Glasgow jaunt – city centre and Merchant City

This week saw me back in Glasgow for the first time in 6 years. I love Glasgow, it’s a city that will always own a piece of my heart. It’s where I went to university, where I lived, on and off, for almost 10 years – where I studied, worked, loved (and lost). Like Newcastle, it’s a city that has a memory around almost every corner, and coming back after such a long break felt both familiar and strange. At times it felt like I’d never left, at others, memories leapt out as me, vivid as hallucinations, but they felt oddly distant, like clips of a film and I could begin to doubt I’d ever been there at all.Luckily, I still have plenty of friends in the city, and even more with roots there – part of the reason I was visiting was because an old friend was over from Japan, and I managed to catch up with a Brighton friend who was in town for family matters.Day 1 saw me revisiting the shopping delights of Princes Square and Buchanan Street, where I succumbed to the Vivienne Westwood sale (justifying it because there is no longer a Westwood shop in Newcastle – with terrible timing, it closed just as I moved!) and bought the shiniest purse in the world.Having met my friend R for coffee in the station as she waited for her train back to Brighton, I then went for drinks in Tabac in Mitchell Lane with our mutual friend D. It’s a nice if not stellar bar down a lane that has seen better days (even the presence of art gallery The Lighthouse doesn’t stop it from looking a bit run down). The bar gets surprisingly busy – I returned on Thursday to meet a theatre bod I know online, and it quickly became rammed – but is a convenient place for a quick drink.Dinner was with a bunch of old uni friends in a friendly and laid back tapas bar towards the Merchant City part of town, Brutti Campadres, which accommodated a large group of us – all arriving at different times – with good grace and was surprisingly affordable.I was back in that part of town the next day, meeting my friend E for cake and coffee in Singl End, which I have heard very good things about and which didn’t disappoint. We had a drink in Stereo, in Renfield Lane – another slightly scruffy lane not far from the station, and a surprisingly busy bar that strikes me as better enjoyed by night, as the unforgiving early evening light made it look a bit careworn.Slightly more glam were cocktails in The Citizen, based in the old headquarters of the newspaper of the same name. A bar / restaurant that also apparently does a nice line in afternoon teas (in the Editors’ Suite, which name alone makes me want to try it), they did a very tasty espresso martini, while my friend opted for a gin-based Clydeside St Clements. Definitely a place I’d go back to…

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The Town Mouse Ale House

I’ve spent so much time at Northern Stage recently that I had forgotten there are other places to go in that part of the city. So after our jaunt to the Hancock Gallery, my friend S and I decided to have a bit of a wander. First up was a coffee and a scone at Quilliam Brothers, one of my favourite spots in the city, where S had tea, which enabled me to admire their lovely branded tea cups.

We had planned a bit of a walk but the inclement weather gave me an excuse to try a place I had walked past a few times and been keen on: The Town Mouse. Based minutes away from Haymarket in a basement on St Mary’s Place, it’s surprisingly light and airy for an underground space, aided by quirky but uncluttered decor. (As with so many of the spots round there – my old stamping ground – I spent half my time trying to figure out what it used to be. Veggies restaurant, maybe? I definitely recall there being a basement vegetarian restaurant on that street when I worked at Thorne’s – now Blackwells – as my friend C would sometimes meet me from work and we would have lunch there. The chip shop my friend S and I would pop into on our way home from clubbing before walking back to our flat in Jesmond still seems to be going strong, mind…)

It was surprisingly busy – though not crowded – given it wasn’t even 5pm (but hey, we were there, so who am I to judge). I’m not sure how much I would love it on a Saturday night, but then I rarely love anywhere but my sofa on a Saturday night, so that can’t be held against it. Certainly, on our visit it had much to recommend it.

A charming and friendly barman was happy to let us taste a few things before choosing – and struck just the right note for a pub like this, informed and interested (he patiently answered some of my questions about some of the drinks) without making you feel like a loser if you’re not an expert on rare brews. The stock was impressive (not that I’m an expert!) and it looks like the kind of place where ale aficionados will find plenty to love.

