food things to do this year.
Not far from Cal on Brentwood Ave is Max Gott and his small Bistro 46. Here you will find a superb food destination secreted in the suburbs. Max punches way above his weight considering the compactness of the venue. But know you this, he hunts for his food when he can too. If he can’t get game that he needs by his own hand, fear not, he acquires it from a certified local game-keeper. He then sets about using a rare skillset in many kitchens these days. He butchers the carcass down, and I can tell you skinning a deer is a bit of a task. Good place, lovely bloke, great food, do go.
Dotted about in Heaton are some tidy little places for café food. Heaton Ingredient, which is the sister to Quay Ingredient, is a quality spot for well made above average snack food and light lunch meals. That said, the breakfast menu is darned good.
BLK on Chillingham Road, run by the very enthusiastic and capable and charming Alison is an ideal spot to get a great coffee made by very capable baristas. They are very happy to give you all the details you might want to know about the beans they use should you be keen to know
Stark’s Kitchen, opposite BLK, has settled in well and fills a niche that is part café, part bistro, and part restaurant. They offer well-crafted delicious food of a level not seen before on Chillingham road. Check them out, they are a family run business, very keen, friendly and love to have people enjoy a meal with them.
Naked Deli has its initial pitch on Chillingham road, it is a destination spot for all the gym bunnies and folk who are determined to eat relevant food to their training schedules and fitness requirements. Good coffee too. Often a lot of lycra on show, that and muscly folk, looking quite the radiant specimens.
If you are ever looking for a log cabin break with well-appointed accommodation, in a quiet location then I suggest Lazy Days Scandinavian Cottages @ 7 miles outside of Berwick. There are 3 beautifully maintained good sized cabins with all the mod cons you could want, apart from wi-fi. This is a place you go to break your modern addiction to the bloody interwebnet thing. We liked it so much we came back home checked the diary and rebooked for 2017. Debra and Richard who own the site are fabulously friendly folk and willing to help in any way they can. The location of the site is all of 2 miles away from Paxton House, and this is a place very well worth a visit and get yourself on the guided tour. The guy we had (Jim I think it was) produced the best guided tour of I have ever had. Just over the river and up the hill is a lovely little café in an old double decker bus at Chain Bridge Honey Farm. In the shop all things honey and beeswax can be procured. Fantastic honey it is too.
At this point I will mention a lovely, lovely woman who actually is decently close to Berwick and her name is Rachel Hammond. She is a charcutier. She is the Cute Charcute. Selling her products on local markets and Edinburgh is one of them. She offers the appreciative buyer of locally made all things meatily cured, produce of a very high standard. I consider myself luck I do not live closer as I would spend my last farthing on her wares instead of the gas bill. Contact her and buy her lovely meat things.
While I am yacking on about food in Northerly climes I will mention that Timberyard in Edinburgh is quite worth a culinary excursion and although a little pricy, it is a quality place to dine, surprised you are not to be told it is in fact located at an old timberyard.
Also, and this is a very high recommendation on my part, make time and go to Norn In Lieth for a meal. They are new, classy, quite small, but offer beautiful food. Their thing, as it were, is to make as many of the things they use in-house everything else is sourced from Scotland as much as possible. Chefs often serve your food, so you can ask specific questions directly to the folk who made and plated your food.
My Last two mentions are to suggest you get along and visit James Close a t The Raby Hunt. His food is now judged at 2 Michelin Star level and it would not surprise me if in the next couple of years he hit 3. James is utterly obsessed with his chosen profession. You want to know more about him really just look him up on the internet. Good solid bloke too, I like him a lot. As I do with the young man who is Tommy Banks at Oldstead in The Black Swan. A stunning little place off the beaten track with accommodation in the village and attached. Not only that but they are supremely fortunate to have a 2 acre field in which they grow their own veg. Incidentally that fella Ken Holland has had his hand in developing things for both places. Other produce is locally foraged by themselves. Again I would raise no eyebrow to be told The Banks’ enterprise hit 2 star before long.
And that wraps it all up sorry I took so long to say very little. Thank you, patient reader, for making it to the end. No doubt your reward will either be in heaven or at the bottom of a large glass of wine.
Until I do it again toodle-pip