Glasgow jaunt – West End

When I lived in Glasgow, it was the West End I called home: over the years I lived in a good half dozen places, ranging from just off Great Western Road to along in a then-pre-gentrified Partick. I studied at Glasgow University, and also worked in the University bookshop, so if any part of the city is etched into my memories, it’s the West End in particular.

Generally that is where I spend most of my visits – in part because that’s where a chunk of my friends live – but this time it was a bit more of a fleeting visit, though enough to encounter that mix of change and stability that is so disorienting.

Still, it’s never a visit to the West End without a mix of eating and shopping, and I did manage that, at least. Lunch one day at the Hyndland Fox, which used to be a Peckham’s, I believe, but now does a very line in breakfasts, and where I indulged my love of a potato scone.

On a different day I also had lunch at Bread Meats Bread – which obviously favours burgers and sandwiches, but which did a very tasty grilled cheese sandwich (which came with FREE CHIPS!), which excited me so much I randomly texted someone a photo of it by accident.

Although I’d blown my shopping budget at Vivienne Westwood, my friend and I did have a mooch around some of the vintage shops on Great Western Road, and Waterstones on Byres Road (a nice addition to the street that wasn’t there in my day), and Papyrus, a stationery and kitchenware store that in my youth seemed impossibly glamourous and expensive, and remains a little treasure trove today.

I did get some serious nostalgia walking past my old flats on Otago Street and Barrington Drive, and seeing some of my old local pubs (particularly Hubbards) so changed, though was glad to see some stalwarts still going strong, not least Caledonia Books – where I bought and sold half my college textbooks – and Ian Mellis cheesemonger, who opened just as I was moving (probably for the best, given my love of cheese and the fact it was just across the road from my house), but whose redolent whiff of cheese hit my like my very own madeleine when we went into the shop…

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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…

Biscuit Factory Summer Launch

Last night was The Biscuit Factory’s Summer Launch, and I was delighted to be able to go, having missed their autumn one due to other commitments. I’m a big fan of The Biscuit Factory – they stock an interesting range of artists at a range of price points, with the idea that art shouldn’t just be a luxury purchase (they even do a financing scheme if you want to buy a piece), the staff always seem friendly, and the cafe is great (entry to the galleries is free).

Last night showcased their new exhibitions, which include Simon M Smith’s floral patterened work – a hit with my companion, S – and pieces from the Open Contemporary Young Artist Award (both of which run till August 25). With such an eclectic mix of work on display, you’re likely to find plenty to like – as well as plenty that makes you shake your head and go ‘so that’s what they are calling art these days?’, which is all part of the fun. (I admit I spend a LOT of time going, ‘I can see it’s good, but I wouldn’t want it in my house…’) Of the current artists on display, probably my two favourites were the almost photo-real paintings by Cherylene Dyer and Basia Roszek’s vibrant portraits. Both are Glasgow-based women artists whose subjects tend to be women, so clearly I like a theme…

My favourite part of the evening was discovering that The Biscuit Factory now has a bookshop! Forum Books now has a dedicated space, a cute little cubby papered with pages of books, and of course after a couple of glasses of fizz I abandoned my ‘I must not buy any books!’ and splurged on some hardbacks. But you have to support indie bookstores, right? Our purchases came with a literary fortune cookie, to up the cuteness factor.

There’s lots to check out over the summer at The Biscuit Factory. Unfortunately inclement weather made their outdoor barbeque space a bit of a wash out, but on sunnier days their Artisan Socials (Wednesdays, 4-8pm) look like a good destination: outdoor drinks and a different foodie pop up every week. The Factory Kitchen (the less posh, more cafe space upstairs) is also getting in on the act with Sloe Sundays, where from 16 June you can enjoy a terrace gin bar (there is a covered space, so less dependent on the weather) DJ sets and botanical cocktails with your all-day brunch.

See you there?

Like how I write about Newcastle? Why don’t you check out my book.

You can also support my writing by buying me a Kofi. Or hiring me to write stuff. Either’s good.

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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…

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!

Like how I write about Newcastle? Why don’t you check out my book.

You can also support my writing by buying me a Kofi. Or hiring me to write stuff. Either’s good.

DxBu-VMWwAADxTA

Holy Moly and the Crackers at the Cluny

Despite the fact that I was still feeling super shonky, dragged my sorry ass off the sofa for a gig last night and as usual, ended up glad I made the effort. After dinner at The Ship (where I tried their ‘fish’ and chips again, in the hope of finding it a little more exciting than last time, and still thought it was a little bland, so lesson learned) L and I went to see Holy Moly and the Crackers at their sold out Cluny gig.

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Since L is the gig maven – most of the bands I have seen so far since moving back have been at her suggestion – it was nice that this time it was my idea, and luckily the band didn’t let me down, putting on an absolutely barnstorming performance. They really are a great act live – personable, energetic and with a real connection to the crowd.

I also couldn’t help being a little pleased that the tour – named after their new album, Take a Bite, had some merch that was pretty much designed for me, so while I usually never buy merch at gigs, I thought this lip balm would make a nice prop for my bookstagram posts. So that’s almost like a work expense, right?*

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*Dear HMRC: I have not charged this as a work expense.

Baltic, cocktails and Us

After a busy and slightly frustrating week, where I had my biggest deadline of the year and, not coincidentally, my immune system finally gave in after several months of pretty much non-stop work, I was both delighted and slightly wary to play host to my friend T this weekend. Delighted, because she is always good company, wary because I had developed a hacking cough, almost lost my voice and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed with the covers over my head, so feared I wouldn’t exactly be the hostess with the mostess.

Luckily, T is both very low maintenance and very good company, so we actually had a fab weekend. Our plans were thwarted on more than one occasion – I’d wanted to do cocktails at Six in Baltic on early evening Saturday, but when we turned up the venue was booked for a private party, and the weather scuppered some of our more ambitious plans.

In the end, though, our weekend turned out pleasantly laid back. Having been to the Backyard Bike Shop several times for food, I finally got to try their cocktails, which were very nice. We had a delicious veggie brunch at the Tyneside downstairs cafe, and some seriously good Indian food at Dabbawal. And though the Baltic was a no for cocktails, we did see some art. I admit a lot of it went a bit over my head – art isn’t an area I am particularly knowledgeable about – but it’s always a space worth visiting. I was particularly taken with a couple of the shows in the Artists’ Award exhibitions: Ingrid Pollard’s examination of the figure of the ‘black boy’ in English architecture and culture – primarily through pub signs which use black figures – was fascinating, and Aaron Hughes piece on war was moving.

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We also watched a lot of films – it was a bit of a feminist film fest! T hadn’t seen Fury Road or the new Halloween so we watched those, then went to the Tyneside to see Us, where it was also nice to introduce her to the beauties of the classic screen, and rounding off our Strong Women weekend, we watched Widows, which I hadn’t seen either.

I thought both Us and Widows were flawed but fascinating, powered by smart ideas and strong performances. Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis were both incredible. I am also *very* here for Winston Duke playing a dorky dad, which was such a difference from his usual roles.

So, all in all – just the tonic I needed!

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