Liberty Brown (2019)

Liberty Brown. Oh the memories. I remember the last time I reviewed the Sunderland restaurant around this time last year like it was yesterday. As I’d been enlightened on their latest significant restructure and the introduction of a new menu, a return was long overdue.

According their website,

Here at Liberty Brown we present you with the finest selection of top quality meats, cooked to perfection by our skilled team and ready to melt in your mouth!

We take great pride in working with local farmers and all of our steaks & burgers come from grass fed, Northumbrian beef cattle.

From burgers, ribeyes, sirloins and fillets to mixed grills, pork ribs, steak & lobster combos and even 30oz tomahawks we have everything the meat lover could want and more!

Was it to be a change for the better? It was time to find out…

The restaurant area is upstairs to the modern setting. As you walk in you understand from the off that Liberty Brown means business. A selection of varied sized tables and booths, candid lighting, outdoor space and even humorous figurines await you; it was a cool, creative mixture. Even though it was probably for eight customers, we were handed a booth which we were pleased with and our menus were already on hand for us at our table. In terms of drinks options, Liberty Brown is still one of the best around, the Apartment Group certainly know how to make a cocktail. After patiently scouring through the menu, I decided on a Beefeater 24 (£8.25) as I’ve joined the gin bandwagon and my colleague opted for a Strawberry Blonde Mojito (£6.95). The Beefeater gin fused with fiery ginger beer and the fruity combination of orange slices and blueberries was a huge triumph. The Strawberry Blonde Mojito was also a winner, which again included ginger beer and sweet strawberries as a change up to the iconic classic.

Again, the food menu is still cracking at Liberty Brown; you’ll be spoilt for choice. The starter that did catch my eye though was the Garden Plant Pot at £6.95: carrot fries, goji berries, mixed nuts, vegan mayo and garden herbs. Unique and extraordinary, I didn’t expect to feel like Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men on my second outing. I mean, have you eaten from a plant pot? The carrots were glazed perfectly and who’d have thought they’d go so well with mixed nuts whilst the gojis added a sweet squish. It was the most insane starter of the year for its sheer audacity but wow did it work.

My colleague went for the Crispy Skins assembled with melted soft stringy cheese and salty bacon strips at £5.75 (both starters were gluten free). We were enjoying our second visit as it still was providing firsts.

With so much choice in terms of mains, Alisha – who was our keen host – recommended the steaks which I have to say did sound ultra-appetising. I decided on the lean fillet steak medium rare at £25.50 and my colleague ordered the Pichana Rump Cap medium well at £17.95. Both steaks came with house butter, homemade chips, cherry vine tomatoes, mushrooms and my colleague also had the salt and pepper onion strings which weren’t suitable for me. Cooked to perfection, the fillet was incredibly tender and appeared as though it was the don of all steak dishes; a plethora of steak aura. The huge Pichana Rump Cap was equally impressive. The creaminess of the butter, albeit a simple addition, made the steaks stunning. The chips well, I just couldn’t stop going back in for more. Depth was added to the plate from the bright red, pretty but firm tomatoes and the smooth, chopped mushrooms. It was simple, Liberty Brown offer spectacular steak dishes.

Overall, Liberty Brown dazzled beyond my expectations second time round. They say never go back but in Liberty Brown’s case, it’s more of a case of why bother leaving?

Peace and Loaf

In late 2013, Head Chef Dave Coulson (Masterchef finalist), decided to open the humorously named Peace and Loaf restaurant and it is the main reason (albeit there are several) why Jesmond is my favourite place to dine around the North East. According to their website,

Dave’s extensive training and tutelage under Michelin two-star rated Michel Roux Jr. has allowed him to pick up intricate skills and his own unique style. This has helped Peace and Loaf to create exciting menus with a difference, featuring traditional British cuisine twinned with Dave’s own special signature touches.

The words I picked out there were intricate skill and unique style which typify Peace and Loaf; gifted chefs preparing quality, elaborate combinations of tastes that can blow your mind.

To get us underway, we were presented by our gracious waiter (who was approachable when necessary) with a concoction of delicate nibbles all representing the gentle sophistication that Peace and Loaf commands. Sitting on a wooden slab was a warm gluten free seeded bread roll alongside beef dripping butter. It took me back to when my late mother cooked Sunday roast and how we’d dip slices of bread into the beef dripping as we waited impatiently for our roast to be served. Along with the loaf came a few mesmerising samples on hexagonal serving boards such as crispy fried kale, spiced Asian fish cake which was an eruption of heat on the palate and the refreshing seaweed cracker that delivered initial smokiness then flavours of the sea at the final hurdle. We hadn’t even ordered anything yet but the standards had been set. That was the preliminary round. It’s as if the chefs were auditioning to showcase what they could do… Whatever it was, they had us. We were enlightened and wanted more.

