The Ship Inn and Gangstagrass at the Cluny

I seem to split my time fairly evenly these days between the Quayside (Live Theatre) and Ouseburn – and, following Friday’s snowy visit, I returned in mercifully better climes for a gig at the Cluny to see Gangstagrass.

I was going with my friend L of Raven in a Graveyard – and her parents, who are an absolute delight, and way hipper than I will ever be. It’s not often you see a couple of pensioners getting down to a mix of bluegrass and hip hop – not in my life, anyway – but her folks were long time fans, having seen the band in Edinburgh and the US. (They were chatting away like old friends before the gig – I was impressed!).

Dinner first, and we decided to try The Ship, in no small part because of its proximity to the venue. But it’s a place I have been keen to try for ages, but have so far only managed to walk past when it’s stowed. It’s is an old-fashioned pub – dog friendly, good beer, some board games – but has also successfully established itself as a venue for vegan food. I had the ‘fish’ and chips with mushy peas, which was filling, but not amazing: the chips were great, but the ‘fish’ – tofu wrapped in seaweed and then fried in batter – was a little bland, and the peas looked processed rather than marrowfat: L said she’d had better on previous occasions. Her parents fared better with a pie, gravy and chips that they said was great (and certainly looked fantastic). I’d definitely go back, though – a good range of options, really friendly staff (who were great about my nut allergy) and it’s a lovely space – no wonder it gets so busy.

The gig was in Cluny 1 again – the same place I saw Rob Heron. My only knowledge of the band was that they did the Justified theme, but their hard-to-quantify sound – an engaging mix of bluegrass and hip hop – and their fantastic stage presence made for a great gig, and I’m really pleased L suggested it – part of what I wanted to do when I moved was broaden my horizons, and do more than just go to the theatre all the time, and I’m actually doing pretty well on that. I’ll never be as cool as her folks, though…

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Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

The reason I was in Ouseburn in a blizzard (see previous post) was to go to a gig – my first at the Cluny. My friend Linda (of Raven in a Graveyard) is a regular there, and said that Rob Heron and his band were a fun night out. Well, she wasn’t wrong – the band were a delight. They’re a band that’s hard to categorise – I’ve seen them described as ‘swing honkytonk rockabilly’, and there was certainly some rockabilly style in the audience – but enormous fun, and with one of the most personable front men I’ve seen in a while. The music was toe-tappingly good, touching on everything from unrequited love to gentrification and bargain wine at Lidl, and the atmosphere was great (though we could have done without someone sending Linda’s drink flying then, instead of offering to replace it, just giving a cheery thumbs up. Er, thanks, love.)

The Cluny itself is a nice venue: small enough to feel intimate but not so small you feel squashed in, and with a decent programme of gigs (which is a good thing, since I’m going back this week…).

Thali Tray Indian Street Food

It was snowing a blizzard last night, so I must admit I was regretting my decision to book tickets to a gig in Ouseburn, which was a long, icy trek down a steep hill from town. But I was pleased that I finally got round to trying this great little restaurant, which I have walked past several times since it opened, always with a hungry gaze.

Tucked under the bridge – which gives nice shelter to the outside yard, a colourful exterior gives way inside to a spacious, white-washed brick interior. We timed our arrival just right, before two large parties were about to arrive, but though the place isn’t massive, it has a fair amount of tables and, had the weather not been baltic, it would have been nice to eat outside near their open fire pit.

The menu is limited, but has vegetarian options. I should have ordered the custom thali tray (so I could get my dal) but went for one of the set options instead, which was actually very nice (the naan was particularly good). The place also does a range of decent beers from Newcastle Brewery, and the staff were lovely and took particular care over my nut allergy, which was nice. I would definitely visit again. Maybe in nicer weather, mind.

Brinkburn Street Brewery Bar and Kitchen

As mentioned in my previous post, yesterday I went to the Cluny Cheese Festival with my friend L (of Raven in a Graveyard fame), and as part of our mini pub crawl afterwards, we ended up in the Brinkburn St Brewery Bar and Kitchen. I’ve wanted to try this place for a while – I saw it on the way to the Kiln, as it is on the same block – and wasn’t disappointed.

The vibe inside was laid back and friendly, and the space is very nicely laid out: a sort of mini-snug is partially cordoned off from the main space, allowing you to lounge on sofas near an open fire, but still feels part of the action and lets the place still feel spacious and airy. We didn’t eat there this time, though L tells me the food is good, with vegetarian options. The place offers a great selection of reasonably priced beers, is dog friendly (we had a very doggy day, since everywhere we went there were dogs, which is always a good thing), and the toilets were clean and in good working order, which is a thing I increasingly care about.

The staff were friendly, too – when I asked for a recommendation for an ale to try they were happy to give me a taster – and had we not been on a mission to try at least a couple of places that day, I would have happily stayed the whole afternoon. In fact, I am already planning my next 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!

New Art Social

Last night was my first trip to Newcastle literary salon, New Art Social, at Ernest in Ouseburn. A low key, friendly night (£3.50 a ticket if you aren’t reading) in the back room of the super-chilled Ernest (though there was a loud party in the front bar, which meant some of the readers were competing with booze-fuelled revelling), it was a really interesting night. I was there to support a friend who was reading a short story she just had published in the magazine Lungs, but the standard throughout was pretty high and I was very taken with some of the work, a mix of novel extracts, short stories and poems.

Everyone was very chatty and nice although, swathed in leopard-print and shiny boots (let’s face it, just my standard Monday outfit), and guzzling prosecco while everyone else seemed to have gone low-key dark knitwear and pints, I did feel slightly like I’d gate-crashed from Ab Fab and turned up at the wrong event…