Where The Wolf Roams

28 08 2016

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.

Saltwater Fish

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.

Ko Sai

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.


Tasting ..Tasting…Tasting ….. Tasting 1,2,3,4.. Tasting

2 12 2015

Yes a bit obvious isn’t it? This is about tasting menus. I am not entirely known for a deep sense of subtlety.

Tasting menus seem to bring out the best and worst in people. When it is the best it is invariably the best in Chefs; they get to display their whole range of ideas and skills and present an array of moments of taste, texture, smell and possibly may visually delight and surprise.

The worst is what you can get from those members of the general public who think a meal should be a mountain of largely indifferent food, but as long as it is a vast supply. Then that amounts to a proper feed. To hell with any creative expression or subtle deft touches of skill, layering layer upon layer of gastronomic joy. No, just pile it high and make it as cheap as you can.

You can probably tell from this and what has gone before and what I chunter on about on twitter, I have a low tolerance threshold for small and narrow-minded, petty, soul-sucking complaining and point-scoring griping. It’s the kind of thing that is the staple diet of Trip Advisor wingers. It would seem according to one Guardian Food Critic I am a “thoughtful blogger”. Being a food critic (it seems) is a whole other ball game that involves often needing to spit a decent amount of lofty disdain and bile. It is not about trying to see a bigger picture. Or perhaps I just utterly delude myself and live in a lovely fluffy state of denial.

I like tasting menus and will probably eat a few more before I am done. This blog is about four of them. Two are at locations familiar to me. Places that I like for various reasons and one that is very new to me but comes with the soundest of recommendations from a friend of mine, Ken Holland the Veg Maestro.

To my mind tasting menus offer chefs a moment to showcase an array of cooking skills and to create a gastronomic slide show.

So without further ado I will offer few words (but a fair few pictures) of places I have visited for tastings, for those of you who are of a similar minsdet to myself. If one is not this it the time to leave the page and go find something else more to your own liking.

I will start the tour with Jesmond Dene House for no other reason that these are the first pictures I could find. JDH is an historic building in Newcastle upon Tyne, and has an informative blog on its website for those who want to know some facts about its early ownership by Andrew Noble.

It was an interesting night in the company of Peter Candler and his wife Jeana. We had been trying to get a night out organised for a while and try a few interesting wines that we had found. Peter is very good at finding decently good and interesting wines, me less so. I found a lovely little Pian Della Vigne, Brunello Di Montalcino mind you and it decanted well.


The new menu cover was unveiled to us but of little consequence, as Chef had free rein to execute their tasting menu and have it popped in front of us. Sadly at the moment I cannot find some notes I scribbled down in my notebook, so until I can find the damned thing this is what you get.


Truffled egg with oyster, a gorgeous mouth-watering little thing, beautiful little hint of truffle that does not overpower the size of the dish


light fresh salad, sweet carrots and beetroots and leaves.


Dorset snail with sauce served from the shell. A total knock out, and a stand out dish the richness of the dish superb.


Scallop under nasturtium leaf and with flower. I liked this because I like the perky bite one gets from nasturtium, a little like a cross between horseradish and pepper.




Carrot orange and soft warm goat’s cheese, sweet zingy and tangy but not overpowered by goat.


Hallibut with pickled seaweed, toasted spelt, and cod roe; nice bit of acidity with the superbly cooked fish.


Dragon’s egg cucumber soup with Latimer’s crab, delicious and light; the natural ingredients bring an honesty and integrity to the dish.


Perfectly pink lamb bursting with lamb flavour an excellent Jus and edamame. Had to be finished in the hand to get every last bit of flesh off that bone… too good to waste.


A newly concocted freshly picked apple “crumble” and ice cream.


clever raspberry number of floaty light marshmallow finger


Chocolate 4 or 5 ways


beautiful crisp bread with a selection of fine cheeses.


Finally a chance to sit and ruminate on our thoughts of the superb night’s fayre, over coffee and exquisite petit fours


My estimation of the night was that the kitchen had provided a meal of very good quality and standard. Everything was beautiful cooked and much skill had been executed in all its making.

Jesmond Dene House is one of those places I like to dine because there is a real desire for the diner to have a good meal, the setting is not overly grand, it is unstuffy yet has a grace and easy elegance. It is a sufficiently old building to lend a hand to an atmospheric night out.

Ok next we head South to the lee of Sutton Bank. It is a small drovers pub converted to dining and rooms. Both elements are of a superb standard and ones with a far greater sense of such things have declared the meals to be worthy of their Michelin Star.


The Black Swan is to be found slightly off the beaten track at Oldstead approximately 10 miles away from Thirsk. Set on the incline of the lane that runs through the village, the restaurant occupies the upper deck of the old pub, the bar is still operational down stairs offering a remarkable array of wines by the glass by virtue of their Coravin Wine Preserving System. A good selection of proper beer can be found in there too.

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At the rear are rooms converted from old stone-built, farm labourers accommodation quarters. The fittings and comfort levels are wonderful. Our bathroom was as excellent as the bedroom/lounge part.

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So what of the food? I had been made aware of the restaurant and the Banks family, who are all involved with it, by my friend Ken. As it would happen he had been helping them develop their restaurant garden on the land available to them, that lies to the rear of the Black Swan enterprise just across from the car park. If you ask politely someone will probably arrange to show you what they are up to.

Ultimately the aim, on the vegetable front, is to grow as much is as possible and walk it from their own field and into the kitchen and then onto a plate. The project has matured well, and with the help of Ken Holland and much hard work from the team (this involves much labouring from Tommy Banks the Head Chef too) getting out there and getting muddy, they are close to their ambition.


Pre-dining snacks were interesting; the nasturtium being stuffed with a savoury  a mushroom creation was new to me and it reulted in a crisp, juicy mouthful .

Linseeds home-grown, formed into a thin, wholeseed, delicate crisp. This was adorned with cubes of delicious smoked eel. A beautiful balance of flavours and texture.

