NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Week and The Muddler

It’s Restaurant Week again in Newcastle, where a whole bunch of venues across town offer £10 or £15 menus. So that and my friend M’s pending birthday seemed a great excuse to try a place I have been dying to visit since I moved back, The Muddler on Grey Street.

A lux looking Pan-Asian restaurant with a great cocktail menu, The Muddler was offering 3 dishes for £15 as part of Restaurant Week. With plenty of vegetarian options (and a comprehensive allergy menu so I could be sure there was nothing on there I couldn’t eat), there was lots to choose from (and when I couldn’t decide whether my gyoza should be steamed or fried, the waitress offered to do half-and-half: yum!). M went for a mix of meat and fish dishes (the salmon was her favourite), while I had tofu, tempura and vegetable gyoza, which were all delicious, and surprisingly substantial: 3 dishes was more than enough! We both had a cocktail from an extensive and well-thought-out menu, and were both pleased with our choices.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the vibe laid back – though the place was so booked up we could only get an early slot, so if you want to check it out, advance booking might be an idea.

We followed that with more cocktails at Beeronomy, which had changed its cocktail menu and seemed to have got rid of anything I wanted to drink: luckily, they are still more than happy to whip up a classic, so we both had very decent espresso martinis, before rounding the night off with a glass of wine at the Tyneside Cinema Bar.

The offers run all week and there’s a huge range of restaurants taking part, so why not check out the Restaurant Week website?

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Jaws at the Tyneside Cinema

I must admit I am a sucker for an old movie on the big screen. Whether it’s a beloved favourite or a classic I have somehow missed, I love getting a chance to watch a film that’s become a TV staple in a cinema.

So when I saw that The Tyneside Cinema was showing a screening of Jaws, I decided to book tickets. It’s one of those films that I feel like I have seen because so much of it has become part of the lexicography of both film and cultural life, but I realised I had never actually seen the whole thing. I suggested to my friend D – who is a massive fan, and had already seen it on the big screen as part of its 4K* restoration last year – and she agreed to come with.

This of course presented a whole load of other issues: what if I hated it? D is a real fan: she was in fact wearing not one but three different pieces of shark-themed jewellery. And when I mentioned my ignorance of the film on Twitter, another friend said it was ‘like an episode of Murder She Wrote, but with sharks’ which didn’t exactly inspire me with confidence. (Or maybe, did, since that sounds awesome.) I was slightly worried this might be the end of our friendship.

Luckily, the problem didn’t arise. The film has held up really well, albeit the imagined horrors of the shark fare slightly better than the actual, clearly mechanical one – there were still some moments that actually had the audience jumping out of their seats. Even having been turned into cliche hasn’t diluted the key scenes (there was actually an advert for Veet hair removal cream for men based on the famous ‘compare scars’ scene shown before the trailers), and the underlying themes: respect nature, listen to experts and don’t put capitalism over human life, couldn’t actually be more relevant. (The first half IS a little like Murder She Wrote with sharks, but I didn’t mind that at all…)

As ever when I watch films from that era, I feel a little sad: because I can’t help thinking none of those people would be cast today. Some of the men might do OK – though likely shunted off into character roles – but everyone else would be straight out of central casting: glossy, toned, even the older women trim and well-preserved, though they might hire a single fat guy for the sake of ‘veracity’. (This was reinforced not just by the trailer for the new Tarantino film, which features lots of toned, glossy, beautiful people made up to look as unpolished as the 60s, and watching The Meg when I got home, in which all the women look like they came to their auditions direct from the gym, and marine biologists look like Jason Statham, not Richard Dreyfuss, and spend a lot more time with their shirts off.)

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(This is my friend’s bracelet – if you like one you can buy it at Stella My Star on Etsy – they do a whole range of geeky themed jewellery.)

Afterwards we went to The Alchemist in Eldon Square for snacks and drinks – and I was impressed to see the most extra ice bucket I have encountered, overflowing with dry ice. The food was also good – very nice vegetarian selection – and the staff friendly, so I would definitely go again. I rarely think to go into Eldon Square to eat – it feels a bit ‘food court’ for my tastes – but both times I have eaten their recently have actually been pretty great, and if you sit further inside you can generally forget you are in a shopping centre, so perhaps I need to be less snobby about it…

(*I have no idea what a 4K restoration is, or if that is even what it’s called.)

