Backyard Bike Shop

Yesterday made an overdue return visit to Backyard Bike Shop, down next to the river. It’s a lovely place – a cosy cafe that does a small but quality menu, but switches to a cocktail bar after 5. Alas, we were too early for cocktails, but the food was delicious and the staff were friendly.

I normally have the avocado smash – predictable, I know, but the “will they do my egg how I like it?” is my standard cafe test. The lovely waitress explained their avocados weren’t ripe so, prompted to be more adventurous, I had the chick pea pancakes with dahl, and S had the courgette ribbons with goats cheese curd – both of which were utterly delicious.

Now to go back for their cocktails.

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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.

The Cluny Cheese Festival

The first weekend after New Year – traditionally when all those resolutions to eat and drink less still seem like they might have a chance of working – seems on the face of it to be an odd time to have a festival devoted to the love of all things cheese, and hold it in a pub. But no one ever got poor counting on the hedonistic impulses of the Geordies, so when myself and my friend L (of Raven In a Graveyard) wandered down to the 2nd Annual Cheese Festival, we found it busy and in full swing.

The pub itself was heaving: part of it set aside for a small cheese market, and the menu of the day very much cheese influenced. We opted for cheesy nachos and a grilled cheese sandwich, both of which were fine, rather than exceptional (the Biscuit Factory has raised my standards for grilled cheese forever), and some of the pubs excellent beers.

To make the day more family friendly, not everything was in the pub. There was a cheese hunt in the morning for kids, and in the afternoon a range of ‘sporting’ events held in the Chedderena in the ‘Olympic Village’ – the bit of grass near the pub – where, when we wandered down, an enthusiastic crowd was cheering on those taking part in the cheese shot put (some with more success than others, since more than one cheese ended up in the river). Since the festival was right next door to the family-friendly Ouseburn Farm, I could imagine this could easily be turned into a cheap and entertaining day out for those with kids.

In search of more adult entertainment (calm down, I just mean beer), Linda and I decided to do a mini pub crawl of the area. L is a real ale enthusiast, so we decided to retrace the steps of a recent real ale tour she had done, stopping first at the excellent Brinkburn Brewery St Bar and Kitchen, another one of those Ouseburn venues that skillfully balances the hipster regeneration vibe of the area with actually being a nice place to hag out, and then onto more traditional climes – the proper old-fashioned pub that is the Cumberland Arms, a warm, welcoming space (where we met one of the dogs we had seen in the Cluny, whose owners had clearly had the same idea) where we had a couple of fine ales in front of a roaring fire before wending our way home.

All in all, a more exciting start to the year than some lettuce…

Quayside market and Ouseburn Open

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!

Dabbawal and Stack

Belated birthday night out last night for my lovely friend S. Reconnecting with him since moving back – after so many years out of touch – has been a real joy, and it doesn’t hurt that he always has great recs for restaurants (Kiln was also his idea).

Last night we went to Stack for a quick drink before dinner. I’ve been, as you know, in the summer, but was interested to see how it fared in winter. I was slightly disappointed to see the covered gin bar replaced with a beer tent – it looked slightly dark, fusty and unfinished inside so we decided to brave the outdoor tables instead. These are certainly well-heated – the table heaters were so hot I couldn’t keep my coat on – and I can imagine nearer Christmas the whole fairy lights vibe will feel very festive.

Next up, Dabbawal, on High Bridge Street, which is becoming my local. I’d actually been here years ago with L of Raven in a Graveyard – she’d suggested it on one of my previous visits back from London, I think – so I had vague memories of liking it. And, mmmmmm, was I right.

The food – which is comprehensively labelled for allergies and diets, which always gives a nice sense of comfort – is Indian street food, and the choice is enormous, with a ton of vegetarian dishes. S and I plumped to share, and ordered a selection of sides and starters, all of which were delicious, though my eyes turned out to be too big for my belly, and that, combined with still feeling a tad ropey from the other week’s cold, meant I had to call it a night quite early – which, disappointingly, meant I didn’t get to try their advertised Espresso Martinis!

But the service was friendly, the food lovely, the vibe nice and low key – and, best of all, I discovered they sell their own notebooks. I’m definitely going back!

Lunch at Kiln

So my friend S and I went to Ouseburn today. It was a gorgeous day so perfect for a walk along the Quayside and pottering about, and as is becoming a pattern with our outings, lunch stretched into drinks. We did manage some culture – a wander round the Biscuit Factory and a coffee – but the highlight of the day was a trip to Kiln.

It’s a lovely little New York style cafe that does a great line in vegetarian food and cocktails. You can even buy some cups and plates made in the attached pottery, should you wish. I’ll definitely be going back!

Super Natural – Not the Show

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 15, and let me tell you, back in those days that was no easy task. Veggie options were limited, the vegetarian diet was wildly misunderstood – I was regularly told to ‘just pick the meat out’ – and the idea of actual vegetarian restaurants seemed exotic and impossible.

One of the few places catering to the vegetarians of the town at the time was Super Natural. I didn’t go very often – I couldn’t afford to eat out much as a teen – but I did love it, and remember the sheer excitement of having a whole actual menu I could choose from* as opposed to one lowly option, which was always veggie lasagne. (I can trace the years of my vegetarianism by the ‘veggie option’ index: from veggie lasagne through to goats cheese and sundried tomatoes, through to the dreaded mushroom risotto, which is still such an alarmingly popular fallback that I now refuse to eat in any restaurant that only offers that).

*Not really. Having a nut allergy is a bit of a bugger when you are a vegetarian.

So today I popped in for lunch. The location has changed – it’s now on Grainger Street, so very handy for Central Station – but the vibe is very much the same. An impressive collection of cakes, snacks and main courses is available, and though I plumped just for rosemary chips (albeit they were slightly more on the potato wedge side), they were tasty and the coffee was good, and the place wasn’t too crowded, so I felt I could sit and relax. I’d like to go back when I have more time to try some of the more substantial fare (though the chips were blimmin filling enough), but for now I was just pleased to have a little blast of nostalgia (and some delicious grub).