Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eating Newcastle I

Sat 2 - Mon 4 Dec 2006

Every year I say it is my year of visiting different places in England. And every year I am lucky if I make it as far away as, say, York or Sheffield.

Finally, I've managed a bit of a change of scenery. My first ever glimpse of Newcastle was from a train window, as I was on my to Aviemore. That was in 1994, and all I saw was a bit of the Tyne Bridge and some snow. It didn't overwhelm me.

For some reason, subsequently, I've had a real bee in my bonnet about visiting ... so, with train fares booked, it was just a case of finding somewhere to eat ...

Actually, first (food related) stop was a coffee at Coco V, a bar in Bewick House, near the station. It was a really light airy bar, the coffee was really cheap and really good. What was even better was that the coffee was served with REAL sugar! Not sugar in little paper packets, and not even a bowl of bog standard sugar - but a bowl of gorgeous, caramel coloured lumps of brown sugar. I don't take sugar in my coffee, but I made an exception ...

Next stop was lunch at Cafe 21. The visit didn't start too well, as when I rang to make the reservation there was a bit of confusion, and when I queried the availability of the set lunch menu the woman on the end of the phone told me she didn't know as she had only just started. Maybe a bit of a hitch in the training department. I was eventually told that the Christmas menu would be on (and obviously, more expensive than the usual lunch menu).

Time for a rant. Christmas menus are clearly designed for those people who eat out once a year. For this little trip, it turned out that the two restaurants I wanted to eat at both had Christmas menus on (and both full of 'appropriately' seasonal food). Why would I want to eat TWO Christmas menus in the space of two days? Indeed, in the space of a month? I'll have Christmas menu on Christmas Day, thank you. I'm more than happy to eat seasonal menus, and I think it's quite reasonable for restaurants to offer a special menu for Christmas parties, but WHY waste menu space with roast turkey and Christmas pudding for those of us coming in for a normal lunch?

This made me cross before I even got to Newcastle, but when we arrived at Cafe 21 we were given the a la carte menu and a non-Christmassy lunch menu. What a relief!

Our table wasn't ready, so we waited at the bar with a couple of drinks (no sparkling wine by the glass - shock!). We did have a 2pm reservation, and I'm prepared to concede a small wait while the table turns around, but I'm not sure about the half hour we actually waited.

After all this whinging, the food was pretty good. I started with the Northumbrian game pate. This was very good - a lovely chunky terrine, with different meats, served with good sourdough bread that had been lightly toasted and cornichons. The toast was a bit cold, but the bread was such a massive improvement on the incredibly sad (and rather nasty) baguette that was served as table bread, that I was prepared to overlook it. The pate was served with some salad and a sort of apple and onion chutney (I don't really get the sweet chutney thing, so I can't comment on how good or otherwise it was).

Andy started with morteau sausage served with puy lentils. A pretty hearty and warming starter! This also tasted good, but I rather thought that I won with the game pate.

Mains (as ever, following swiftly) were roast chicken with bubble and squeak for Andy and fish cakes with buttered spinach and parsley sauce for me. Andy thought the bubble and squeak quite sweet, and while my fish cakes with their spinach and sauce were absolutely delicious, the shoestring 'fries' that came with them were a little bit ... sad. What's wrong with some proper chips?!

And so we moved on to dessert. As usual, it was left to me to do the valiant thing and while there were quite a few things on the menu that appealed, I decided on the apple tart with cinnamon icecream (mainly for the cinnamon icecream). Unfortunately they were out of apple tarts and while I could have had a creme brulee I opted for the icecream on its own. It was delicious and was served with the most beautiful small shovel like spoon! How appropriate!

Shovelling finished, wine drunk (Painters Bridge Zinfandel - at £21 in the middle to lower end of the price range of the wine list) and coffees digesting the only thing left was the bill. Which came in at around £65 for the two of us. It was the drinks that cranked it up, as the lunch menu is only £16.50 for 3 courses. Personally, I think that given we were on time for our reservation and had to wait so long something should have been knocked off the bill. Even if my icecream hadn't pushed me up to a 3 course (rather than 2 course) meal I would have been impressed.

Overall, Cafe 21 does good solid food in a really relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. I'd definitely be keen to go back and eat from the a la carte menu (which is significantly more expensive). However, there are some service and food issues that do need ironing out: diners don't want to see a waiter carting a rubbish bag out through the restaurant (I'm not joking), diners don't want to wait 20-30 minutes for a reservation, and diners would like at least one sparkling wine to be served by the glass, good bread and decent chips!

Well, that's this diner anyway!

tagged with:

1. Coco V, Bewick House, Bewick Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 5EF, phone 0191 2301522
2. Cafe 21, 19-21 Queen St, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 3UG, phone 0191 2220755
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Blogger Leigh said...

hi there - loved the article - im exaclty the same as you - lucky to get out of Yorkshire, but i'll be adding Newcastle to the list!

3:11 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

I'd definitely make the effort! I spent most of my time walking around saying 'oh my god, there are so many bars and restaurants!'.

12:39 pm  

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