The A La Carte menu meant business. No determiners, no conjunctions, just the highlights. However, at least this time, the ball was in our court in terms of choice for ‘our’ starters. My choice was Japanese Rice Pudding, Shemji, Sunflower Seed, Chestnut at £12. Where else in the North East are you getting rice pudding to start? Creamy yet infused with a meaty almost barbecued like miracle mushroom crunch and spruced up by scattered viola petals, it was a beautifully innovative bowl.

Next up was Octopus, Chorizo, Sweetcorn, Almond, Black Rice at £15. Arriving in a snowy heart-shaped stone plate, each assortment was intertwined creating colours of autumn. It was special.

Before moving onto our mains we asked for a respite as the dishes were surprisingly fulfilling. It gave us a little extra time to absorb the classy, opulent surroundings and savour our Spanish light bodied red wine Canditato Tempranillo which was excellent value at £21.95.

The main dishes available all sounded divine. Take your time but don’t try to piece together how your dish will taste or be designed. Just be prepared to be wowed. After some humming and hawing, I decided to go with Char Sui Iberico Pork, Cheek, Belly, Bao Scallop at £28. First and foremost, I’d like to state that I have never been so delighted at the elegance of a plate of food. My heart was pounding profusely. As I wrote my notes, it’s as if my words were beating across the page. For a moment, I was beginning to believe my wine had become a tad spirited. Smidgens of luminous green and golden yellow tints distributed in sync. The centred salty pork, cheek and the chunky cube of belly were sweetened by a Cantonese-style barbecue greeting of love from Asia. I mustn’t forget the buttery scallop that added an extra dimension to the already splendid dish.

Then there was Lamb, Artichoke, Tongue, Brown Shrimp, Purslane at £28. The word superlative comes to mind… It was food on another level, again aided by alluring and charming presentation. Even our side of Triple Cooked Chips sprinkled with truffle oil were immense. So much so you’ll be querying who gets the last one. Forget Rolos, Peace and Loaf’s next advertisement should use the question

‘Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Peace and Loaf truffle oiled chip?’

If you’re wondering, it wasn’t me that ate the last one.

Dessert wise, as I have coeliac disease, nothing was reaching out to me from the menu. Nevertheless, our waiter kindly informed us that the chefs could create a dessert for me off menu. Of course I agreed. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a surprise? More of the same magic please. So for my final instalment of wizardry, I was presented with a chocolate mousse-like slice sandwiched between a firmer, thickened chocolate layered crown and a moist sponge base. It was melt in your mouth smoothness. Accompanying it were three fruity, orange gels that were again deliciously inventive.

We also chose the Lemon, Basil, Olive, White Chocolate. White sponge layered with a sweet, flaxen ganache amazingly prepared with an almighty punch of basil and olive ice cream. The case was closed; food never tasted so fine, it was state-of-the-art dining of unusual combinations that just succeeded in every way.

Peace and Loaf introduced me to a dining experience that will last long in the memory and one I’ll treasure forever. Although we sat in candlelight that came from an enclosed silver birdcage ornament on our table, we left in the knowledge that the real radiance of Peace and Loaf came from the kitchen… Continue igniting the North East with your glow and I’m sure you’ll continue to grow.

Alnwick Castle

It was Saturday 16th February, Valentine’s weekend was upon us and romance was in the air. Just where could we go that was a bit out there and could fit the occasion? When I discovered that The Sanctuary restaurant was providing a soiree in Alnwick Castle, we were on our way. According to their website, Alnwick Castle states,

Experience an evening of cosy ambience and intimate enchantment with your loved one this Valentine’s. Tantalise your taste buds with The Sanctuary’s decadent three course menu, meticulously prepared by our resident chef. Inspired by sublime, wholesome flavours and fresh ingredients, our Valentine’s menu is a loving collection of irresistible delights and pleasing aromas.

Eating like royalty in a medieval castle had to be worth a shot right? Cupid don’t forget your bow and arrow…

Although it took us a while to find our way into the colossal castle, when we found our bearings I remember feeling a sense of empowerment by the stunning setting and after a few moments taking in the beautiful surroundings, we swiftly scurried through the gates.

The Sanctuary has a cute interior with colourful flags throughout the subtle yet mesmeric room. Our table was set waiting for us with flickering candlelight and scattered rose petals along with the menu for the evening which at first glance was simple, straightforward and had just enough choice to keep everyone happy.

To drink, we opted for Turi, a red Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. This medium bodied, smooth Cabernet had an elegant and expressive nose, with fresh aromas of red berries, light smoky notes and chocolate hints.

