Monday, 19 January 2015

Restaurant Review: "Brunch Gastronomique" at Hotel du Vin, Newcastle upon Tyne


Gluttony - full-on, no buggering about gluttony - is like some nearly-forgotten friend from the bad side of the tracks, prone to sidle up from time to time, regard you knowingly and mutter darkly "go on then; I dare you!" When it does catch up with you it's hard to ignore. Sadly, though reasonably, quality and quality usually vary inversely when it comes to food as so much else, so the opportunities to pig out on some properly decent stuff are rare. Which is why Sunday Brunch at Hotel du Vin had always seemed an interesting proposition. I'd heard furtive talk of a four-course scranathon; rumours abounded of a "market table" overflowing with shellfish and cold cuts, followed by a full Sunday lunch. And then pudding. In this month of restraint and denial, it seemed like a pleasingly off-kilter choice for an anniversary lunch, so under gun-metal skies we set off for Ouseburn.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New Year, New Plot?

Potential
As I mentioned in a previous post, the low level rumblings and consternation regarding the future of our allotment site became real and pronounced just before Christmas, as The Freemen finally made clear to the current committee that their plan is to shut the site. Bah humbug. Although there hasn't been any communication (to us at least) about when this is to take effect from, and for how long the site will be closed, we've started making enquiries into the availability of plots on other sites.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Review: La Petite Creperie & Nan Bei Dumplings, Grainger Market, Newcastle upon Tyne


The foodification of The Grainger Market continues apace. Turn your back for just a few weeks and another street-foodish unit has popped up. And, praise be, they're all pretty damn good! If you were so minded you could do a tapas-style tour of the place, taking in freshly shucked oysters, pizza, Turkish mezze, seafood noodles, cupcakes, macarons... and now, crepes and dumplings. This is all a far cry from the market I knew 10 or so years ago, but it's a fine development. Over the past few weeks we tried out the aforementioned La Petite Creperie and Nan Bei Dumplings: let me now tell you about them.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Restaurant Review: Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse, Newcastle upon Tyne


It all went a bit smoky in Newcastle in 2014. First there was Hop and Cleaver, then Bierrex, and latterly Longhorns opened, all bringing their take on American-style low-and-slow smoked meats to these parts. We thought Hop and Cleaver was a bit meh and haven't yet made it to Bierrex. However, I had a sample of Longhorn's brisket at the really quite good Craft Beer Calling festival back in October and resolved to head their way once they opened on Mosley St. Granted, I was extremely well refreshed at the time, but even in my drunken fug I could detect some serious smoke and flavour in their meat.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Restaurant Review: Colmans, South Shields


This write-up has been a while coming. We've been to eat at Colmans more often than anywhere else I can think of, both before and since I started electronically recounting these gastro-ventures. The up side of this is that, unlike most places where I'll go once, declare it to be good, average or crap (as if my subjective experience on one particular night can be extrapolated from) I can fairly claim to be something of an authority on this place. I might even be worth listening to. The quid pro quo is that I'm personally invested in the things that come from their fryers; we decided some time ago that the fish and chips here are better than any around, and have brought legions of friends over the years. Such is the dilemma of expertise. Still, you can make your own mind up for under a tenner, so let's not lose any sleep over it, ok?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Loosing Our Plot?


Well today was a bit of a stinker and no mistake, the type of Sabbath which might drive Alan Partridge to exclaim "Sunday, bloody Sunday!" Not only did the mackems dole yet out another dose of misery to those of a black and white persuasion, but it looks very much like scenes such as the one above may soon be consigned to the scrapbook. We popped down to the plot to find a couple of notices saying that the Freemen of the City are now minded to shut the allotments down.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Restaurant Review: House of Tides, Newcastle upon Tyne


I'm writing this having just sat through Newcastle not turning up to a major cup tie for the ump-bloody-teenth time, partly to remind myself of a fairer day, not so long ago at all. 2-0 against Chelsea was a remarkable reprise of the previous year's performance against Jose's lot. Chelsea sympathising friends were up visiting for a spot of football and merriment. Needing somewhere to round all this off I suggested House of Tides, thinking an expertly done Sunday roast would be an ideal coda to a fun weekend.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Restaurant Review: Raval, Gateshead


