Greetings from Newcastle upon Tyne, jewel of the north.
It’s probably twenty years since I worked here last and it’s changed a lot. There’s been a fair amount of regeneration and it would appear that there’s a decent amount of investment going on. I’m not sure what the new ‘litmus’ for growth is any more but there is a ‘Jamie’s Italian’ opening next month. The business of show is doing well with mainly sold out shows every night. There are a few changes in the band for the remaining weeks of the tour but I’ve made one of my resolutions this year to ’embrace’ change.
This posts culinary adventure starts in Durham. I stayed over with my aunt in between Wolverhampton and Newcastle in the lovely city of Durham. My late uncle was a well loved wine and spirits rep in the city and so the family knowledge of good restaurants is strong.
I’d arrived fashionably late and we headed off to the The Court Inn situated near the law courts. It’s a warm family orientated pub/restaurant on the weekends and my aunt assured me that they had a very healthy trade from the adjacent law courts, police station & prison!
Their tag line is “it’s all about the food!” and I’d have to say they’ve done their best to embrace this philosophy. The beer was good too with a healthy choice of guest and local ales.
Having seen the size of the Sunday roasts my aunt decided on the pensioners portion, we decided to share a kilo of mussels as a starter and I opted for the roast ham hock with peas pudding as my main. The mussels were amazing, we took the risky diversion form the usual marinière sauce and tried the mustard, leek and cheese. This was a great choice. The whole grain mustard used really worked well with the mussels and the cheese was a lovely, subtle after taste. Served with chunky bread and only £6.50. Aunties roast was a healthy portion even at its reduced pensioners size. The ham hock served with Durham peas pudding and heritage potatoes was a true feast. Luscious crisp, salty hock skin covering a ‘melt in the mouth’ ham hock was amazing! I’d loved peas pudding since my child hood. Introduced, incidentally, by my aunts parents over 40 years ago. It’s difficult to describe but imagine a tasty thick, warm lentil pâté cooked in the brining stock of the hock and you won’t be far wrong. The mash and creamy leek sauce was equally unctuous.
Ed: Just here’ll do just nicely lads…
Newcastle beckoned for the Monday afternoon’s sound check & seating call. Newcastle’s Theatre Royal is similar to many baring the same suffix. Many of them are Matcham designed and the less kempt often resemble the old muppet theatre. This one in particular has been lovingly restored. Being in the centre of town it is served by a very healthy variety of cafes, bars and restaurants. Many of the usual chains exist but my interest was china town.
As I’d mentioned, my uncle had been a supplier of wines and spirits in the city and this has been a regular family visiting ground for many years. The is a buoyant Chinese community in the town and this is reflected in the quality of the food. Stowell street is the main thrust of it but on one of my exploratitive walks I found a new Lau’s restaurant. Lau’s is famous in Newcastle for providing a cost effective buffet service every day. Lau’s 202 is the new restaurant and it is a more modern approach at the buffet service. We are all familiar with the usual single nation cuisine served a buffet but I’ve noticed in recent times that attempts have been made at pan Asian or even dare I say international buffets. As you imagine a chef who has been cooking his home nation cuisine can’t possible know all the tricks for creating pizza shall we say.
Lau’s 202 has seemed to bridge this gap but is not quite as good as the World buffet in Milton Keynes. What Lau’s did offer however was a far higher quality of Chinese food. Dim sum and sushi featured regularly and the attention to the presentation of all the food is excellent. So often at these buffets you’re presented with a container with oil floating above the now almost solid MSG based sauce beneath. Not so in Lau’s, the food was vibrantly colored and well lit. It was topped up regularly and old taken away not just filled up. I had an excellent meal with the amusingly titled ‘Sunset buffet’ (5-6pm only!) all for £11. In terms of fiscal reward, I’d eaten that in dim sum alone.
I am a big lover of markets and the discovery of Newcastle’s Grainger st market was a real boost to my trip. Nestled right in the city centre it’s interior is deliciously old fashioned as is the type of stall permitted (with the exception of ‘Gregs’… I’ll have a rant about this chain another day!). A healthy offering of fresh fish, meat and veg stalls mingle with the ever popular haberdashery, hardware and oddity stalls that make the uk’s markets unique. My favorite oddity stall was a man selling electric razor spares!
I love to embrace local produce and this market didn’t disappoint. Northern Foods offered good hearty food like corned beef squares, savouries (a cross between sausage meat and meat loaf shaped into a ball) and a very fine selection of sliced locally produced meats. I opted for the corned beef square, it’s content belied its size and it was so filling I was sure that it had its own gravitational pull. Excellent for a winters day. The crab and whelks I sampled from the fish stall were plenty full and tasty. We should do more to preserve these places rather than just give in to omnipresent super market.
The last place I want to talk about is Rasa, an Indian restaurant that blew my mind. The food is from Kerala in south India and doesn’t feature any of the usual or more commercial meals we’re used to. They offered a snacks and pickles appetizer – a mix of poppadoms, banana chips, achappam and murukku, with a range of chutneys including garlic, lemon and mixed vegetable and small portions of curry. This consumed I then opted for a travancore chicken curry, apparently the most commonly-made dish in Kerala. This consisted of cubes of chicken cooked in a masala sauce made from garlic, mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chillies and ginger. This I had with lemon rice which was devine. Slightly to excess I’d ordered a mixed vegetable dosa which was about ten times larger than I’d anticipated. Suffice to say the chums helped out.
This event was the last supper with our musical director who was leaving to move onto Dirty Dancing excellent food, excellent company, excellent times. Good luck Richard!
The power of keeping Karma!
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