To start, from a choice of three starters we both chose Seared Scallops with Black Pudding, Celeriac Puree, Green Apple Vinaigrette and Celery Cress. Wonderfully presented and looking divine, the trio of scallops were cooked with perfect consistency. The celeriac puree was a welcome addition that added creaminess to the dish too. A great start.

For our mains, from a choice of four, again we went with the same which was 8oz Ribeye Steak with Chips, Confit Beef Tomato, Portabello Mushroom and Peppercorn Sauce. Both 8oz rib eye steaks were cooked incredibly well and came just how we ordered them to be which was rare. The thick pungent peppercorn sauce was spectacular too but for me the handcut chips were the stars of the dish; I could’ve eaten four portions. So far, the food was amazing and was complimenting the romance of the setting fittingly.

Now for the finale as the night was about get even sweeter…

When the dessert menu was presented our way, we went with Warm Chocolate Fondant, Raspberry Compote, Vanilla Ice Cream but I was out of choice as there were no gluten free options. However, our delightful waiter politely informed us that the chef could whisk me up a cracking Strawberry Eton Mess. With the blend of thick cream and melt in your mouth meringue; it was a refreshing way to end my night.

The moist chocolate fondant sphere was joy on the eye but even more so in the stomach. The fruity sauce along with the delicate smoothness of the vanilla ice cream, were excellent accompaniments to the light, decadent, soft centred bake.

When the three courses were over and it was time to leave, we said our farewells to the courteous staff and set off through the castle like we were back in the 1300s returning home after a feast. The Sanctuary has many events throughout the year, do everything you can to get yourself to one of them. I mean, it’s not every day you can say you’ve dined like a king or queen in a castle…

Sage Gateshead

The Sage Gateshead is a purpose built music centre embracing the delights of the Quayside. Inside, there is a restaurant named The Brasserie.

According to their website,

With locally sourced produce and seasonal menus, pre-performance diners can enjoy 2 or 3 courses in sublime surroundings from 5pm. Your table will be yours for the night, so you can order dessert and coffee to enjoy at the interval. We also serve a traditional roast every Sunday from 12pm – 3pm.

When I got wind of the new Sunday roast menu, I was immediately enticed. So that following Sunday, I was there. Could Sage Gateshead out stage the opposition? Could it be a go-to restaurant without the glamour of their events culture? It was time to find out.

Unique, inviting and full of life – Sage Gateshead is a wonderful building that encapsulates the essence of our area perfectly; you can’t help but feel its charm as you enter. With various avenues to venture down, the setting was busy yet maintained a serene ambience which was enhanced by a concert performance from BBC at the Proms.

Charlotte, our gentle waitress, gave us options on where to be sat and made us feel welcome. As it was a Mother’s Day that Sunday afternoon, we were presented with their ‘Mother’s Day Sunday Roast Menu’ which included four starters, five mains and four desserts at £19.95 for two courses and £23.95 for three.

To drink, go with one of their twenty four wines. I chose red ‘Number 14’, Jarrah Wood Shiraz from Australia at £7.50 a large glass and my colleague went with white ‘Number 1’, Molino del Sol from Spain at £6.70 a large glass. The pleasant red was made up of ripe cherry and raspberry flavours and had a spicy, peppery finish. The spectacular dry white was subtle and attractive with floral and citrus aromas. On with the food!

From four possible starters, my colleague went with the Classic Prawn Cocktail, Marie Rose Sauce, Baby Gem Lettuce, Tomato and Buttered Brown Bread. I decided on the Smoked Bacon, Black Pudding and Wild Mushroom Salad with Mustard Dressing. Both were fairly large starters but arrived perfectly presented. Although I couldn’t have the black pudding as it contained gluten, the salty bacon, the oily mushroom salad and the dressing were all outstanding. We both adored our starters.

Before ordering our mains I had the chance to pause for a moment and take in the surroundings. It was such a tranquil, chilled Sunday afternoon that we were savouring at our own pace.

From the choice of five mains, my colleague went for Pork Loin, Sage and Apricot Stuffing and I opted for Roast Topside of Beef. Both came with Confit Oil Roast Potatoes, Mustard Mash, Honey Roast Root Vegetables, Buttered Greens, Yorkshire Pudding and Jus. When the plates were brought to us, you could just tell they were going to be amazing just by their appearance. The thick cut slices of beef owned my plate; it was huge! In fact, I was beginning to think the waitress kept returning to top up my slices of meat – it was never-ending but I wasn’t complaining, keep it coming! The stuffing was a perfect combination with the pork too and in terms of the vegetables, I must mention the soft buttered carrots and parsnips, the fennel glazed roasties and the creamy mash. Our mains were a flavour enchantment and it was the best Sunday Roast my colleague and I have ever had. A huge accolade. Fabulous Sage Gateshead.