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Sweet, zingy beetroot mousse, beetroot pastry tart. What a wee explosion of beetroot splendour from a delicate-crisp, the tang of of so light goat cheese in the mix and a  melt-in-your-mouth morsel.


Bread freshly made with beer fed sourdough and a whipped goat’s cheese and folded with brown butter, gorgeous, deeply moreishly malty. A backdrop of sourness and caramalised crust with the soft goat tang. Texturally I was reminded, somehow, of a memory of eating a tiny pikelet.


Wild garlic dip served with a quail taco, pickled white cabbage and a delicate dark-grown pea shoot garnish and pickled white cabbage; a beautiful combination.



Langoustine and squid was supplemented as a second taster for SWMBO not being one to eat deer. It was as one would have hoped as freshly tasting as if it had just swum to the plate and sweet, soft, and meaty. Crunch from fresh radish along with chew from squid tentacles, a savoury broth rounding it all off.


The deer, beer & woodland gear was an interesting plating for me. The woodland gear was made up of much that had been foraged locally and included Jack By The Hedge, and wild garlic, and flowers. The Venison tartare was however robust enough for it and beautifully soft.


Hen of the wood mushroom asparagus and soft poached quail eggs on wild mushroom and garlic puree with lovage oil . All elements harmoniously complementary. The egg was soft and runny and the lovage oil was like some mysterious 5th element adding a length and depth to the flavours.


Scallop, oyster leaf, and pickled spruce buds. Having never eaten pickled spruce, I noted the flavour similar to that of a caper but with a eucalyptus like zing in addition.


Turbot, beautifully soft and seared, came with a waft of fresh bean and pickle from the  shallot bean sprouts; all served with “tartare” sauce and crunchy roasted hazelnuts.


Lamb, nasturtium, Kol Rabi and turnip. The lamb beautifully cooked, pink and sweet, fresh crunchy turnip & Kol Rabi offering up its earthy nature.


Locally sourced herb-fed chicken came as an alternative to meet the requirements of the SWMBO, served with chicken dripping, foraged wild garlic and flowers, and that beautiful Hen Of The Woods mushroom. I could never tire of that.


Somewhere round about here we had lollipop Bouche Cleanser Things of remarkable flavours.  And I do mean remarkable, one was cep mushroom and white chocolate ice cream; something unknown to me but what a beautiful thing it was. It had a flavour something like eating a more savoury version of a malty malteaser, utterly gorgeous. Another was pine or spruce equally stunning but the mushroom was jaw droppingly moreish. Another was apple and rosemary; a delicious delightful mix of tart and herb that worked so well. The third a fennel root and berry that offered ricness and depth to the tastebuds.

Strawberry and herbs and a sumptuous foraged woodruff ice cream, scattered with marigolds, basil flower and verbena. Woodruff is an intriguing shrub as it contains coumarin, the very same compound that makes tonka bean so flavoursome. A second green tea & elderflower ice cream offing a pleasing contrast to the intense woodruff.


Elderflower sorbet with a thin honey honeycomb crisp thin, viola jam intensely flavoursome both of them buckets of honey punching from the thin delicate crisp that melted on your tongue. Quite sublime.


Petit fours just the size I could manage after the delights enjoyed.


All dishes excelled with flavour and it was enjoyable to have a number of the plates embellished with home grown (in the Restaurant garden) or locally sourced and foraged edible flowers and leaves; a number of which we had not previously been exposed to. The overnight stay meal and breakfast is a treat I will be happy to repeat and advocate.

Next The Raby Hunt of one James Close:


This was the second time we visited The Raby Hunt at Summerhouse, and this time we did what we promised.. we stayed over. Perhaps an extra indulgence but it is too far from Newcastle for me to drive eat and drive home.

I will say this, it just keeps getting better. It is my view that the dishes are becoming subtly more “mature”, they are evolving and being finessed to increasingly high standards, within the context of a fine dining experience.

The staff are delightful and informative in a manner I like. My experience is always improved by knowledgeable table service that enlightens me to: preparation methods, ingredients, where things have been sourced, and even something about the supplier.

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The meal began with three delicate appetising delights.

Crispy cod skin with fennel frond and aioli.

Crisp, crunchy, and fishy fat flavoursome, it always wants me wanting a big bowlful of it.


Scallop was soft and savoury the dash of sauce underneath lifting it and a punch of flavour from the tiny Tagetes leaf. Beautiful.


Jerusalem Artichoke, I love the earthy pungency of the ‘choke. This crisp presentation with a pate like filling under the soft gratings superb.


Lindisfarne Oyster and Dill. Another delicate element with a texture created by low heat cooking, allowing a succulent seafresh flavour to burst on the tongue.


Razor clam almond & endive. The components of this dish work well. One has chewy nuggets of clam and shrimp creating a delightful richness. Another dish I would happily consume from a large bowl, until the cows come home.



Raw Beef, soft and succulent with a natural horseradish pepper hit from the nasturtium leaf. Nice presentation for me with its redness offset on a raku like monochrome plate.


Sea bream. Superbly cooked fish soft white flesh succulent and a beautiful crisped skin.. here we are back to the crispy fish skin I love so much.


Autumn salad has a somewhat lengthy description but the  execution is dazzling in taste and colour. James and Ken combining talents marvellously well.

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oooooooooh the magnificent 12 Volts wine from 4kilos Winery in Mallorca, complex, smooth soft rich, leaving one wishing for more. A very sophisticated little number, and a good find. Made in very small batches and quite difficult to get hold of I think.

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This was a transient lamb cutlet that briefly touched down on our table but sadly was destined for another diner who positively purred when they ate it… I hate them for that, next time I shall hopefully have one.