Afternoon tea at Jesmond Dene House

Afternoon tea is one of those things I love in theory more than practice. The idea seems fabulous – an elegant and stylish treat – but as someone prefers coffee to tea and savoury to sweet, the reality is usually just an over-caffeinated sugar high and feeling nauseous from eating too much food at a weird time of day.

However, none of this was going to stop me attending a good friend’s baby shower in the upscale surroundings of Jesmond Dene House. The venue has been on my ‘returning to Newcastle’ bucket list, so I was doubly excited at the prospect. It’s gorgeously located – I used to live relatively near Jesmond Dene, back in the day, and the hotel always seemed like a fairytale castle to me, nestled in the leafy backdrop that gives it a sense of being smack in the heart of the countryside, even though it’s an easy walk into town (not in the shoes I was wearing, mind).

Previously a residential building for one of Newcastle’s fancier folk, the Georgian house was built by John Dobson and has been extended over the years. It’s now a boutique hotel and restaurant, and popular venue for celebrations – the mum-to-be, U, had her hen party afternoon tea there also.

(Sorry this photo is so blurry: I promise this was before I had any wine!)

Both inside and out, it looks impressive. We were in a large dining room / banquet hall that looked almost medieval, spacious enough to easily accommodate our 20-odd group. The afternoon tea itself was very tasty – sandwiches (though I was baffled by the non-nut-allergy option of cucumber and peanut butter, which sounds vile, apparently it’s a local thing, and many of the guests were delighted by it), a tart and vegetable pasty being the savoury, two scones (I gave away my fruit scone, since dried fruit is the evil, but the cheese scone was mighty tasty), and the sweets were a strawberry mousse, a fancy eclair, a slice of carrot cake (which I also gave away, because my feelings on carrot cake match those on raisins and sultanas) and a mini-fruit tart.

The staff were very on the ball in terms of catering to such a large group and all the dietary requirements that involves (including mine), and were friendly, efficient and pleasant throughout. We weren’t made to feel we needed to rush out of the space, and they were generous with the tea and coffee throughout.

I didn’t really know that many people there, but they were a lovely, friendly bunch, and I had a great time – it’s definitely a venue worth a visit. My only regret was wearing my Vivienne Westwood Melissa high heels, which are very high and not designed for a hot day, so of course after getting an cab back into town after the event, my friend L and I decided I needed to anaesthetise my throbbing feet with copious amounts of wine…

An evening in Ouseburn

My friends L & A were in town this week, so I decided to take them on a mini-tour of Ouseburn as a way of getting out of the city centre heat. We decided to start at Thali Tray, which long-term followers will remember I visited when it first opened in winter. Sensibly they’d switched off the outdoor fire pit, and the courtyard was rammed with diners, but we found a table near the door to get a bit of a breeze.

The food was as good as ever – the menu is limited, but has decent veggie options, and the nan is to die for. They also do a great range of beers, which pleased A, and although our eyes were much bigger than our bellies, which led to some serious over-ordering, we all enjoyed ourselves.

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Then to the Cluny, which on a hot Tuesday night was quite quiet, with most of the drinkers outside. A beer there then we wandered back up to the Tanners Arms, a pub which bills itself as the gateway to Ouseburn and manages to strike the right balance between remaining a proper pub and being part of the increasingly hipsterfied neighbourhood.

Like the Cluny, it’s dog-friendly – and we met a very friendly dog, who basically decided to adopt us for our stay – and pleasingly laid back, with a good range of beers. I was particularly impressed that they’d thought to put suncream on the bar for patrons who might have been tempted to overdo the outdoors in the sunshine. Definitely a place I’d go back.

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Dinner at Panis

Back from my holiday, and catching up with another one of my oldest friends, who suggested Panis (Pani’s?) in High Bridge Street. It’s a restaurant I haven’t been to in years and they’ve clearly had a bit of a refit: the back room feels more spacious and less cramped, the open front gives the place a lovely airy, continental feel and the menu is much improved from my memory of it.

We both had pasta, which was good quality and very tasty, and S had canolo for dessert, which would have done for both of us. The service was friendly, the vibe laid back, and it wasn’t expensive – so I’ll definitely be going back.