"We should totally go there for food sometime". God knows how many times, peering inside as we scampered down towards The Sage, we've said that about Raval. An Indian menu that avoids the usual Bangla-tastic clichés, some luxurious ingredients and a recommendation from no less a curry fanatic than Cliff Richard: there's plenty going on here to pique the interest. En route to what turned out to be one of the best gigs I've ever seen (John Grant- honestly, what a bloody show) we finally did what we'd threatened to for about five years and popped into Raval for a pre-music dinner.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Late Season Inspection



Today was the first time we'd visited the allotment in about a month. Happily it's still there and looking much the same as the last time we were down. If you're going to neglect your patch of ground, this is a good time of year to do it, as the shortening days and plunging temperatures put everything into stasis. We've defo made the right choice in downsizing our commitment to the plot; as much as we love doing this veg thing, there are too many other bits of life that take up significant chucks of time as well.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Restaurant Review: The Square, Mayfair, London


I tell you, it's not as easy as you might think to find somewhere for a fancy lunch in London on a Monday ( I know, isn't life hard sometimes?) A lot of the places on my "next time we're down there" list were closed; I suppose the quieter days are the weekend of the catering world, and fair enough. After a bit of a scout around we settled on The Square for what, with the arrival of some good news, was to be a bit of a celebratory meal. Possessed of a pair of étoilés Michelin, and sister restaurant of the completely wonderful The Ledbury, The Square is a long-time mainstay of francophile cuisine in the heart of Mayfair. Chef and co-owner Phil Howard has been on the telly a bit recently, and comes across as a very thoughtful and considered character, and a chef focused on a quite classical brand of excellence, rather than being in thrall to any particular fad. After a busy weekend of catching up with various London-based comrades we were ready and primed for a top feed.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Ikuze, Metrocentre


It's amazing what, lacking actual experience, you can convince yourself of; things that haven't happened yet are unsullied by the weight of their own reality. We are ever-hopeful creatures, seemingly hard-wired for optimism. Nothing else, for example, can explain the way I look forward to the start of a new football season. Who is is to say that the few players signed over the summer won't turn out to be world beaters? No-one, not yet at least. I vaguely remember promising myself after some grim experience or other that I would never again eat in the Metrocentre, but I broke that personal covenant recently. We were there for a film, it was a school night, and - what was this? - a Japanese place I'd never heard of. And therein lied it's attraction; in a sea of Waga this and Pizza that, Ikuze had all the promise of the untried.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Recipe: Bigos (Polish Hunter's Stew)


With some foods, a little context and a bit of understanding can go a long way to aid enjoyment. The first time I ate Bigos, I'd not long been going out with Kasia, and we were in a Polish restaurant. Noting from the menu that it is a hunter's stew, and not realising that two different types of cabbage go into the stuff, I ordered a side portion of pickled cabbage. I decided there and then that Polish food was just irredeemably cabbagey, and not for me. Since then I've had my fair share of Bigos at countless meals at Kasia's parent's and on a trip to Poland, not to mention chez nous, and I've gotten to love it. It's a hearty one-pot wonder of a stew, a sweet/sour umami-bomb of autumnal satisfaction. We used our own cabbage and carrots, only hours out of the ground, which probably did no harm. But fret thee not if yours aren't quite as fresh, for the key ingredient in this dish is time. Lots and lots of time.

New folk, roaring flames and some late-season optimism


This and last weekends have seen the customary autumnal tidy-up work proceed in earnest. Except, there hasn't been a great deal of work going on, which is the bit I like about this time of year. Weeds are only growing at a shuffling pace and the veg being harvested is hardy enough that if you don't get it today it'll be fine in a week. The weather has been fine too, sporting that fine combo of warm sun and cool air, making the plot a nice spot to just sit and be.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Mr Cooper's House and Gardens, Manchester