Squab ragu & cauliflower. Squab is not something i have had in the past, but would quite happily have again. The flesh is dark, rich and delicate. Well it certainly was when the Raby Crew presented it to me. Accompanied by a superb savoury jus and went well with the last few drops of the 12 Volts


Apple, clove, peanuts. clove ice cream under fragile apple papery flakes and a nice little peanut salty crunch. Good flavours and crunchy nibbles.


This chocolate bar was dreamily dense and chocolatey, sort and gooey too. The popcorn ice-cream did just that …tasted nicely of popcorn, and the caramel popcorn? you guessed it I want a bucket of it please.


Petit fours. These tiny little bites were fabulous all flavours in each piece were of first class excellence.


A tasting menu of craft and excellence.

My final stop in this food parade we have here is to the culinary home of The Cool Man Coulson. That is to say Dave Coulson at Peace & Loaf

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I will use my prerogative at this point, because I am writing this waffly wordage, to take a liberty as the next series of images are not a “true tasting menu” but more of an impromptu one that we enjoyed when the chefs “let loose” to show us a little of what they can do when you let them just cook their little hearts out. Bless their little cotton socks.

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we began well on this Birthday Night Treat with a dash of Champagne and a rather elegant Gisbourne Albarino Bell Ringer 2014 a medium, zesty, clear chap with a soft, peachy, clean finish.

Canapes of beetroot fishcake/balls

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Restaurant baby loaf with whipped dripping butter

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A bouche of spiced pumpkin with melted Parmigiano crisp and fried sage leaf followed

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The first of the mains was a velvety smooth and indulgently rich Jerusalem artichoke soup. So rich it is possibly descended from Royalty or some Oligarch. Artichoke crisps and blanched slivers were embellished with artichoke powder. I did mention it was artichoke didn’t I? a lovely mix of flavour and texture, the consequences of which I will avoid mentioning. But it was worth it


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scallops with potato crisps were delightfully done. The scallops seared in butter to create a thin searing all over trapping the moist sweet meat inside. Lovely texture


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Some Stunning Iberico pork was served next ( I assume from Enrique at Kaltur Foods). Now if you have not had this Iberico pork yourself you really, really need to try it. The colour and flavour are simply stunning, it looks like a cross between pink lamb or beef but has a super depth of flavour. The savoury jus enriching my experience beautifully. They do make canny sauces in that back room.

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A lovely pice of soft-cooked halibut with samphire followed. Again two things I will eat in vast quantities if left unchecked. Samphire’s salty crispness gets my salivary glands going every time and the creamy meat of a lightly seared halibut is gorgeous.

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This Boozy Sorbet with popping candy, prosecco and possibly rum is a P&L take on a Margarita and fun number it is too.

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A Taste Of The Forrest is what this is, I can’t begin to describe how stunned I was when I saw it. The whole creating is just outstanding visually and from a taste perspective. It takes deconstruction to a whole new level. People on the next table sat in a mild state of awe, I had to show them because they didn’t believe it. Chocolate several ways, cherry fruit, meringue mushroom pistachio all doing their creative thing.

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There was in fact yet another pudding of distinction but sadly unless I can steal an image from somewhere I can’t show it… the iphone died as I lined it up. no doubt bloated from all my food pictures i had stored on it.


And that pretty much is it. Four venues with four madly creative teams creating wonderful experiences. Each has their own game going for them:

One has a grand building with an inescapable elegance of surrounding. It might surprise some, but they really want people to see them as far less formal than you might assume them to be. They want the food they make to be enjoyed and the diner to have a relaxed friendly meal.

Another has pared back rustic charm and informative service, in a country restaurant pub vibe. Creative, imaginative, skillful chefs rule the plate and palate.

One has Rural Elegance with a simple and tasteful dining room. Delightful service, a remarkable chef with obsessional creative gifts plating fabulous food.

And another has a suburban split level location with an expressionistic creativity plated with passion and artistry.

I mean no slight to any of them in my personal descriptions to me they are all madly talented, artistic, creative, probably mildy unhinged and obsessional. Their staff are superb and only need to be engaged politely to be offered a wealth of information about the dishes. The all have stories to tell if asked correctly.

I thank them all for the wonderful meals and experiences they have given me.

Ciao for now

For those that know…..

Mr. Wolf

Aced the Thirty Six

18 04 2015

A recent business trip offered me the chance to try out a new place to eat far from my usual stamping ground down in “that there London place”.

Although it was terribly tempting to avail myself of the knowledge of hip places and fine dining and “really you have to go there mate” from the chefs and food lovers and diners I now seem to know, I elected to follow-up on a promise I made to Cheila Reais my contact via Twitter.

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Cheila popped up on the old Wolf Restaurant Radar last year sometime as she began promoting a soon-to-be-opened venture in the Notting Hill/North Kensington area. Billed as an “All day Townhouse Bar and Grill” it sounded like it should be a fun and relaxed sort of place. It is the latest in a small growing chain of restaurants that already includes the two successfully established Beach Blanket Babylon venues, in Shoreditch and Notting Hill.

It is only about 5 mins walk from Westbourne Park Tube station and somewhere North of the Hyde Park are I was staying; apologies for my vagueness but I have no idea what is what, or where it is in The Old Smoke.

Arriving on foot it was easy to spot as it sits as a corner building and painted black. At the door I was greeted in a friendly manner by the doormen and ushered directly into the presence of Cheila. We had never met though I have seen the occasional picture of her in the Twitter feeds from time to time so I was able to recognise her immediately. I will say this, she is elegant, wonderfully charming and a simply superb hostess.

West Thirty Six is a very interesting place visually, much has been made of recycling old metal and timber, the decoration of the establishment with nik naks makes for a great way to while away the time, Particularly if one ends up dining Solo, like I was.

There is a basement area that I presume is below the upstairs deck and must be semi-open as it serves as a smoking area, the corridor access and “facilities” walls are cladded in old timber possibly recycled floor boards. The effect throughout is fun and reminds me of something I find difficult to put my finger on. Maybe it is a sort of American 1920-30’s prohibition vibe cum stylee.. perhaps. Certainly the white braces and black uniforms, or denim dungarees of the servers bends it visually that way.

