Local delicacies and favourite restaurants
A stotty (photo from Wikicommons)
People in the north east of England enjoy much the same foods as the rest of the country, unsurprisingly, and increasingly that means an international cuisine. Italian food is especially popular here, reflecting a history of emigration from Italy to Newcastle; indeed, my husband Chris’s maternal grandmother came to live here with her parents when a small girl from their home in Lazio (Arpino) and her father worked for a fellow immigrant, Giovanni Marcantonio, who founded the still-popular Mark Toney local chain.
More traditional Geordie delicacies include:
Stotties – the local bread, a flattish floured roll, which you will find sold in Greggs (a bakery chain that was founded in Gosforth, a suburb to the north of Newcastle, and has grown to a country-wide business). You can also get stotties in many of the local pubs, with a variety of fillings of which the most traditional is ham and pease pudding or the popular ‘cheese savoury’ (grated cheese mixed with chutney).
In Geordie dialect 'stott' means 'bounce', and if you drop your stotty it should bounce due to its dense texture.
Pease Pudding – a soft, smooth and spreadable paste made from split yellow peas.
Pan Haggerty – a dish of thinly sliced potatoes, fried onions and mature cheddar cheese, a sort of poor man’s Gratin Dauphinoise.
Singin' Hinnys – a type of scone cooked on a griddle and so-called because of the hissing noise they make while cooking.
Some of our favourite restaurants and pubs
We eat out a lot in Newcastle, as even when we rent an apartment for the week we don’t want to spend all our holiday cooking! So of course we’ve developed a fondness for particular places, and these are some of our current favourites:
Caffe Vivo: best Italian in town!
Chargrilled calamari, Caffe Vivo
This is possibly our favourite Newcastle restaurant, and certainly our favourite Italian. The food is consistently good and is a cut above the standard pasta and pizza offerings you find elsewhere in the city. Many of the dishes I have eaten here stand up well to comparison with those available in good restaurants in Italy, including the tagliata (not always available), calves liver and char-grilled squid starter – I defy you to eat the latter and not imagine yourself beside the Adriatic!
In fact you are just a stone’s throw from the Quayside, so after dinner you can work off some of the calories with a walk by the river to enjoy the sight of the illuminated Millennium Bridge.
Caffe Vivo, 29 Broad Chare, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3DQ
Blackfriars Restaurant: the UK’s oldest dining room?
The quiet haven of Blackfriars has long been one of my favourite spots in the city centre, and in recent years the restaurant that is part of the complex has become another. Looking for somewhere special, but reasonable, for a New Year’s Eve dinner some years ago, I discovered that here the menu is the same as throughout December – no exorbitant mark-up, no unwanted ‘entertainment’. What is more, the menu looked delicious, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced food, so we booked ... and were not disappointed! And we’ve been here every New Year’s Eve since, as well as on a few other occasions.
Firstly, the restaurant is in a wonderful old building, the former Dominican friary which dates back to the 13th century. It occupies the friary’s former refectory and thus can claim with some justification to be the country’s oldest dining room! On a chilly New Year’s Eve it is always very cosy and welcoming, and the service equally so, despite this being the liveliest evening in Tyneside’s calendar.
But the food is what really counts of course, and it is always excellent. Of our first visit I wrote:
‘My game terrine was rich and meaty, Chris’s pigeon salad fresh tasting and generous in size. Mains too were great, with my halibut being my favourite course of the evening (great wild mushrooms and a delicious sauce). For dessert I had a wonderful bowl of plums poached in cinnamon which were refreshing and suitable festive for the season, and Chris raved about his chocolate torte. Being New Year’s Eve, we may have had the odd drink, and for these, the three courses and service we paid a little over £100. Not cheap, but reasonable for the amount and quality of what we had and in such a lovely setting too.’
If you want to experience the latter without splashing out, they do a great value set menu at lunch time and early evening. There are also lots of special events here (cookery classes, wine tastings and more), while the next-door Banqueting Hall can be hired for special occasions and also stages Medieval Banquets from time to time.
Blackfriars, Friars Street, Newcastle. NE1 4XN
Ottoman Turkish Restaurant: good food, great value
A fairly recent discovery is this smart and very good value Turkish restaurant a stone’s throw from the Central Station. We were introduced to it by Chris’s cousin a few years ago and met up with her here for a tasty meal with friendly service – a very pleasant evening, and we've been back quite a few times since.
The menu is varied and interesting, with all the Middle Eastern favourites but also some dishes I've not seen elsewhere. To start with on that first visit we shared a hot starter platter with felafel, spicy garlic sausage, grilled haloumi cheese and a couple of different filo pastry parcels. We each chose a different main course – mine, Ali Nasik, was really good, with well-flavoured minced lamb chunks on a sauce of yoghurt with aubergine. Our cousin had a similar dish served on flatbread (Iskender), while Chris had chicken breast stuffed with cheese, peppers and onions.