S likes IPA, I prefer lager, so I went for Northern Helles and he had a one of the barman’s recs, and we both enjoyed the place’s laid back afternoon vibe so much we could have happily stayed for more…

Thornton Street Cafe

I am always on the look out for coffee spots near the station, since I am usually so paranoid about missing a train I arrive super early. So I was pleased to stumble across this cute little cafe across the road from where my aunt lives, just a few minutes from Central Station. Although I only had coffee, the staff were friendly, it has a menu I would be keen to check out and a relaxed vibe. Definitely worth knowing about…

A day trip to Edinburgh

After three weeks without a day off, I finally had some downtime, and headed up to Edinburgh to meet my friend K, who I haven’t seen in years. Edinburgh is only an hour and a half away from Newcastle – and the East Coast train takes you along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, so it’s a pleasurable as well as a fast trip. The plan was that we would have lunch, do some culture, then have some cocktails before I headed back. And… we managed most of that. You can probably guess which bit got dropped…

I haven’t been to Edinburgh in years – last time was to do some research for A Vampire in Edinburgh, during my unfortunate homeless stint, when two of my Glasgow friends let me stay there when they were on holiday, so I took advantage to do a day trip to the city. I had forgotten quite how gorgeous it is – all those dramatic cliffs!

We started off with a wee wander round the Old Town. Edinburgh Press Club looked promising but we were too late for breakfast, and none of the sarnies appealed, so we settled for coffee then wandered some more. We had planned to do Mary King’s Close but were put off by the cost (nearly £16!) so had a wander around a nearby church instead. Lunch was a couple of wraps at old-school vegetarian cafe Hendersons, which had been much recommended to me, and after that we felt we could justify a cocktail.

I missed my chance to go to the new Ivy in Brighton – it opened just before I left – so was keen to try the Ivy on the Square. K and I are both fans of espresso martinis so started with them. Well-made by the charming and friendly barman, they were very rich and accompanied by a choice of syrups to choose your own (I plumped for Creme Brulee, K – more wisely – Amaretto). After that I plumped for something lighter – a champagne based drink – and then we decided that some shopping was in order.

A quick wander round Jenners and Harvey Nichols followed – while I love the architecture of Jenners, I found HN a bit bland, though I did buy some fancy pasta and a notebook there, partly cos I wanted to buy something. (K bought a Count Gracula garlic crusher, which looked enormous fun). We rounded off the day with cocktails at The Refinery, then headed back to the Ivy for chips and a last drink before I caught the train home – a fantastic day out, and home before 10? I could get used to this…

Arch Sixteen Cafe

One of the lovely things about being back is seeing areas which were in decline when I left becoming regenerated. This is particularly true in Gateshead, much of which was in a fairly desolate state in my youth.

My friend S now lives in Ochre Yards, an estate of fancy new flats near the Hilton, and so any easy walk from the new bars on the Gateshead side of the river. The railway arches have also become home to a host of new businesses, including the butcher’s/wine shop Block and Bottle, and a fancy new tea shop. It’s also home to great wee cafe, Arch Sixteen.

A funky space that offers a range of coffees, cakes and sandwiches (the food offering looks good, though is relatively limited – though it does include several vegetarian offerings, and they plan to expand the menu).

It was a quiet afternoon when we popped in, which gave us a chance to chat to the proprietor Bob, who was lovely. He told us all about the different events the place hosts – ranging from freelancers’ networking to sewing nights and music gigs – and we were impressed by his commitment to really making the place a community hub.

Plus, I *love* a railway arch. Count me in for a return visit.

Mason + Rye

It occurs to me that while this blog is likely going to be good at fulfilling its main purpose of preventing me getting stuck in a rut – my friends are already sick of me suggesting we go to new places ‘for the blog’ – it might also end up being very expensive.

Take today, for instance. Planning to pick up a cheap supermarket lunch on the way back from barre class, I made a minor detour through Fenwick’s Food Hall (which deserves – and will get – its own post). While there – for your sake, dear reader, not my own – I decided to make a pit stop of one of its fancy cafes, Mason + Rye.

A light, airy space with an array of savouries and sweets and a decent if not stellar vegetarian selection, it looked the perfect place to stop for a coffee, so just a coffee was all I planned to get. (While not crazy expensive, at 5 quid for a cheese sandwich, it’s also not super cheap). However, my inner blogger kicked in when I saw the choices included an intriguing nettle cheese and brown ale chutney mini-baguette, and so obviously, I had to try it. (Had I not just come from my barre class’ hour-long brutal contemplation of my thighs, I might have plumped for one of the impressive looking cakes instead.).

Although around 12.30 it wasn’t too rammed (though the lunch hour rush was starting to kick in as I left), and overall I’d say if you are looking for a civilised coffee stop somewhere in your day, there are far worse places to go.