Although my stomach was stuffed, I convinced myself that the White Wine Whole Poached Pear and Passionfruit Sabayon would be an ideal end to complete the afternoon. I wasn’t wrong. Cleansing and light, it refreshed my palate. Sweet and moist, my colleague went all out by going for the Steamed Treacle Pudding and Crème Anglaise. It was again an enormous portion and too much for my colleague to finish even though she gave it her best shot.

Although more and more places in town are beginning to serve Sunday Roast, you’ll struggle to find any better than The Brasserie in Sage Gateshead – a divine setting with stunning views, a comforting atmosphere, superb service, great value portions of exquisite food and unforgettable memories.

To the management, chefs and waiters I applaud you all. I will see you soon.

 

 

Malmaison Newcastle Chez Mal Brasserie (2019)

Chez Mal Brasserie is a stylish restaurant in Malmaison’s Quayside Hotel that caters for all diners. According to their website,

Chez Mal Brasserie Newcastle is where French classics are reinterpreted with Malmaison flair. The portions at our Newcastle restaurant and brasserie are generous and the quality sky high, all thanks to our superstar chefs. The decadent décor will draw you in with its beautiful mash-up of extravagance, rebellious neon and vibrant chic. For all diners, whether a family gathering, a romantic duo or a business raising a toast, the delights on the menu and the electric atmosphere, along with the marvellous views over the Tyne as the day turns to evening and you admire the Millennium Bridge as its colours revolve – this is the heart of the hotel that you’ll fall in love with.

So having experienced Chez Mal a year earlier for my birthday, I decided to return again as I had been informed of their Gluten Free Menu which was music to my ears… Was it going to be special second soiree or a case of decline? Bring on Malmaison Returns…

Classy, enticing and extremely opulent, Chez mal is a wonderful setting. If you’re fortunate (or ask when you book) to get a window seat, the stunning, dazzling view of The Quayside will hug your eyes at every blink. Take it in and embrace it. Pure bliss.

Our charismatic host Don (Don La Grand Fromage), who I must say enriched our evening as he combined humour with meticulous service, was right on hand and gave us time to settle before ordering Rioja Crianza, Ramón Bilbao, Rioja, Spain – a sweet spiced, plum and liquorice red wine which was fabulous, so much so I’ve been searching for it elsewhere ever since.

Without attempting to sound too over-enthusiastic, on first glance of Chez Mal’s Gluten Free Menu I was shaking with stomach elation at what was on offer. To start, from a choice of seven, we ordered Pan-fried Sea Scallops, puy lentil, root vegetable and Citrus Cured Salmon, roast marinated beetroots, dill and horseradish crème fraîche. The scallops dish had me like I was a harvest field in the countryside over summer, brimming with life. I was gleaming at its radiant colours and how it was elaborately situated on the plate. Salivating at every bite, the scallops were cooked perfectly as the lentils and vegetables added texture whilst the golden sauce collated it all superbly together. The simple yet tasty salmon plate was a very light, delicate starter. The salmon was faultless with the beetroot and dill combination. Amazing start.

After a little humming and hawing, from a choice of eight mains, my friend and I went with Don’s recommendations of Lamb Shank Bhuna, pilaf rice, gluten free toast and yoghurt and Black Angus grain fed Fillet Steak 200g served with confit vine tomato and green salad. It was impossible not to be impressed by the plates. The succulent lamb just fell from the bone as it soaked up the bhuna’s heartiness. With pomegranate seeds adding crunch, it was sensationally balanced although I would’ve preferred the Bhuna fierier. The array of spices in the yellow pilaf rice was a perfect accompaniment for the curry and even though the gluten free toast was excellent, it was probably a step too far for me in terms of portion size. My friend’s dish I can only describe through personification as the sizeable, masculine fillet steak stood alongside the flowery presentation of the slowly cooked vine tomato; it was like they were husband and wife ready for a night out. Cooked perfectly for my friend’s palate, the steak was exceptionally tender; she was mightily captivated by the dish. Along with Don’s charm, Chez Mal was providing us with quality cuisine that tantalised our stomachs with love and joy.

Unfortunately, there was no room for dessert but I’ll certainly be back especially for Gluten Free Sticky Toffee Pudding, pecan caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream as it sounds divine. I would just like to reiterate there will a third time.

Chez Mal remains a special outing that satisfies in every sense of the word and fulfils in fashioning romance. With mesmerising views of the city, a wonderful substantial gluten free menu and charismatic customer service, it was a night where my heart was bursting with love. Chez Mal, we were yours.

