Meet the Makers at Fenwick’s Food Hall

I have blogged about Fenwick’s Food Hall before, and though I sometimes miss what it was before its super fancy revamp, it remains a parlour of delights. So I should have known I was taking if not my life at least my wallet in my hands when I decided to, ahem, ‘take a short cut’ through only to discover they were running a Meet the Makers event, where you could try the wares of some of the usual stockists – most of whom were local – and meet the people behind the labels. Well, I had to, didn’t I? For research.

North Chocolates

Drawn by the gorgeous packaging, I have been tempted by North Chocolates before. A local brand of small batch gourmet chocolate, made in Newcastle upon Tyne, all of their bars are gluten-free, vegetarian (many vegan) and the cocoa and cocoa butter used are sustainable and ethically sourced. The prices would match what you would expect from that kind of brand – around a fiver a bar – and they do a gorgeously packaged range called Icons, decorated with illustrations of some of the North East’s most recognisable images.

I got chatting to Bev Stephenson, who runs the company, and had a taste of the Milk with Smoked Salt, which I ended up buying, telling myself it’ll make a lovely gift for someone when, let’s be honest, it’ll end up being a gift for Future Me. You can buy the range in Fenwick’s Food Hall, and get more details here.

(Cyberman Angel from the Love of the North, in the Stack or Whitley Bay).

The Winery by Laneberg Wine

Next up was The Winery, where I spoke to Nick Lane, half of the team that run what is billed as Tyneside’s First Urban Winery (his wife Elise being the other half). I tried three of their 2018 wines: a pleasantly dry rose, and two whites: Solaris, an off-dry that was nice but less to my tastes than the Bacchus – which just won a Bronze award in its category, so I’m not alone in my praise. The bottles retail at what you’d expect for an English wine – about the 16-19 quid mark – so unless you are richer than me you won’t be buying them to neck after a bad day at work, but for a more grown up soiree, they would be a nice choice. The rose, especially, might convert those who think of rose as a cringingly sweet drink.

Hexham Gin – The Northumberland Gin Company

Next on my rounds was Peter at the Northumberland Gin company, who offered me a taste of Hexham gin. A nice, dry drink that was pleasant on its own (with a smattering of lemon peel) or with tonic, he also pointed out that those who like sweeter drinks can mix it to Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade to get a pink gin drink that tastes surprisingly like Turkish delight! Retailing at around 30 quid* a bottle – a bargain for small batch gin – this is definitely on my list for next time my gin loving friend T comes to town. (*ish. By this stage, I was starting to blur on prices).

Old Curiosity Gin Club

Also on the gin front, was this Edinburgh-based company which specialises in botanical gins which change colour as you add the tonic! I tried the Rose gin, which was nice but sweeter than I like my spirits, and the Lavender and Echinacea, which was more my speed, and which went from purple to a light pink when the tonic was added. As well as being sold in Fenwick’s, they run a mail order club (now there’s a subscription box I could get behind) and do lovely gift boxes if you are not sure which flavour to choose.

40 Kola

I’m not much of a soft drinks fan anymore – water, coffee or booze is my sacred trifecta – but I’d tasted so much alcohol by this stage I thought a soft drink was a good idea, so stopped off for a try of local cola makers, 40 Kola – two North East lads by the name of Kieran and Dan. A grown up, sophisticated take on cola, this is definitely worth trying. It’s less sweet than commercial brands, but without that ‘glass-of-wet-dirt-with-an-aftertaste-of-worthiness’ that plagues many of the smaller outfits. It’s not something I would personally drink a lot of, but I can imagine a cold glass on a warm day going down very nicely indeed…

Noveltea

The woman at this stand was so lovely I felt bad for not trying it, but I can’t stand the taste of tea. If you don’t share my unBritish aversion, they do a range of drinks that look great.

Hotspur Gin

I didn’t get a chance to try this or really talk to the guy manning the stall, but they do win props for their impressive stand, the gin is made in Alnwick and the bottle is certainly pretty so would make a good gift.

