Well yep, it has been a while the world has been safe and cosy from my overly verbose wife waffle for quite a while. It has to be said I have been thinking about plopping something in here for a while, but honestly did not know where to start. This in part has been due to laziness and partly because we have been fortunate to have some excellent dining experiences, have SWMBO and me. Typically we have revisited the restaurants we like and those that are decently close to our orbit.
I had a list and a set of partial notes, but they are lost in a pile somewhere, or composting down on a municipal landfill, or powering the Byker incinerator. Quite possibly the best place for them. So I will “wing it” and soldier on making it up as I go along.
The allotment plot has done decently well but to be honest because I had half of it filled with everything that should be in the potting shed, I did not make the best of it really. One really should have a plan be organised and have everything in its place. That said it has been a good year experimenting with new things from the Chilterns catalogue and letting somethings re-establish from last year. The wasabi has done well enough and I might even take a little root this year and see what wallop it has. The shed from Northumberland Shed Company over at Blaydon is very good and sits magnificently at the far end of the plot. It is on a slight wonk and need lifting to slide a small plank underneath it, but as I have a torn cartilage in my right knee and a suspect disc, it is a project I have not initiated. I will probably draft in some muscle from Newcastle Kettlebell Club. The back, and knee, have prevented me from getting to the club but they are a good bunch and a couple of the big uns will lend a hand, it should only take about 2 minutes to do. The shed is so good I have ordered a 9×7 potting shed off the Northumberland Shed Company and it is due to arrive in October. I have a better base this time, and I will be able to shift all the bits and bobs into it and liberate the greenhouse so I can try to be more productive with it. Perhaps in the next couple of years I can realise the dream of building a shed/potting/greenhouse thing at the far end of the plot and have more luck with overwintering my delicates. The garden at home has delivered a deal of pleasure too, it has been colourful and abundant with an excellent range of edible flowers; something we gift, locally, to a couple of chefs because it is a crying shame to waste.
Dining has been great. We don’t really go off on big holidays or take a great deal of time off as it causes complications to our little business. This year we have done and continue to do our rounds.
Locally we are blessed with places:
Heaton Ingredient on Heaton Road. A great place to land for casual cafe of good quality. They are the sister to the lauded Quay Ingredient on the Quayside. Small, tidy, and canny, run by canny people.
Cafe 12o Heaton Road, another pleasant spot, simple food prep and a nice spot to sit near the window and watch the world go by.
BLK Coffee Chillingham Road. Alison is a proper barista (and was placed 2nd in the UK Brewers Cup 2016) serving excellent coffee made the way coffee really should be made. She also is a point of sale for the very talented Richie Hunton who operates Beat Boutique Bakery. His cakes and pastries are fantastic and the cronuts… If you ever see one buy it and eat it with great relish.
Starks Kitchen Chillingham Road is a new little street cafe/restauarant/bistro. Family owned and run, with Ben and Ed working the pans. they have a changing menu, cook using ingredients of good quality, Charlotte’s butchery is one of their suppliers and her meat is excellent.
Baobab Bakery Chillingham Road, another super spot selling all their own-made bread and cakes and light cafe meals.
Naked Deli Chillingham Road, the place to go if you want paleo food. It’s clean, fresh, healthy, and friendly with decent coffee too.
Peace & Loaf Jesmond has to be one of our great favourites. It always impresses me with its imaginative platings and menus. Dave Coulson is modern and bold in what he creates. He loves food and wants to feed people and wants it to be a real experience for the diner. I have never been disappointed with what i have eaten, Whether that be a meal with friends or one of his charity do’s. His “Back to front” night that raised £1300 for the Brain Tumour charity was good fun with the restaurant staff well out of their comfort zones. Front of house had to plate and cook while the kitchen staff had to engage with real people at tables. well done to them all. Dave chooses the best produce he can find with theist flavours, he uses old school culinary skill and then throws his imagination at it, with often outstanding results. In my view, sadly, he does not get the recognition of his industry as much as I think he should. Yes I have bias but I am like that with friends who put their heart and soul into it. Having said that Jay Rayner did give him one of the first review I have seen him give. So I figure my sense of taste is not totally banjaxed.
Jesmond Dene House, an historic building, niche hotel, and a restaurant and facility that operates on complex levels. It has to offer breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (anything up to 120 teas a day) diner, private dining, corporate events, weddings, and bar. This is one of our fave places for that time where one feels a little grand. The meals are creative and professionally plated, care is taken with sourcing the best produce as much s they can it is as local as they can. Another talented hard-working team.
Artisan & The Factory Kitchen at Ramy Zak’s Biscuit Factory, two entertaining and totally different food destinations. Artisan is run by a very talented Head Chef Andrew Wilkinson. Andrew has a great palate and executes meals that are packed with flavour and he has a great understanding of what ingredients fully combine with each other. Upstairs The Factory Kitchen is run by a fabulous chef of outstanding ability. Michael Waugh has a simply outstanding pedigree and has now turned his hand to making lovely refreshing lunchtime food dare I say of an Ottolenghi stylee with his own twist. Emphasis on fresh and virtuous ingredients is paramount. The kit available to Andrew and Michael is enviable, they even have an ice cream making machine that probably cost somewhere in the region of £20,000.