Downstairs is the bar and dining area divided up by partitions and on the right joining the bar and barista’s station is the open Kitchen with its charcoal grill belching the occasional gout of flame and infusing the atmosphere with its cooking aromas. There is a small area snug up against he kitchen bar for a small number of people to eat and watch the chef crew hard at work.. From the moment I arrived to my warm greeting by Cheila and her team to the minute I left this area was just hopping and heaving with diners obviously having a great night out.

The building is like a warren, rooms and floors creating fabulous little areas to nestle in with friends and either dine or settle down for drinks in all manner of old chairs. The Barman/mixologist at the second bar on the first floor has a great range of very interesting and tempting spirits for some marvelously creative cocktails, looks quite the Speakeasy den it does.

I was led to a table on the first floor in front of the side window, the character of the room was club/den like and a fabulous rusted lantern hung from the ceiling, reminiscent of those old Tuscan beauties, and a glorious image of a majestic (unclad) Sophia Loren graced the wall to my left. Distractingly lovely is a large print of a nekid Sophia is all I will be drawn to say on the matter… just peachy.

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So here I was sat in a comfy spot with an elegant derriere to my left and a charming lantern dangling to my right, my eyes darting about looking at the eclectic tasteful paraphernalia and books. All the while I was people watching plenty of casually hip and cool operators come here it seems, no doubt drifting up from Notting Hill and Kensington. Mildly Bohemian is probably a small way to describe it.

While I sat waiting for my food amongst the exposed electrical conduits In the Speakeasy lowlights and the background hummed to the sound of contented customers expressing delight at what was being delivered to them, I listened to the sound system dribbling cool and funky tunes into the room and sipped on a very fruity example of a Semillon. A Tim Adams Fairfield Block to be exact, melony greengageness and smooth heady clean finish.

I was blessed with great service and attention from Jonathan, Bart and Ash; all, who I note, smile with their eyes.

So after all that usual preamble and waffle, what did I have to fill me up.

First I chose the crab trifle. Visually mimicking a desert but made with layers of spiced tomato sauce and white crab meat, topped off with creamed avocado and somewhere in there a delicious little sprig or two of fennel; served with a slice of lemon and char grilled rye bread. All the flavours worked well together and I would suggest to anyone that they want to squeeze the lemon juice onto the bread before you ladle on a blob of the crab trifle. You do that and you will be rewarded with a lovely citrus aromatic hit as you pop it into your mouth. Way more flavoursome than doing the usual squeeze over the crab flesh. My observation would for the chef to be a smidge bolder with the chilli, not madly but just make it a bit more obvious.


Mains, well it just had to be a bit of steak. The group dry age their own beef and I plumped for the 39 days aged, mainly because It was a modest sized 250g and the other options were for cuts of 350 and 400g. Such was the surprise of one of the nearby diners that she exclaimed, (decently loudly with eyes wide) “look at that it’s huge”, and rolled her eyes appreciatively when she started to chew. Chef really should be told that the size and quality of his meat brought unadulterated joy on the night.


The sirloin needs accompanying sides so I chose the beef dripping chips which were excellent soft and fluffy inside and superbly crunchy on the outside not only that they were as thick as a blacksmith’s fingers. My other side dish was Swiss chard (great to see Swiss cahrd on a menu as I grow it and love the stuff) crisped red onion rings and roast pine nuts and puy lentil topped with a dollop of soft cream cheese. I asked for the béarnaise sauce on-the-side (nice little hit of tarragon in there) and was able to administer proportions of each as I saw fit. The Steak was superbly char grilled the outside seared and pink under the surface all the way to its core, flavour and seasoning and texture …flawless.

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So full was I, that I was unable to sample from what looked like a very comforting and homely selection that included: Rhubarb, apple & cinnamon gateaux, crushed banoffee. All, as I say, beyond my capabilities.

And that is it, another lovely meal out in a very “Now & Happening” spot. My thanks to Chelia and her team for making me welcome and taking such lovely care of me, and thanks too to Robert Newmark for creating a super little spot to drink and dine. If you are in the area book it or be disappointed, it was hopping and heaving and bustling and rustling when I went..

Ciao dudes and dudettes


Trial By Vegetable

31 03 2015


Well now what do we know?

We know Ouseburn is an up and coming area of Newcastle upon Tyne, dotted with great little pubs and it is at the centre of a redevelopment that will create a very interesting village within the city.

We know there is a lovely little “off strip”, café-cookhouse-restaurant on Ouse Street (actually called The Cook House) right smack next to the Newcastle Town Moor Tunnel entrance (and behind the Hotel Du Vin), that has been created from old metal shipping Containers. It is all very “Now, hip and happening” and terribly a la mode.

We also know the lovely Anna Hedworth, @the_grazer, is behind the Cook House enterprise. Anna is part designer, architect, part cook, allotmenteer, full-time food lover and a visionary. During the day Anna runs the Cook House serving coffees, snacks, breakfast, lunches and the like. All made by herself from the best ingredients she can. She is often feted in magazines for her enterprise, and her quality of blogging. However during the evening the Cook House is a venue for parties and events, and in this instance a Pop-Up, Cheffy Chef night.

It would seem we know that much, but we need to know a smidge more. Like who are these Cheffy Chef types? Together they are known as Trial Shift; separately they are Shaun Hurrell and Tom Anglesea.

Our young Mr. Shaun Hurrell blossomed over in the USA in Northern California, in the Wine Country of Sonoma County. Somehow after a few years working his tail feathers off in a small bistro, he ended up in Newcastle Upon Tyne working for non other than Terry Laybourne at Jesmond Dene House.

Everywhere where you look in the North East where quality Chefs are to be found there is almost certainly to be the footprint of Terry not far away.