Punchy

I didn’t think to get a picture of these, but worth including because they do a range of drinks that are available with or without alcohol, so would be perfect for a party where you don’t want your non-drinking friends to feel left out.

All of the above are generally available in Fenwick’s – so why not give some smaller makers your support? And a huge thanks to all the makers who took time to talk about their products with me today!

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DxBu-VMWwAADxTA

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Festive entertainment at Live and Northern Stage

It’s been a busy work week for me, but I did manage to squeeze in some socialising (and shopping: I could have happily bought up the whole of Fenwick’s Christmas department…)

First up was A Christmas Carol at Northern Stage, a 20s set take on the story with a great jazz soundtrack. It took a little while to get going and was – as everything seems to be – a bit too long, but once it hit its stride it’s a delight of a show, with some really impressive physical theatre and I particularly enjoyed seeing a classic in my native accent. (Review here).

Next was Mixtape Xmas at Live Theatre. A raucous sorta pop quiz, I went with my friend L as a birthday celebration – although the show could have been much tighter, and some of the audience were frankly a bit twatty, it was good fun and for once my arcane knowledge of 80s and 90s pop lyrics came in handy…

Fenwick’s Christmas Window

Ask any Geordie what Christmas means to them, and one phrase is likely to reoccur: Fenwick’s window. The annual unveiling of this festive decor is a huge deal in the city, and it meant so much to me when I was away that my friends would be dispatched to take photos. Each year has a theme – though none has ever, for my mind, matched its much-vilified Santa goes to Mars, from my childhood, which everyone hated, but appealed to mini-Geek me.

This year’s was uncontroversial – the Snowman – and is a delight. (My photos are slightly shonky, as I was dodging crowds and racing to the theatre). Best bit though is a marketing genius at the Greggs opposite realising if they reversed their sign they are reflected in the window for a nice bit of free advertising…

Fenwick’s Food Hall

As I mentioned in my post on Mason + Rye, I took a detour through the glory that is Fenwick’s Food Hall today. It’s a gorgeous place – light, airy and with a fantastic selection of breads, cheeses, (and I think meat and fish, if you are into that sort of thing…), drinks and chocolates. The chocolates were particularly tempting, and include a range of local brands.

It was redone quite recently, I think – and I have to say that while the refurb has made it more spacious, brighter and shinier, and opened more spaces where you can eat and drink, which is nice, it has lost some of its charm. The old Food Hall used to be more of an eclectic mix: there were a couple of gondolas dedicated to ‘normal’ groceries, so as well as somewhere you could stock up on fancies, there was a decent selection of basics, and a lively queue of old ladies who happily seemed to do their weekly shop there. (I often wonder what happens to these old dears when places like this get all gentrified, and it makes me sad that the cost of ‘progress’ is to push away the folk who have been loyally patronising somewhere for years. I’m looking at you, Red Roaster, Brighton.)

Still, it remains a lovely place, and should I ever want to fritter my rent on artisanal sweets and posh gin – and you know there’s a high possibility of that – I know just where I can go.

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.

Paperchasing

As anyone familiar with me knows, I am a bit of a stationery fiend. The good thing about this is, as a writer, notebooks are a justifiable tool of the trade – my collection is enormous, but none of them go to waste. Also, having a reputation for loving notebooks makes me super easy to buy presents for, and every birthday and Christmas brings a glorious stash (not to count the steady stream of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ gifts from around the globe).

Since returning to Newcastle, I have of course been on the look-out for new stationery shops. Old favourites like Fenwick’s (which now contains a Paperchase concession) and Waterstone’s are still a treasure trove; and I got a great haul in the Scribbler sale. Geeky themed notebooks abound in the Geek Quarter, and I was delighted to discover Blackwell’s glorious stationery department, where my friend had to physically restrain me from buying all the shiny Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. So, in fairness, I am spoiled for choice so far… but if anyone has any tips they’d like to share…