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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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.

Barluga and Boulevard

It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.

The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!

After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.

It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.

The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…

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!

Dinosaurs at Northern Stage and Ghosts at Live Theatre

Another day of theatre yesterday – I am rather loving the fact that I am seeing so much. I had a meeting at Northern Stage in the afternoon, where I got to do one of my favourite things (rant about theatre and class) in good company. I hadn’t, however, reckoned with the fact that the theatre is currently showing Dinosaur World Live, so was mobbed with excitable kids. I was actually quite jealous – not only would I love to see a show featuring ‘live’ dinosaurs – but it was only an hour long! I did at least get to see one of the dinos roaming wild in the cafe, which made up for some of the commotion.

Then after a quick stop at Pizza Express on Dean Street – a place I haven’t been since I went on a date there 25 years ago with a bloke who actually fancied my flatmate more than me (good times), I was back at Live Theatre for the press night of Clear White Light. It’s quite an odd concept – a retelling of the Fall of the House of Usher, set against a backdrop of NHS cuts and to a soundtrack of Alan Hull (of Lindisfarne fame) songs, and it took a while to find its feet – the first half dragged a bit (and you know I already think everything is 15 minutes too long), but it bounced back with a very strong second half that had some proper surprises, and the acting was strong throughout. The rousing finale, a song exhorting us to ‘bring down the government’ ended the evening on a high note. (“I think every play should end with an ode to revolution,” said one of my fellow audience members, as we were leaving.

It’s sold out now, so if you haven’t got a ticket you are probably out of luck, but if it does come back or you can get returns, it’s worth catching.

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).