Little Green

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was famished. Little Green in Jesmond seemed like the ideal jaunt to whet my appetite with health. According to their website,

We are a family run cafe, bar, health food shop and social space. We offer homemade, nourishing vegan foods using, wherever possible, locally sourced, organic produce.  We also have a wide range of local craft ales, cocktails, coffees, smoothies, protein drinks, raw deserts and more.  We stock a range of vitamins, supplements, chilled and frozen foods and much more in our health food shop.  Our resident nutritionist, Gareth Zeal, is on hand to offer advice, one to one consultations and food intolerance tests.

So the big question I needed answering was would Little Green fulfil the needs of those like myself who are not vegan?

Little Green had a few drinks on the menu that would perk me up; I ordered a Turmeric Latte at £3 and a Plantface Synergy Vanilla Protein Shake at £3.50. The turmeric latte was fabulous with hints of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom… It was golden, golden on the soul. Every mouthful of the thick and creamy shake was treasured; ideal liquid nourishment after a hike earlier that morning.

There are a few staple options on the large vibrant menu but Little Green also do specials at the service desk. I decided to go with a dish from the main menu in the Gado Gado Poke Bowl with Tofu and a side of Beetroot Wraps with Tzatziki. It was with me within ten minutes. Wok seasoned vegetables in an Indonesian spicy peanut and coconut sauce with brown rice, topped with rice crackers, spring onions, coriander and toasted peanuts. It was a bowl of food that was urging you on to eat it just through its rare style. The spicy, nutty curry sauce was magnificent and the sliced carrots, charred broccoli and cauliflower were cooked perfectly. The four pink beetroot triangular mini wraps were carefully situated on the plate like a tie to the bowl of tzatziki above. Much to my appreciation, they were an excellent accompaniment to my main. So can vegan food fill you? Let’s just say I couldn’t move but in a good way; I felt refreshed and cleansed.

It was a step too far for dessert at the time but I happily smiled with content when I was told Little Green do takeaway. Not just part of their menu either but all of it, including their Specials of the Day. Therefore, I ordered Gluten Free Banana Loaf with Custard to go. Yes, you heard that correct, I ordered dessert for takeaway. A chunky square of moist banana bread that was sweet enough to dazzle the taste buds but not too overpowering in sweetness to have you sugar rushing afterwards. Although I prefer custard a tad thicker, I was satisfied with my dessert at home. By 8 o’clock that evening, it was gone.

All in all, I love what Little Green has going on. Its unique, pleasant approach is a welcome addition to Newcastle; health in a shop, health as a takeout, health in a bowl, health in the stomach! The owner makes time to converse with assurance and kindness to all her customers which helps to create a lovely atmospheric venue and one I’m sure that will help customers return. I for one will be. For vegans it’s a must. For everyone else, Little Green provides wholesome, distinctive, quality meals that will make you forget you were in a vegan café.

 

Sorella Sorella

Now and again, I decide to eat out in places a little further afield than our wonderful city. For this occasion, I was on my way to Sorella Sorella (Sister Sister), a family owned Italian restaurant based in Sunniside.

According to their website,

At Sorella Sorella you’ll be surrounded by unique vintage Italian-inspired decor with a modern twist. Our restaurant is welcoming and relaxed and makes the perfect place to enjoy food & drinks with friends & family. We are proud of our independence & passionate about our food & service.

First and foremost, there are many Italian restaurants knocking about in our region nowadays. So was Sorella Sorella going to be as unique as it makes out? Were they going to make the trip to Sunniside worthwhile?

Sorella Sorella is an enormous setting; I was amazed by its size. Although it was a Friday night, I was also impressed at the amount of cars parked outside (maybe not as much if we hadn’t got the final space). Inside the restaurant, each table in sight was taken with families, couples and revellers making up the buoyant ambience. Sat at our table for two, we were also ready to get involved.

In terms of drinks available, Sorella Sorella pretty much has everything you could need. Their wine menu is particularly informative as it maps the wines they serve by origin. I particularly liked how they do a 500ml carafe option of wine, which to me, reminds me of sunny holidays I’ve had in the past. We chose Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP, Treviso, Veneto at £13.80 a carafe which was the priciest of the carafes available. This medium bodied, bold and brisk red was a perfect start to get us in the mood.

Usually, I go to Italian restaurants without much choice or hope of gluten free dining. But I’m going to let you into a little secret. Sorella Sorella is different. Sorella Sorella is unique. Sorrella Sorella have their own Gluten Free Menu! Excited much! In fact they have their own Vegan and Dairy Free Menus too! Better still, they’re all quality. My gut was already grinning but at the same time it was also beginning to sing whilst I was winning – hunger had stroke.