You're not short of interesting lunch options in Manchester these days which is a good job bearing in mind the fanny-on we had before settling on a venue for this one. Aiden Byrne's Manchester House was the first choice, but we left it too late. No table for us. The Aumbry in Prestwich seemed a solid back-up suggestion and I was looking forward to seeing how much of Mary-Ellen McTague's fun-looking cooking from GBM would make it onto the lunch menu. Not to be; I got a call a week ahead saying they were closing the place for a refurb. And so finally to the rather fancy city-centre Midland Hotel, and Simon Rogan's Mr Cooper's House and Gardens.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Caffe Vivo, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside


There's some fine eating to be had around the Quayside these days, much of it bearing the imprimatur of Terry Laybourne. Cafe 21, Caffe Vivo and The Broad Chare are all within the lob of an olive pip's distance from each other. Must be handy if the ice machine breaks down, or you get shafted on a cheese delivery. The last man to hold a Michelin star in this fair city, these days Laybourne's places are more about good food at a reasonable price. The Broad Chare was just awarded a Bib Gourmand for doing that exact thing. On a rare weekday sans travail, we had a very enjoyable shuffle round the river (The Daniel Buren thing at Baltic is great, especially when the sun shines- you've got until 12th October before it packs up) before, after much indecision and the toss of a coin, we headed for Cafe Vivo.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Downsizing and Tidying Up


A couple of weekends away, like the ones we've had recently, are all it takes for things to get unruly in allotment land. We spent a few hours down there today harvesting bits and bobs and having a well-needed tidy. There is an extra impetus to get all our veg out of one side of the allotment as we've decided, after some deliberation, that having the whole plot is a bit of a stretch and so we've offered it up for newcomers. Better to do half a plot well than constantly be chasing our tail, or planting great swathes of minimum-effort veg; that's the thinking anyway.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Hop and Cleaver, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside


I'd watched, and hugely enjoyed, the first 4 or 5 episodes of Netflix's House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Directed by David Fincher, when I read an article about why the online streamer had been confident enough to throw $100m at the project in the first place. Basically, they'd noticed from their data that a shit-load of subscribers watched the entirety of Fincher's stuff on their service; ditto Spacey's back catalogue. Meanwhile, the original BBC version of the political thriller had garnered a surprisingly high number of streams. x+y+z= SURE FIRE HIT! All of a sudden I felt slightly used, if not outright soiled. The programme that I had thought I'd stumbled upon serendipitously turned out to have been custom bloody designed for People Like Me; they'd sussed out what I liked, fed it straight back to me, and guess what? I'd lapped that shit right up. I gorged on the rest of the thing, enjoyed it plenty, but with a newly jaundiced hint of quease.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Restaurant Review: St Sushi, Eldon Square, Newcastle upon Tyne


Since Eldon Square has been getting redeveloped I've seen the odd poster in there claiming that some sort of premium food options are in the pipeline. This is surely well needed as, unless I'm just not noticing them, there are very few decent spots to grab something tasty on those occasions when, for whatever reason, you just have to venture in there. Every time I walk past Spud-U-Like and it's offer of a potato, beans and cheese for £4.49 - now there's some mark-up! - I'm struck by the dearth of imagination invested in Eldon Square's eateries. In which desert, St Sushi sticks out as a verdant oasis.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Product Review: Beer52


How much is your integrity worth? I had cause to find out the value of my own recently when I received a nice email from from a company called Beer52. Eight bottles of beer, that's my price. In my defence I should say that since I started flinging these gobbets of screed into the electro-ether I have not exactly been inundated with offers of free stuff, and those that have arrived have been easy to turn down on account of falling into either the "weird" or "crap" categories. The offer of 8 actual bottles of booze in exchange for a few words seemed more than fair, although I did wonder how I'd live with myself if the beer wasn't up to snuff. What a relief all round then, as I can in fact report that Beer52 are doing a cracking job, both in terms of the service they provide and the beers they dish up. Plus, I've got a money-off code for you to have a bash at, of which more later.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The last harvest?


September has provided some us some serious gluts as well a couple of useful lessons, all set to a soundtrack of ominous, if not outright grim, undertones. More on that last bit later, but first here's some of what we've hauled in and been otherwise up to as the days shorten and cool.
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