Shaun put in 4 hard years of work in the very busy kitchen, before scooting off to London for the next 5 years. While in London he worked for Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, Fergus Henderson’s St John Hotel, James Knappett’s Kitchen Table, and had a short time as a head chef at Farrs in Dalston. Following all that he mooched back up to us here in the North East. He was the Head Development Chef tasked to create the kitchen, and to bring the chefs, the menus and recipes up to speed at the newly launched St. Mary’s Inn (at Stannington). He is a man with a plan, and that also includes starting a family and working towards opening a restaurant with his good long time friend Tom Anglesea.

So what of this Tom Anglesea fellow? What do we know about him?

Tom was born and raised in Durham and began his career washing dishes at the local bistro, Chadwicks. Tom is another super Chef with the Terry Laybournes pedigree, having stints in Café 21 and Bistro 21 before he too headed to London at the very tender age of 19 to work at Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café.

Tom then went on to train under Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York, Neil Perry at Rockpool in Sydney and also spent time at Rene Redzepis Noma in Copenhagen and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. Returning once again to England Tom took a sous chef position at the Red Lion rural pub in East Chisenbury, and whilst there was part of the team to win their first Michelin star in 2012. Now back in the North East he and Shaun could very well be the next wave of Cheffy Chefs to become part of Newcastle’s new improved dining scene. It is certainly something I would like to see.

The nature of the evening was a showcase of talent. Not only was it a showcase of what the two talents on the pans can do with ingredients, it was a showcase of the talents of the wizardry of the region’s most elusive specialist and stand-out specialist vegetable grower; yup you guessed it Ken Holland. You have as much chance of seeing this rare fellow as you have being introduced to The Scarlet Pimpernel or finding a packet of hen’s teeth and a pile of rocking horse pooh. However you will be able to eat his superb produce should you venture into the likes of Jesmond Dene House, Peace & Loaf, Raby Hunt, St. Mary’s Inn, House of Tides and a canny few other places of inestimable repute that I can’t mention, because Ken has not told me I can. I do what I am told by Ken, I know my place.

Anna’s Cook House was almost at its capacity with booked guests by the time we arrived; remarkably I actually knew 3 of the guests. The long table was bedecked with colourful crudités and dips on a roll of brown paper, cunningly low tech and easy to clean away as we found out when it was time to clean and make ready the next course.

On our arrival we were greeted with a clean zingy cocktail of rhubarb and blood orange & gin spritz. It had a fresh lightly tart flavour and was a very pleasant little gargle to sip while saying hello to our fellow diners.

The crudités that were on the table were pickled candy beets, raw heritage carrot, baby radishes, roast young parsnips, broad bean tips, forced pea shoots and fennel seed rye crackers, the dips were a fabulous, rich, colourful gochujang/black sesame, wild garlic/white miso and wood smoked baba ganoush. All the veg was undoubtedly crisp and fresh. Ken grows them to harvest when small so they are bursting with the sweetest taste. He even has a forcing tunnel where he is able to grow pale, sweet, tender sprouting vegetables. The pea shoots were testament to his skills. The ganoush wild garlic miso (this no doubt fresh from close to home) and fermented gochujang were superb everything that was dipped was enjoyable; the rye crackers were a fine example of a home-made crisp thin and brilliant for ladling lovely dollops of dip to my appreciative buccal cavity.

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The remnants that remained were all neatly rolled away to make way for a Waldorf Salad Gougere (a Parmesan choux bun filled with blue cheese mornay, brushed with apple caramel, celery salt and shaved walnut). Beautiful is what I will say about this. The pastry was perfect, the cheese filling, tangy sweet, the salt and sweetness of the apple caramel and saltiness of the parmigiano superb with the nutty walnut which has that slight edge of bitterness. All in all, a lovely combination of flavours.


Details for roasted parsnip dish below coming soon


Roast Onion Broth, Dumplings

This was a clear, savoury onion consommé with floating white pickled turnip, Parisian fine herb dumplings, onion compote settled on the base of the bowl bringing sugary sweetness into the dish, wild garlic. The charred onions and spring onions added a bitter caramel and mild fresher green onion taste on the palate.


Beets, Leek & Horseradish

Horseradish bavarois topped with pickled beets, baby leeks, oyster leaf and forced beet leaves. I can only say this was a stunning cacophony of tastes and an absolute riot of flavours, beautiful vibrant colours to the eye too. The picked beets were sweet and vinegar sharp and the soft creamy (almost custard-like) smoothness of the horseradish bavarois created a near desert-like savoury dish. What never fails to impress me is the oyster leaf. My brain just cannot quite grasp the nature of its flavour, as it fools the olfactory senses into believing one is eating oyster or some fish oil flavoured substance; but it just not flesh it simply is vegetable. You must taste it at your earliest convenience.


Cumin Roasted Carrots, Yoghurt & Flowers

Then was charcoal grilled heritage carrots, labneh, primrose petals, mint and coriander condiment and cumin oil. The composition of cumin, mint and yoghurt with the charcoal grilled carrots was super, real comfort food textures working well together. Colourful and pretty as a picture


Thai Pumpkin

The Thai crown prince squash (family style) was rubbed with a paste made from lemongrass, galangal, Thai shallot, coriander root and palm sugar then filled with coconut cream and baked it until soft. This thickened the white subtle center to an almost cream cheese consistency. It was served and presented with some great soft flatbreads so that we could create wraps and have some glorious aromatic tasting finger-food. Satay sauce, tamarind water, chili oil, crispy shallots, Thai herbs and lime wedges, all gloriously combining in an Asian inspired fusion dish. It was great fun, and a good talking point with my adjacent diner; particularly as the whole of the squash was to be consumed, the skin softening during its cooking.


Mint, Lime IcePops

As a freshener we were served ice pops, which were yoghurt, milk, mint and lime zest. I found them an interesting event in the meal, and the combination of ingredients suited my palate, however this I think was one of those ”marmite moments”.