So, for our starters to share, we decided on Mussels Aglio – Steamed mussels in pancetta, tarragon, white wine and garlic sauce at £6.95 and a 12 inch Gluten Free Garlic Bread Tomato at £5.25. Considering the place was rammed, the speedy service was sublime. Although we didn’t have a particular host, all of the waiters and waitresses were pleasant and couldn’t do enough for us all evening. The mussels were quite simply outstanding. The creamy sauce, along with the salty chew of the pancetta, enhanced the mussels and I’d go as far as saying the best I’ve ever had. The gluten free thin garlic bread layered with tomato and basil was excellent too. I mean, I don’t get to eat it that often as it is so hard to find (even in Italy) so I made the most of it. Molto bene! If you’re coeliac, the gluten free garlic bread is worth the trip alone.

For our mains, I had Pollo al Pepe – Chicken breast with peppercorn sauce, served with spinach, garlic and rosemary potatoes at £12.55 and my colleague opted for Fettuccine Salmon at £9.95 – Smoked salmon, spinach, lemon, garlic cream cheese and parsley. Swamped in a thick, golden peppercorn sauce, the centred juicy chicken breast was guarded by crispy, bronzed roast potatoes and sautéed spinach which added further colour to the dish. My colleague’s pasta dish was certainly substantial; his reaction told the whole story, I remember this vividly. It wasn’t something he’d usually go for but he was pleased with his choice. Although the garlic cream cheese was a tad too rich for his palette, he gave it as good as he got but he couldn’t manage it all. It was a big thumbs up on the mains.

At this point, I was feeling defeated too. However, when gluten free desserts are on the menu, there was absolutely no chance I was going to leave without some sweet indulgence. My choice was simple, Chocolate Orange Truffles, Chocolate Crunch, Candied Orange Zest at £5.95. Well, with my eyes bigger than my stomach, it looked as cute as it interpreted. Each of the trio of smooth truffle balls gently seduced my palette one by one. Then the chocolate crunch would entice you in even more. It was one of the best gluten free desserts as a dish I’ve tasted. Amore Sorrella Sorrella. My colleague’s Chocolate and Hazelnut Cheesecake, Candied Hazelnuts and Nutella Chocolate dessert at £5.95 was in his words ‘Dreamy’. A moist slab of cheesecake covered in thick chocolate; it was easily one of the most decadent desserts we’ve had this year, it just screamed eat me!

It turned out to be a more than worthwhile evening at Sorella Sorella; it certainly is more than your run of the mill Italian as we felt like we were in Italy… Thank you to all of the staff for making us feel that.

 

 

Union Rooms

With a chain of restaurants around the North East such as Blackbird Ponteland and San Lorenzo restaurants in Gosforth and Washington, Cyclone Leisure Group have added another to their collection in The Union Rooms. The huge refurbishment commenced in August 2018 and by November 2018 the latest chapter of the Union Rooms’ history began. After visiting both Blackbird Ponteland and San Lorenzo, naturally I was intrigued to dine in their new pub.

According to their website Food and Drink page,

The Union Rooms serves food every day. Try our authentic pizzas designed by our sister restaurant San Lorenzo and cooked in our open pizza oven, take your time with vegan-friendly treats in the Garden Room, or enjoy good, filling comfort food for lunch or dinner.

So, was I going to be part of the union or be opting for a room elsewhere?

On first sight, The Union Rooms has been refined marvellously; Dakota House of Design has done a cracking job in updating the setting especially as they have separate drinking and eating sections which makes sense.

Emily, our chirpy waitress, took us to our seats and made us feel welcome. As it was a Sunday evening, we were presented with their ‘Sunday Menu’ only which is all about roasts although it does include five starters, six mains and a choice of pizzas too. Having been so impressed by San Lorenzo’s pizzas and pasta gluten free options, I have to say I did feel let down as The Union Rooms couldn’t provide gluten free Sunday Roast. Therefore we went for mains that were poles apart in the UR Super-fuel Salad at £9.95 and my colleague went with the UR Burger at £10.95. As it was quite quiet, it didn’t take long for Emily to reappear with our bulging plates. Shimmering in all its elaborate healthiness, the lightly dressed salad had everything to make your day. With tri-coloured quinoa, soya beans, pomegranate seeds, candied beetroot, fresh garden herbs, roasted sweet potato, avocado, toasted seeds, chickpeas, pickled red onion, spinach, broccoli, citrus and a tahini dressing, it was magically revitalising and the best salad I’ve had in town in the past year. My colleague was taken aback by the sheer magnitude of his double beef burger, it was enormous! The bigger the better though right? Bursting from the toasted brioche bun was grain mustard mayo, pickles, Emmental cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion. Alongside it were the crispiest beer-battered onion rings, slaw and skin-on fries. Struggling to hold it in two hands, my colleague enjoyed every mouthful and it was somewhat of a miracle how he accomplished it all. We were very pleased with our choices.