Bistro 46 Brentwood Avenue Jesmond, owned and operated by the Gott brothers. This is definitely a super little bistro. Chef Max using all the old school skills in cooking to create excellent plates of food from seasonally available ingredients. Come game season Max sources and butchers game from a local certified gamekeeper. Well worth a trip to this off-strip small restaurant. Lovely easy-going engaging staff.
Cal’s Own Holly Ave West. Cal has decamped from Heaton and relocated to a lovely little spot in Jesmond. He now has his take-away enterprise running from an upstairs kitchen and his new dining area downstairs. Great use of recycled time has been made in the design of the area. He now has a real restaurant and a bar and the equipment to aim for what he has always ambitiously desired, the AVPN Certification. For me Cal makes the best authentic Neapolitan pizza to be found in the area. Not only that he is now getting to grips with his magnificent Stefano Ferrara wood burning oven so he can cook a wider range of items other than Pizza. Because the venue is so good, and because Cal was madly keen, I have chosen Cal’s Own for my next #MenOfMeat night. We have places for 40 people and it will be used to be a fundraiser for a Men’s Mental Health Charity, Calm Zone. I am sure all of us are greatly anticipating a fabulous night, all seats were accounted for in 2 days so it seems we the Not Bobs and also the Bobs are in agreement on this.
Black Friars Restaurant in Old Newcastle was a new trip this year. Runny operated by Andy Hook and in the hands of Head Chef Chris Wardale. If I have this right it is the oldest dining room in operation in the UK. Situated in the grounds and buildings of the 13th century friary it offers a fine standard of what I will call Cheffed food. Attention is given to sourcing great ingredients and creating lovely gastronomic plates of food. All this and the most historic of settings.
Bridge Tavern pub on Akenside Hill, a great place for a really good beer and well crafted “pub food”. Chef there is Tony Renwick who has a fine touch with their changing menu, producing just the right kind of fayre one would want with a sit down and a drink. The place has a great vibe and I like it a lot.
The Broad Chare Newcastle Quayside is another favourite of mine and part of 21 Group so you just know the benchmark of quality is set high; always was and always will be, Terry Leybourne really knows how to create a space and get a team to run .. at a consistently high standard, remarkable. Broad Chare has a lovely selection of beers and the small bar downstairs a great team of staff overseen by Steve who is master of conviviality. The food is the kind of thing that attracts accolades and awards for the “Gastro pub” concept, often to be found in a list of the top 50 pubs in the country. It is good hearty, in-house prepped and made, pub food at its finest. Say no more.
Cafe Vivo Newcastle Quayside also part of 21 Group and another very favourite spot to eat. Matt runs a lovely FOH team and Manu prepares real Italian food with his team in the back. They use herbs superbly well to cook authentically the Italian way. Pasta dishes are above average and seafood is superbly and sympathetically handled. Lovely vibe to dining on a busy night.
21 Newcastle on the Quayside, the 21 Group flagship. A smooth, classic place to dine. Decor alone let’s you know you have a arrived at a place where you are going to have a modern and tasteful meal. It really is remarkable that they hit such levels of consistency. The kitchen is a really well oiled machine of excellence. Head Chef Chris Dobson oversees with a deft touch and fine eye.
Quay Ingredient Queen Street Newcastle Quayside is no doubt quirky and small but it has a serious hardcore following of those that know, that this is a quality, cult, street-cafe. Simon & Maggie are a class act when it comes to fantastically tasty food made in a truly small kitchen. A cool spot to nip into for sure.
Violets Cafe The Side Newcastle Quayside is a new spot, and on the site of one of my very favourite places to eat, “back in the day”. Back then it was Courtney’s Restaurant, after 21 Queen Street it offered the best food in Newcastle. It was here and at 21 that I would probably have had my eyes opened to what a chef can do with food that an ordinary cook did not. Anyway now it is a lovely chic cafe and part of the “Kenny Atkinson Collective”. Light meals, teas, coffee, and delicacies in a calm space. The staff are friendly and Abby Atkinson, the owner, is a lovely young woman putting her artistic and tasteful mark on the Quayside cafe culture.
The House of Tides The Close Newcastle Quayside, and is the award-winning restaurant and currently Newcastle’s only Michelin starred one too. Kenny is a live-wire for sure his style is creative and imaginative and precise, elegant works of art on a plate, within an historic wharf building. Expect a theatrical fine dining experience, and I mean that with respect dining like this is always an experience in itself and for me a rare form of treat.
Fuego Fenwick Food Hall. Great mediterranean styled food to be had here, with tapas style presentation, nice set-up, super tasty food, much of it sourced from the food hall itself.
