It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.
The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!
After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.
It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.
The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…
A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.
Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.
It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.
Yesterday, I went to the Laing Art Gallery for the first time in decades – another old haunt that I hadn’t yet got round to revisiting. But, spurred on by having a guest, I decided to check out the Exposed exhibition that is running at the moment. Titled Exposed: The Naked Portrait, this is a well curated show that includes a number of familiar images and many less well-known ones, and smartly considers the different ways of being naked or nude (as well as the differences between those two states), and different power dynamics between the viewer, artist and subject. Definitely worth checking out, it runs till March and full price tickets are £8.
As well as a wander round the rest of the gallery – which is a perfect size to pop in and wander without feeling overwhelmed by not being able to do everything, as you can easily cover it all in one visit – I went to the Chris Killip exhibition, The Last Ships. This free show (which is on their site as running till 2020) is worth checking out if you have any interest in the local region or industrial photography. A one-room exhibit, it features evocative black and white pictures of Wallsend and the last big ships built at Swan Hunters, and includes some stunning images of the giant ships dominating the landscape, capturing the influence they had over people’s lives, as well as the impact of their departure.
Terrible weather didn’t deter me from taking a wander around Ouseburn open weekend, where lots of the local studios – including The Biscuit Factory and Lime Street Studios – throw open their doors and you get a chance to meet the artists.
It was a lovely event – I could have spent a fortune, but limited myself to a picture and a couple of greeting cards. We also stopped for coffee in Hotel du Vin, which is a great pit stop in the area, in a beautifully repurposed building.
The biggest surprise of all though was the Quayside market. When I was growing up this was mainly somewhere packed with cheap shell suits and (probably) knock off DVDs, but now it is a foodie paradise with a range of great stalls. Definitely one for a return visit!
Last night was my first trip to Newcastle literary salon, New Art Social, at Ernest in Ouseburn. A low key, friendly night (£3.50 a ticket if you aren’t reading) in the back room of the super-chilled Ernest (though there was a loud party in the front bar, which meant some of the readers were competing with booze-fuelled revelling), it was a really interesting night. I was there to support a friend who was reading a short story she just had published in the magazine Lungs, but the standard throughout was pretty high and I was very taken with some of the work, a mix of novel extracts, short stories and poems.
Everyone was very chatty and nice although, swathed in leopard-print and shiny boots (let’s face it, just my standard Monday outfit), and guzzling prosecco while everyone else seemed to have gone low-key dark knitwear and pints, I did feel slightly like I’d gate-crashed from Ab Fab and turned up at the wrong event…
As regular readers will know, I am already a local at Northern Stage, and if I am not seeing a show there, I can still regularly be found in the cafe, writing over a cup of coffee.
But there are other treats in the building, and downstairs at the minute is a fascinating photography exhibition celebrating 25 years of BalletLORENT, on display before the venue hosts a four-night celebration in November.
Even if ballet isn’t your thing, the black and white photos are a interesting look at performance and bodies – and since it’s free and on the way to the ladies loos, you might as well have a look.
Went for a birthday brunch to The Factory Kitchen at the Biscuit Factory, in the newly revitalised Ouseburn. I have been to the gallery before, and liked it, but never eaten at any of the eateries. The Factory Kitchen is, I think, the most affordable, and I will definitely be going back: the grilled cheese sandwich was one of the best I have ever had, and my companion was equally taken with her eggs Benedict. The only downside was it was so filling that even after we took a break to walk around the art and enjoy a pop up jewellery shop (the main gallery also sells some lustworthy pieces), we were still so full that her plan to buy me a slice of cake was thwarted and we had to settle for another coffee instead…