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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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.

London trip

Last week was a crazy busy week, with trips to London both midweek and at the weekend. The first was for business, though I did manage some socialising, and the second to catch up with a bunch of my best and oldest friends. Although we see each other throughout the year in smaller clusters, the usual reasons (work, money, family, location) mean we are limited to getting together en masse a couple of times a year (I say that like there’s a dozen of us, it’s only 5!) so it’s always a joy.

We picked Casa Tua, a restaurant near Kings Cross – which was good, as my train was delayed both there and back so I’m not sure what state I would have been in had I had to sprint and negotiate a tube journey. It’s a nice place – decent veggie options and friendly service, though I had forgotten how expensive prosecco is in London!

Anyway a good and boozy time was had by all, which did mean my train journey home – where the catering facilities were scuppered by a missing order and the trip was delayed by a lineside fire – was a bit grim. Worth it, though!

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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The Herb Garden

It’s been about a year since I last visited The Herb Garden – that time, as a visitor to the city – so was nice to make a return trip, in the company of my lovely friends L & U. We started off with drinks at Brown’s, which is another place I haven’t been to in ages, then made our way along to the restaurant.

I found it pretty much unchanged (though the titles of the pizza specials were sadly a bit less fun than last time), which is mostly a good thing. A plentiful vegetarian selection (with multiple vegan options), friendly service and tasty food combined with a funky ambience to make for a good evening. (L’s calzone was HUGE). Admittedly, I will never understand restaurants with high tables (who wants to eat feeling like they are perched?) and the slightly warped wood of my table meant my plate felt a bit wonky, but the food makes it worth a visit. And where else can you see a rollerskating horse?

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