Back to Brighton

This week, almost a year after I left, I went back to Brighton. I’d deliberately left it this long – I thought that going back too soon after the move might give me ‘buyer’s remorse’ and wanted to be sure I felt settled in my new life before I revisited my old one.

It turned out to be a good decision. Leaving a big enough gap meant that I could enjoy all of the things I loved about Brighton – the sea, the city, my friends – without wondering if I’d made a huge mistake in leaving. Brighton will always have a place in my heart, but it’s no longer my home, and I’m not at all sad about that.

Desperate for a holiday and with the excuse of a pending theatre visit to London – which we’ll come back to – I decided to tag on a couple of days and stay with my friends R&A (and their gorgeous cat who, yeah, I miss more than I miss most other things) and spend a little time in the city.

My timing couldn’t have been better. A few overcast moments aside, the weather was gorgeous – so nice, in fact, that I decided to cancel my theatre trip so I could spend longer in Brighton, hanging out with an old friend from Scotland and her daughter who I haven’t seen in 16 years and who just happened to be in town the same week. Not all my friends were around – which was fine, as I couldn’t have fitted them all into a 3-day trip, especially since 2 of those 3 days were mostly spent on trains – but I managed to squeeze a lot in.

Day 1 I arrived late afternoon, so just chilled in the garden with R&A and the cat, before R cooked one of her magnificent meals.

Day 2 I met my friend M for lunch in Hove, in a restaurant called Billies and styled, with a degree of cheek, after the more famous Brighton institution Bill’s. Not sure why they felt they needed to, since I actually preferred it: we both had a delicious veggie breakfast, served in the style of a hash and smothered in cheese, that made me feel better for all the alcohol I had consumed the night before.

After that, A and I went to see Spider-Man: Far from Home, which I have been dying to see. A and I used to go to all the superhero movies together (R not being a fan), so it was a fun thing to do, and I was glad to get a chance to go back to Duke’s at Komedia, which is one of my favourite cinemas.

We then went to another one of my old stomping grounds, The Plotting Parlour, where we met R for drinks and I revisited one of my old tipples, the chilli and ginger margarita. For dinner, we went to VIP (Very Italian Pizza), a Brighton institution at the bottom of St James Street that serves some of the best pizza in town. (Pro-tip: if you can, sit downstairs – it feels more spacious than the oft-crammed upstairs, and you are less at the mercy of the constant stream of people coming in to collect their takeaway orders).

Best of all? I walked down my old street and didn’t even feel a pang. Though maybe as it was covered in scaffolding and full of workmen – the noisy bane of my existence when I lived there – that helped.

Day 3: My theatre plans abandoned, I had a much more leisurely and relaxing trip than I’d planned. My friend S’s daughter wanted to see the Upside Down House, so we met there. It’s a fun idea, though a fiver seems a little steep to enter what is basically one big selfie set, and it didn’t help that I was slightly hungover and S has vertigo, so neither of us were particularly good at handling the strangely disorientating, sloped interior. Still, we got some fun photos.

We then decided to try Compass Point Eatery. Run by a lovely Anglo-American couple, Compass Point was one of my Kemptown stalwarts when I lived in Brighton, but they have now relocated to nearer the seafront and a short walk from both the Upside Down House and the 306i.

Though it’s much larger inside and out, the place retained much of its quirky charm. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they’d run out of pancakes – the house speciality, and so popular you need to get there early to guarantee you can get them – but we had a very generous lunch anyway, and the staff (much extended from the Kemptown days) were lovey: my friends made plans to return.A wander round the Laines then I was back into London, for a quick drink in Vinoteca with another friend before getting the train home – feeling happy I went, but not sad that I left, which is the best of all feelings. Plus I got to see the cat.

Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

I’d decided to tie my Liverpool visit into not just theatre but the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, a gallery I have never been to. The show itself was fantastic – a huge range of material curated with real care. It was of course heart-breaking to revisit his work: an activist in the fight against HIV/Aids, Haring died of the disease at just 31 – but it was great to see such a major retrospective of his work.

Also at the Tate was Constellations, a fascinating collection that included pieces by Warhol, Miro and Kandinsky, though the pop art floor did little for my hangover.

Luckily an avocado and halloumi brioche at Peabody Kitchen sorted that out, allowing me to have a wander around the docks in the sunshine before taking a slow stroll back into town for my train.

All in all, Liverpool quite won me over – can’t wait to go back.