 

We couldn’t leave without dessert, so I went for the Tropical Fruit Eton Mess at £6.95 – passionfruit jelly topped with vanilla, lime and coconut liquor, whipped cream, crushed gluten free meringue, mango, pineapple, toasted flaked almonds and mango coulis. Sweet but with a hint of bitterness; the fruity, tangy concoction was new to my palette and refreshed my senses.

My colleague chose Homemade Sticky Toffee Sponge Pudding, butterscotch sauce, vanilla bean ice cream at £6.50. Dark, decadent and dreamy, my colleague loved the moist warmth and ice cold fruition. The springy pudding was a worthy winner of the desserts.

As we left, we got chatting to Phil the GM who has big plans for the future, a future that looks bright for The Union Rooms.

Mascalzone

Mascalzone of Jesmond is an intriguing jaunt I’ve always wanted the pleasure of dining in and I got that chance one wintry evening in January. According to their website, Mascalzone states,

Mascalzone is a family run restaurant with a cosy and warm atmosphere. Come to visit us to enjoy our authentic Italian food with a modern twist. A fusion of flavours from the Mediterranean and the Outer Hebrides to offer you a unique experience accompanied by an exquisite choice of drinks, coffees and desserts.

Within minutes of our arrival, I could feel the hysteria in my starving stomach begin to erupt. The atmosphere was buzzing in the endearing yet petit setting as the team were controllably dodging around each other with glowing smiling faces which set the tone of our evening.

One of the things I initially enjoyed most about Mascalzone was its simplicity. Something I’d like to call simple with style. Their menus are to the point and have just enough choice to keep everyone happy. So, from a list of five red wines, we went for a large glass of Primitivo each, which was a elegant and fresh.

It was such a cosy setting for a drink, although at one stage I did believe a lady on the table next to me was conversing with me. This is when I knew I needed food…

From their straightforward menu, Mascalzone offers cuisine from the islands of Sardinia. Without further ado, from a list of seven starters and four breads, we decided on the Polpette Mascalzone and the Asparagi con Prosciutto. The polpette chunky meatballs, topped with pecorino (Italian hard cheese), were bulging in an oozing, rich tomato sauce served on crostino (grilled, crispy bread). The al dente asparagus wrapped in the scrummy Parma ham was ideal for me. The rocket salad was easy on the eye and was helped by the olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing which glistened on the plate. Start as you mean to go on. Avanti con il cibo… On with the food.

 

In typical Italian fashion, Mascalzone concentrates on pizza, pasta, risotto, meats and fish. For our tastes on the night, the meats sounded the most appealing so I went for Hebrides Pork and my colleague decided to go for Bistecca. The rolled belly of pork dish was presented meticulously; the viola petals nestled at each corner added to the beauty. The pork itself was crispy on the outside and soft in the middle – it was fabulous combined with the roasted apple. The roast potatoes and the black pudding were on the money but I must mention the red wine and rosemary jus it was all soaked in as it was divine. It was a main that matched flavours impeccably. My colleague’s 8oz rib eye steak cooked medium rare was immense. Again served with viola petals, it was a tempting plate of food as the tender steak was served with chips and Diane sauce. So much so, it didn’t take my colleague long to polish it all off. It was another main that hit all the right spots. Mascalzone were lifting spirits and providing joy to stomachs.

When the dessert menu was presented our way, my colleague loves a cheesecake so he went for cheesecake with forest fruits and whipped cream. I wasn’t particularly swayed by anything on the menu but when I asked the waitress if they had anything off the menu that was gluten free, to my ecstasy she enthusiastically informed me that they had one of my favourites, Gluten Free Salted Caramel Brownie… My mind was made up; it was to be three courses after all. Each dessert was organised in a similar manner. My colleague ravished his cheesecake. The forest fruits added extra colour and sweetness but I felt the whipped cream wasn’t required. The brownie was a little firm but wow it was good; I’m not ashamed to say I devoured it all with ease. Make sure you ask for it as it’s off the menu!

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for more from Mascalzone. From the moment we walked into Mascalzone we became part of their community – I liked that. Grazie mille Mascalzone, we had a phenomenal evening.