Tea & Carrot Cake

By the time the carrot cake made it to the table my girth was beginning to groan with the strain of so much marvelous food. Made with the heritage carrots, a walnut butter in the middle and a carrot and cream cheese frosting served with a scattering of toasted walnuts simple and comforting it was.

The tea was made from dehydrated carrot, verbena and star anise, and was a delicate final curtain to the gastronomic theatre.


Throughout the night the atmosphere was friendly, convivial and fun. We enjoyed the food and conversation and appreciated the hard work and effort that made it all happen. Huge thanks to all, and my congratulations for a fantastic team effort

So what do we know now? Well, if the Trial Shift boys show up near you, court their presence and judge them for yourselves, it will be worth your time and your taste buds will thank you.


Mr. Wolf

Seeing Red

28 02 2015



La Rossa

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Twitter can sometimes seem be a bit empty, and only filled with vacuous beasts like me, channelling their inner banal nonsense into the cyberwhatever it is that makes up that there interferweb thing. But sometimes it is a force for good, and you get to acquaint yourself with the far more noble creatures that inhabit the Earth.


Last year, while tweeting my usual nonsense to my friend Chef Jose Graziosi, we had another joining in the fun with verve and brio. This was my first introduction to the lady who is known on Twitter as @Carmela_kitchen. A woman known for her fondness for polka dots.

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As it turns out Carmela was born into an Italian family and lives in Northampton. She is also an accomplished cook with a passion for all things Italian and particularly pasta. The passage of time, an inspirational Grandma (Nona) and a burning desire to share her love of the Southern Italian style of simple rustic cooking, have led Carmela to the stage of her life where she has now become an authentic published author.


Her simple paperback book, “Southern Italian Family Cooking”, is packed with lovely ideas of how to get the best from very little. It extols that simple honest cooking that is so typical of the life in the less affluent South of Italy, it is known as Cucina Povera.

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Our Twitter exchanges have continued and I have prattled on about the spice meddling I conduct. Carmela did express mild interest, and me (being me) decided to send her some. My recollection is that she liked it, which got me to thinking. Carmela is a vivacious Italian woman with a passion for food, taste and flavour, she also has flaming red hair and style. I wondered could I think up a unique spice mix blend that would do justice to her?

After a bit of tinkering I had my prototype complete, its name….. Carmela La Rossa Pooda Blend. It is red, rich, aromatic herby & spicy with a dash of heat. To my delight, once I had it sent, delivered and sampled Carmela (she is the personification of La Rossa) declared she loved it and ordered a tranche more so she could cook more with it.


One was as you can imagine very pleased. It adds another spice combo to what I rather grandly call my Signature Range. This selection is so called “Signature” because all the spices have been inspired by and made for real people.

My list this far:


Carmela Sophia Soreno Hayes, Pop-up restaurateur, cookery teacher, recipe book author and nice person (obviously, I have just been rambling on about it)

Pierre’s Erld Smerky Pooda Blend, for Chef Pierre Rigothier in Paris

VSCJG Pooda Blend for Chef Jose Graziosi in the Cambridge area

The Peaceful Turk Pooda Blend, for Chefs David Coulson and Robert Elat at Peace and Loaf Restaurant

Bella La Parisienne Pooda Blend, for Food Journalist Annabelle Schachmes in Paris

Royster Bay Seasoning Pooda Blend for Chef Roy Brett at Ondine in Edinburgh

Carmela is equally at home with her authentic Italian ingredients as she is laughing at cake and collecting recipe books.

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It was simply delightful to hear that Carmela had been in touch with the fabulous Helen (who runs her independent book shop in the lovely Northumbrian market town of Corbridge) and made plans to come up for a short talk and book signing.

This offered me the rare opportunity to meet up with La Rossa in person at the event.

So it was in February this year Carmela rocked into Corbridge in her daring (and darling) little yellow sports car, and I met her at the Tea & Tipple Café where the book signing and talk was taking place.

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She comes across as a woman passionate about her subject and very capable of putting across her ideas and thoughts. The evening passed well with some drinks and nibbles made by Helen, from recipes in Carmela’s book. I think Helen was somewhat anxious about presenting what she had made, to the very woman who wrote the recipes in the book. She need not have been so worried because Carmela is as gracious as she is elegant.

The book itself is simple and delightful. It is packed with simple easy to make authentic Southern Italian recipes and the odd anecdote or two. It is a great book if you want to introduce someone to making fresh tasty food, but is worried they cannot cook. With this, they will be off to a flying start in no time, and will rapidly gain confidence. To those that already cook it is a handy little reference to have knocking about in the kitchen.


After the Tea & Tipple we had a chat, and I was able to learn a little more about her life, family (four robust, lively children and a patient husband) and her forthcoming plans.

Carmela has started to research and write her next book which is all about her speciality, and that is pasta. I imagine it will be very informative and a “must have” for those that, too, love to make their own.

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This year will involve a research trip to Italy with her dear friend and fellow rebel, Julie. I can imagine much fun and high jinx are expected and much Prosecco will be drunk.

More pop-ups and collaborations will follow I am sure, and an eventful time to be had with her cookery demonstrations too.


It would be nice to think that one day Carmela will get the recognition she deserves and has worked so hard for, and maybe gets her own telly program; because trust me she has the ability to charm and inform and make cooking as much fun as Nigella Lawson has done in the past. Programme developers are you watching? Especially you at the BBC.


I look forward to perhaps meeting this delightful inspiring woman again one day and getting her next book signed like I did the first one. Maybe that time I will be able to enjoy some Nino Franco Prosecco with her too while she regales me of the tails of mischief that she and Julie got up to in “The Old Country”.

Salute, cin cin and Jolly Good Luck la Rossa!


Two Fifths? Not Half?

22 02 2015

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Two Fifths is a quirky and likeable little independent restaurant, situated in what originally was a bank. It bestrides the corner of Collingwood Street and Westgate road, and is very close to the rapidly developing social area that I will call “the Station District”.


