Yummy bits and bobs from my kitchen!
A couple of weeks ago, an old Geordie mate got in touch to let me know that I was missing out… big time. Apparently Newcastle upon Tyne is fast becoming a foodie hot spot. With regeneration happening right, left and centre there are restaurants springing up and the good people of Newcastle are gaining something of a food scene.
Well… I hadn’t visited that great northern town since my brother graduated and left his university town of Newcastle. No matter. Despite my choice to move to the south west, I’ve acquired myself a Geordie boyfriend and, by association, a family up in the Toon. Phew! So feeling rather glam I got myself on an EasyJet flight (other airlines are available if you are less peasant-ish than me) for a visit the BF’s family and the town that is apparently becoming a bit of a culinary hotspot.
It’s not as though Newcastle is traditionally a culinary void as it is. It is famous for pies
(the Newcastle-based bakers Greggs is reportedly even bigger in the UK than McDonald’s), pease pudding, freshly caught seafood and of course Newcastle Brown Ale. Maybe not the most gourmet sounding selection of food, but still a decent foodie résumé.
One of the first places I visited on this little trip was the Grainger Market- I’d been there before with my brother. When he was a cash-strapped student, he did a lot of his shopping here,
partly because it was so reasonably priced, but also because the quality of the food was really good compared to buying cheap stuff from a regular supermarket. Coming here again really reminded me of specialist food markets that I’d visited in Scandinavia. There’s a focus on local, quality ingredients, all the displays are unpretentious and show the foods for what they really are rather than focusing on packaging. It feels traditional, without being old fashioned.
My BF acted as tour guide and took me into pubs in both the Quayside area and close to his childhood home in Gosforth. Pretty much everywhere we went, he was pointing out pubs that have become gastropubs, and had a total revamp. We stopped off in a pub called The Bridge Tavern. As we stepped inside, he assured me that it used to be a bit of a hole (yes, I am a lucky girl, aren’t I). As well as a new name, this former dive bar has had a total makeover to look modern and relaxed, complete with a gastro worthy menu. As a seafood lover, I was glad to see that the menu was making great use of Newcastle’s fishing heritage, serving several seafood dishes. Russell got the fish and chips whereas I got the “fish plank”. Maybe not the most appetising name but I can’t resist a tasting platter. We both loved it – Russell’s chippy supper was fresh tasting and free of stodge. My dinner was generous, delicious, perfectly executed. My only regret was that I didn’t have any room to try any of the other imaginative, delicious sounding things they had on the menu.
As we walked up towards St James’ Park, we saw several other tantalising looking eateries. For something a little sweet and girly, there is The Great British Cupcakery, A Newcastle mother/daughter business with a real knack for making beautiful baked goods, to eat in or take away. For anyone looking for something with a bit more… muscle, there is The Big Mussel. It specialises in elevated yet beefed up seafood dishes and specially selected Belgian beers. It’s bringing a higher level of social culture to its dude food by also staging live music and events. In the space of a couple of hundred yards, we saw high quality, local food establishments, shining out from between other food places that you’d see on any high street.
For the time being at least, Newcastle is managing to combine its traditions with a high quality and modern food scene. Unlike London and other cities where there’s a bit more money sloshing about, it doesn’t feel forced or exclusive. Maybe this will become a new foodie capital… There’s part of me that really hopes so.
Next stop in search of culinary heaven… should probably be somewhere closer to home… like Bristol?