 

Allard’s on the Quay

Allard’s on the Quay is a new, opulent café and wine bar that has opened on the Fish Quay. Having not been there for a while, I was amazed at how the quay itself had developed into a thriving part of town, full of new bars and restaurants. According to Allard’s website,

Allard’s Lounge first opened its doors in the summer of 2011. Stealing its name from the early use of the very building we are housed in, our ethos was to be a small and cosy café, serving fresh tapas and a wide variety of Wines. It soon became clear that we would grow to be so much more…… Our property was known as “Allards Grocery & Provision Merchants” in the late 1800’s. It was locally famous for selling a unique ‘Golden Tip Tea’; it would have been blasphemy to not doff our hats to the buildings proud history.

Come and join us and see for yourselves, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.

Did Allard’s on the Quay have the sophistication and panache to keep me away from town or their lounge in Tynemouth? It was time to find out…

Inside the new refurbished café and wine bar (formerly the old William Wight Store) it is a place fit for royalty with authentic imagery and the finest, most beautiful chandelier I ever did see – it reminded me of the Titanic scene where Rose walks down the stairs to greet Jack. The setup was a joy; Allard’s has romance written all over it and it was as if we were sailing across the North Shields shore. If you weren’t on Cloud Nine by the start of the night, you would be by the end. That’s rare, not just the steaks, but the initial feel. I enjoyed that. With an opportunity to drink and dine outdoors on two floor levels, Allard’s has created a setting ready to get busy and busy it was. However, even though it was rammed, it maintained such serenity and esteem throughout the night with the aid of subtle chilled music, reflective mirroring and dimmed-out lighting all on top deck.

Reluctant to ponder any longer, we were on our way and nothing was to stop us, not even an iceberg.

Chloe was to be our waitress for our night. Offering a twenty page diverse drinks menu, Allard’s on the Quay has you more than covered. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is one of the finest selections of drinks in the North East with various wines, champagnes, cocktails, spirits, beers and, hot and cold drinks available. I opted for a fine red wine in El Pugil, Tempranillo, Spain at £7.50 for a large glass which was packed with ripe cherries, raspberries and wild strawberries and was caressed by Oak. My colleague decided it was a night for fizz and went with on Il Baco da Seta Prosecco Extra Dry, Italy at £6.50 a glass which sparkled richness and cleansed the palette. Both were excellent.

The food menu itself is colourful, easy to follow for allergy sufferers and conveys vibes of quality over quantity with tapas the major contributor. Therefore, tapas from the land, sea and ground it was. For a couple, Chloe suggested we go for two to three each so we weren’t rude and went for three naturally.

As Chloe brought us each small plate/bowl our table began to shrink further every time yet become ever more colourful. As you can see, it was like a rainbow of tastes on the table.

First up from the land tapas were the Belly Pork Bites (gluten free and dairy free) at £6.50. Crispy chunks of tasty pork glazed in a sticky maple and balsamic reduction. Wow, they were special and my pick of the six. If you go to Allard’s, make sure they are the first thing you order.

Next up was Pulled Beef Brisket (made gluten free and dairy free) at £6.50. Cooked slow and low until moist and tender served with fiery horseradish mash. The brisket was tender but maybe a little too moist and could’ve had a little more seasoning or possibly cooked in a sauce. This is basically two plates that are huge together; I believe it should become two separate tapas dishes.

My colleague also went with two tapas from the land; her first was the Mediterranean Lamb Kebab at £6.50. Succulent lamb kofta nestled on a fluffy mini flatbread topped with crumbled feta, pickled red cabbage, apricot salsa and a tzatziki drizzle. The ingredients were a match made in heaven and this was my colleague’s favourite.

Her second tapas from the land was the Sesame Lemon Chicken (dairy free) at £6.50. Battered chicken breast strips tossed in a tangy lemon reduction blessed with crunchy sesame seeds. This was a dish that tantalised my colleague’s taste buds. Very enjoyable.

The sole tapas we ordered from the sea were the Salmon Bites (gluten free) at £5.95. Chunks of moist salmon pan fried and smothered in a spicy avocado and mango salsa. The combinations worked perfectly – my stomach smiled at this plate.

The only tapas dish from the land were the Chunky Chips (gluten free and dairy free) with dips at £3.95. Thick and just awesome, a big thumbs up.

Maybe we were over-adventurous ordering six tapas so unfortunately we couldn’t eat dessert but I’ll certainly return and try one then.

Overall, Allard’s on the Quay is the new chic, cool and luxurious place to be on the Fish Quay. It offers an excellent range of drinks and food, particularly their ensemble of special tapas. We went on a Saturday night but if you can, try to make it for Happy Hour (Monday to Friday between 3pm – 5pm and Sunday 6:30pm – 9:30pm) for four tapas and two wines or draught beers for £22! An amazing offer! I’ll see you again Allard’s on the Quay, well done for becoming part of the Fish Quay’s revolution.