This area is becoming awash with coffee shops and bars and restaurants. All have their level and niche, some are better than others; some people involved with them have better ideas of standards than others.

Around the Two Fifths area are such places as Chicken Coop, Revolution Bar, Golf Rooms, Long Bar, Head Of Steam, Sausage Emporium, The Bridge Hotel, Herb Garden, The Telegraph Pub & the Newcastle Railway Station itself. Newly developed hotels are being brought to life too. It would seem to me that this is one of the areas of the town that has an opportunity to develop an identity all of its own.


In Two Fifths I get the distinct feeling you will not be treated as part of a the mass who will accept almost anything, key people there have excellent personal standards. One hopes that this really is part of their makeup and they don’t loose touch with it.


Tim Ward is the bar manager. He previously worked for four years at Popolo on Pilgrim Street and he has garnered numerous industry awards over the years. He was even crowned “NE Mixologist Of The Year” at one point. I understand he teaches classes (or taught) to those aspiring to become mixologists and are keen to learn The Ways Of The Cocktail. A friendly and informative fellow is Tim. Working the bar with Tim is Larry, a delightful young lady with a friendly kind manner who is good at what she does.


In Front-Of-house you have Nick Hall who has a useful background in the industry. For 5 years Nick tended bar for The Fluid Group and moved to fill the Sommelier position at Six Restaurant at The Baltic for two year. After that he was the Assistant Bar Manager then Bar Manager at Hotel Du Vin for three years. Working with him is Dickie a very friendly and helpful server, lovely lad.


The people who work there, and the building, do seem to give it a place with a soul I think.


It is always great to have service with people who are obviously interested in what they do and love the job. It is refreshing because sadly often certain Herberts in the general Public beat it out of them over time. My message to you chaps is “Stay Strong”.



John Snell is the principal guy behind the venture, and is the owner of Saints Hairdressing. The Restaurant is on his old site, the hairdressing now having moved to Jesmond.

It is John who has lent his creativity and passion for collecting The Quirk, to decorating the place with all manner of “Objects Unusual”. If you go, you simply have to mooch about downstairs where the Vault Room is. It just lends itself superbly to a group-dining night for those looking for something a little different.


Down in his compact kitchen is a great chap I have known for a couple of years, Lee Bell.

A graduate of Newcastle College with his Chef’s Diploma, Lee worked his way up from Commis Chef, to Sous Chef to become Head Chef at Louis’ restaurant, Jesmond, and was recruited by Steve Jobson (formerly of the Fisherman’s Lodge in the glory days).

Lee is keen to use as much local produce from the North East that he possibly can. Not only that he puts back into the industry too, with spots of demonstrating and master classes at Gateshead College; this helps those chefs at the very grass root level develop their skills.

Rather amusingly once in his life he was auctioned off (at a charity night) to cook at a private home, apparently it raised £1500 which was rather good business for the charity.


Our evening started with a rather tasty Prosecco and rum cocktail, from Tim, while we had a look at the menu for the night and shucked some fresh oysters seasoned with lemon juice.


Opting to loosen my belt and pace myself we decide to go for the triplet; starters, mains and dessert and a strong white wine.


Lolo Albarino is what I picked. This Spanish white wine is bright, straw/green in colour; a big wine with a floral, citrusy zing, and mouth warteringly ripe with a fruity long finish.

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Locally caught squid with garlic, chilli and ginger. I am fond of squid this way and Chef cooked it very well; the flavours of chilli and ginger nicely balanced for those who do not want their heads taken off with heat. The Samphire is a favourite green of mine and red basil added a lovely taste to it all.


The smoked duck with celeriac remulade, pea shoots and beetroot was gorgeous. The duck soft sweet and tender. I liked it that much, I feel I would eat that as a main course out of a bucket.



Whole Dover Sole cooked on the bone and then taken off the bone at the table by Chef. It was a nice little touch, and a fiddly job to do particularly if you have not actually done that presentation for a couple of years.


The fish was seared on the outside, seasoned, cooked expertly. The flesh was white, succulent and moist and tasted very fresh.


I selected the Veggie dish as it is something I rarely ever do being terribly fond of meat, and I do think it’s a shame to waste my canine teeth.

The steamed leek pudding with sweet potato and mushrooms was a real comfort-food, stick-to-your-ribs, hearty filler. If you are veggie and want a solid winter meal this is the one. I would happily have one of those leek puddings with a piece of lamb or crisp-skinned chicken. Make a note of that chef please. The mushrooms were creamy and savoury and fabulous.

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Nana’s rice pudding just has to be based on an old, fond childhood memory that Lee has of a pud that his Grandma used to make, served with raspberry sauce and a few freeze dried raspberries. Homely and simply lovely.


The Set English Cream was wonderfully indulgent and rich, flavoured with vanilla. I am far too fond of the likes of Pana Cotta than I really should be.


I like this little place and imagine it will find its niche amongst the restaurants of Newcastle. I certainly hope it goes from strength to strength.

Our thanks to all who made it a comfortable and enjoyable night.


My last thoughts are these:

I will go again.

Two Fifths is one of those place you try to find when you go abroad. How lovely we have it in Newcastle.


Cheers all

Mr. Wolf

In With The Inn Crowd

27 01 2015

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St. Mary’s Inn is situated approximately 2.5 miles to the West of Stannington Village, just off the A 1 as it passes through Northumberland to the North of Newcastle Upon Tyne. It is best described as an Inn-with-rooms.

St. Mary’s Inn is the new “sister” to the established and much-lauded Jesmond Dene House Hotel. The building is a clever and sympathetic conversion of what was once the administration block for a psychiatric hospital.Some housing has been developed and much is yet to be done; the main building behind is either going to have a sympathetic makeover, or will be cleared for new buildings.