Classy 21 Group seafood bar, serving oysters and a daily changing menu. Chris Eagle the Head Chef (a 21 Group Stalwart and talented man) has a super touch with the fish menu and a deep understanding of the delicacies of his medium. I love sitting here and people watching in the food hall. The fish counter always has something for me to take home.
Oriental 21 Group diner with a nice selection of home and authentic recipes from Head Chef Pla Kirby (another super talent from the Leybourne enterprise). Elegant flavours neatly presented, either take the mains or just ramp up the small dishes and mix and match. The kitchen bar seating is great if you are eating alone or in pairs s you can watch the thing and fringe and prep as chefs rattle their pans. A canny spot for me, sadly under appreciated by those more familiar with a heavy MSG content in their Far Eastern food.
Flat Cap Joe Ridley Place Newcastle. Joe has had his Barista Bar and Cafe up and running for probably 6 years now it is certainly known to coffee lovers of Newcastle because he has been winning awards in competitions throughout the UK for almost as long. Never have I met a man more passionate about his coffee. Very strong rumours that off the back of a successful Kickstarter/Crowdfunding appeal he is to open a large venue and this one above ground. Love the coffee and the chat. all round good egg is Joe.
Cottage In The Wood Lake District, on the Whinlatter Pass road. This is a fabulous spot. A family owned and much upgraded Restaurant with rooms. Formerly a B&B, now much upgraded with a view down the valley to high fells in the distance, to die for if weather conditions allow. Chris Archer the Head Chef is of a talent good enough to have him picked to represent a region in the TV program Great British Menu. It was pictures of his cooking that had me trying to get to his restaurant to eat his food for nearly 2 years. Well worth the trip.
Lakeland Distillery Bassenthwaite. A trip to the brewery for a tour and a meal in the Bistro was a worthy trip. Great use of many local suppliers by Head Chef Andrew Beaton and a very likeable menu. Looking with a close eye you will no doubt see that once again Terry Leybourne’s 21 Group has left a mark upon it; though not connected during development they assisted in its creation.
Forrest Side Hotel is a new venture in the Lake District in Grasmere. It is part of the group owned by Andrew Wildsmith who also has Hipping Hall and The Roebuck. Talented HeadChef, KevinTickle formerly of L’Enclume runs the kitchen and has a lifetime knowledge of foraging. Although I have not been it is on the list and my radar has it in its sights
Black Swan at Oldstead North Yorkshire is a lovely place. An old converted pub on the drovers trail with beautifully furbished accommodation. Michelin Starred and deservedly so. The Banks family run a good ship and Head Chef Tommy is a creative man who also will grace the telly with his presence on Great British Menu this year.
Losehill House is on the outskirts of the sleepy village of Hope in Derbyshire non too distant from the Blue John mines and Bakewell and Chatsworth House. Darren Goodwin is now Executive Chef, splitting his time between the tranquil Losehill with its fantastic views and the new Restaurant enterprise in central Manchester called Grafene, which opened just this year. Darren is another chef whose cooking I had seen fluttering across my Twitter feed tantalising me to visit. Again a chef who knows where to source the finest local ingredients We do like Darren’s food and so we have to add a trip to Grafene to the list of places to go.
Raby Hunt at Summerhouses County Durham. Head Chef James Close is a somewhat private and enigmatic figure with a keen sense of where he want his food to go. If I am not very much mistaken it is highly likely before long this remarkable chef will glean his second Michelin Star. This year saw him pick up the Chef Of The Year from TheGoodFood Guide. As you can imagine his food is precise, creative, excellently executed and visually impressive. Once again one has a sense of theatre in its production. Service is of the highest order as James aims to be the best and requires all around him to be on the same page; something I believe must be very hard to do, and one has to be on one’s toes at all times.
DH1 Durham. This is off far too many people’s radar in my estimation and I would love to see Stephen and Helen Hardy known to a wider audience, and in bigger surroundings. What Stephen and his small team of chefs can produce from such a small kitchen is little short of bloody marvellous. Another chef making use of the best suppliers of the best ingredient in the region. Always have a beautiful meal in Stephen’s hidden away restaurant.
StMary’s Inn Nr. Stannington, Northumberland. The second string to the Desmond Dene House enterprise, is a converted and modernised admin block to a previous psychiatric hospital. Tempting as it is to say you’d be nuts to go. I shall refrain. Not exactly gastro pub, but modern pub with rooms certainly. Good beers and wine, kitchen overseen by Executive Chef Michael Penaluna, making sure creative and well executed meals for a more rural setting are well executed. Again this is a place we are happy to go back to over and over again. We even took The Mother and stayed over night, despite being fed to the gunwales in the evening I took aim at a very hefty breakfast before driving home for a protracted lie down.
That pretty much sums up my list of what has been in my head that needs letting out. when I think of the next rehash of my aberrant thinking and rambling I will let you know via twitter whether you want to know or not. I owe it to the narcissist in me.
By for now.