One has the sense, as one stands on the car park, that a new village is coming into being here. Around the corner a cricket pitch will be created; an orchard that will serve the Inn (and may possibly be utilised to form a kitchen garden) is nearby.

The conversion is a clever use of the orignal structure, with a timber annexe to house extra internal useable space added to one side. As one walks through the large wooden front door one finds oneself in a spacious dog friendly bar. The Inn is intended to be at the centre of the new community that is forming around it, and be its beating social heart.


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Plenty of standing room and space to chat to friends while your dog (if you have one) lolls about; and you will need a bit of space if you find Max has lumbered in with his friendly owner. Max is a soft, big old lug and loves attention. Well.. If you were him you would too, after all he is an old retired Cruft’s veteran, with paws the size of saucers.


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The building has been opened up to create areas and pockets for dining in cosy little spaces, each has a wood burning stove and the lovely waft of wood smoke permeates throughout.

Something that I would think is nice to know is;  during the development of the site, various members of the team that were involved were encouraged to access a small allotted budget and search/forage for props to decorate the building, initiative was encouraged. The resulting effect is pleasing and adds to the formal decoration and design plan. One day I will have a peek in the ladies-room, as I gather the Ladies Team did well. That is not to say that the lads did poorly, it is just I can’t  see that other room that contains mysteries.

Throughout the attention to detail is lovely.

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Art adorns the wall by local artists, some even have an import to them. Beer mats and small thematic pictures created by Times cartoonist Haldane are to be found about the rooms, less accidental than you might think. It seems he is local to the Inn and even drinks in there occasionally.

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Local artist Judy Appleby has lovely interpretations of Northumberland landscapes on display. I know if you find something you like a purchase might be made, merely ask.

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In my fevered opinion I do recommend you drift around the rooms and look at the art and artifacts and indulge your visual senses.

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The fabrics you see have a story too. Jeanna (wife of Developer and General Bigwig Peter Candler) sourced it abroad and brought it home on her own back, bent down with the sheer weight of the yardage.

Fabric panels decorate the beautiful rooms in the 11 room accommodation wing. The rooms really are lovely, comfortable, beautifully decorated and fitted. The rooms themselves are named after local reservoirs. Let me show you Catcleugh where we stayed a night.

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So eventually I come to the food upon which you may wish to indulge yourself when you visit.

As the little sister to the lovely Jesmond Dene House Hotel, you just know that it comes with a pedigree upon which it can draw upon deeply. To develop a menu JDH selected a talented fellow called Shaun Hurrell. Shaun threw himself into the project mind, body and soul and did a damned fine job. His sense of good honest fayre, combining with creative flair has brought together a kitchen, and team, and a sense of the spirit of what “The Mary” should offer. Good Job Shaun.

Job-done Shaun has moved on, and talented JDH Head Chef Michael Penaluna (also Executive Chef for the now expanded “JDH Group”) was rattling the pans for our meal. The ethic of: “Fresh & local wherever possible”, is evident in the Food-Hero Wall near the entrance to the kitchen. An eagle eye will spot legendary Ken Holland in there.

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The menu will not scare you, it is solid honest and true. Another paradigm put into play is: “Make our own as much as we possibly can”. You have to applaud them for that.

Being my birthday a little bottle of Champagne was always going to be a welcome sup.

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As a brace of starters we chose the ham terrine with pease pudding and duck egg with black pudding and crisp salad.

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The ham was a succulent, meaty and wonderous slab lying atop the traditional soft peasey Pease Pudding decorated with sweet crisp pea shoot.

Soft fat yolkey duck egg and a dark black pudding and endive with cubes of fried potato hit my spot.

We needed a wine that would work with a wide variety of elements we were going to throw at it, so I chose this rounded Drouhin Chablis. I think it had the fortitude to last the journey. Slightly “salty”, lemon on the nose, green, great colour, with finesse and balance and a lovely soft finish on the palate.

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Now the mains… Lawks! the mains. A selection of fresh greens and roasted veg was chosen to accompany the pork chop and the rib eye steak. This was rounded off with fabulous chips cooked in marrow fat.

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Mine was the rib eye and it was really lovely, like the chop it was cooked on a lumpwood charcoal grill, and the flavour shone through, soft and medium rare with a lovely internal pink.

But.. and I say but again, I have never seen such a humongous pork chop in my life and I have seen a fair few now. It has to have been a monster of a pig to give that rib up. The meat was juicy, flavoursome and charred beautifully. I helped finish it off so I can input my honest view on that.

But where would we be without a mention of, and a tip of the hat to, Kristian Branch the Head Pastry Chef at JDH? Really this man is a pudding God. I admit I had hit my belly bursting limit, so the decision to share a pud was a wise one. I scanned the menu again, but was advised a new item had been added. A meringue! Light little thing I ordered. this turned up and I smiled and groaned in pleasure.

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Good is it not? you want one do you not? Well good for you buy your own. It is a floaty, creamy rhubarby sharp, cinder toffee sweet crisp, creamy belter. I want my own next time.

Next time? But of course.

The sharp-eyed will remember I said we stayed a night, which means yup… we had breakfast.


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A lot of damage had been done to my capacity to load more, but darn it! one had to follow through with the mission.

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It is a filthy job but someone has to do it no?

Ok we went “light” poached egg on sourdough bread and a bed of avocado & a duck egg on salt beef with fried potato.


Go, eat, enjoy, be convivial, talk to dogs, talk to lovely staff members urging you to have a great time, loosen your belt and like us waddle like stately galleons back to you carriage, and pootle home for a lie down, then plot your return.

The devil is in the detail.

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Peter Candler…you are a little devil, and we love you for it.

Thanks St Mary’s Inn one and all, but special thanks to the Marvellous Vic and his FOH team, service was bang on and freindly throughout. Nothing makes a meal nicer for me than a convivial and helpful service crew. Phil and Stephanie thanks for your attention.

Mr. Wolf