We’ve been back a couple of times since and the food and overall experience have been consistently good, while prices remain very reasonable. Well worth a visit.
Ottoman, 32 Clayton Street West, NE1 5DZ
Dabbawal: Indian street food
The concept behind this Indian restaurant on High Bridge is 'street food' and many of the dishes are served in small portions to share, tapas-style. But there are also plenty of the regular full-size Indian favourites and some more unusual ones too. The décor is modern, looking maybe more like a stylish cocktail bar than an Indian restaurant.
We have eaten here several times and always enjoyed our meal. On a couple of occasions we've opted for the fixed price set 'Chef’s surprise' menu, where you take pot luck and are brought a selection of dishes for each course – both times all were good and it represents great value at £22 per person (autumn 2017 price). On other visits we’ve chosen from the menu. Favourite dishes include a starter of chicken pakora fritters, with a light batter and good chilli dipping sauce, and another, Masala Batada Vada, which consists of fluffy potato patties with a spicy green sauce.
Dabbawal, 69-75 High Bridge, NE1 6BX
The Stand Bistro: comedy club eatery
In the Stand Bistro
A basement comedy club quite recently opened on High Bridge and although we haven’t yet had a chance to go to that, we have eaten in the bistro on the ground floor several times, and are always impressed by the quality of the food. It’s a cosy space with stripped wood walls, several booths and a cheerful window seat scattered with cushions. There isn’t a huge selection of food, but what there is all sounds appealing and there is a reasonable choice for vegetarians, those on a gluten-free diet and so on.
There is also a decent wine list with almost all the wines available by the glass as well as bottle, and a good selection of real ales (as well as spirits, soft drinks, teas and “proper” coffee).
On our first visit, for lunch, we both chose burritos – Chris had the beef and I went for the veggie option (with wild mushrooms and lentils). These were excellent – full of flavour, generously sized and nicely presented. We’ve since been back for dinner on a couple of occasions and have enjoyed the Greek style burger (with feta cheese), very nicely cooked sea bass and good veggie curry, among other dishes. On our most recent visit we also especially liked a shared starter of chicken empanadas with salsa, lime and coriander sour cream.
Stand Bistro, 31 High Bridge, NE1 1EW
Café Royal: city centre bistro
This is a good choice for lunch in the city centre, whether you want just a light snack or a full meal. Tables are on two floors; the ground floor serves lighter café-style items such as coffee, pastries and sandwiches, and is counter service, while the first floor is more like a bistro and has full table service. You can only reserve tables on this latter floor, and as the place is popular you’ll need to come early if you want to eat in the café, or be prepared to queue.
The menu is chalked up on a board and includes several bistro favourites such as moules marinieres, pasta dishes and a steak sandwich, and there is also a daily specials menu. Prices are in the mid-range for Newcastle. The bistro attracts quite a mixed clientele – older couples, family groups, friends meeting up for lunch, shoppers etc. Highly recommended!
Café Royal, 8 Nelson Street, NE1 5AW
Lady Greys: our favourite city centre pub
It seems that at any given time we will have a favourite Newcastle pub or two, but those favourites change every few years, as places decline or are done up, or the beer or food served changes, or simply because of new discoveries. The Lady Grey in Shakespeare Street falls into the first category. This used to be the Adelphi, a traditional pub popular with actors (the Theatre Royal’s stage door is just across the street) and football fans. We used to come here from time to time but wouldn’t have raked it as a favourite. But in 2011 it underwent a transformation and became the rather elegant Lady Greys, and we have been visiting regularly ever since.
In Lady Greys
We have been here at different times of day and for different reasons. We’ve had lunch a couple of times (they do great sandwiches, and the more substantial choices are good too). We’ve been mid afternoon on New Year’s Eve, when the atmosphere was lively but not as raucous as in some parts of the city. And we’ve been for a night-cap after dinner elsewhere. On all these occasions we found the pub just to our liking – not too quiet or too busy, with friendly service and staff who are knowledgeable about the beers they serve.
And talking of beers, they have a great range and really take things seriously. We’ve had several good ones here on the various visits, but a couple that stand out are local ones – the Ouseburn Porter, and a wonderful Cherry Stout from the Tynebank Brewery. But if beer’s not your thing, or not what you fancy right now, they also have an excellent selection of wines and all the regular drinks you might expect. There’s also a proper espresso machine if you would like a coffee.
Lady Greys, Shakespeare Street, NE1 6AQ.
The Bridge Hotel: Location, location, location
This pub near the castle is a favourite of ours by day and night. Firstly, it scores highly on location. It’s in the city centre but a little off the most beaten pathways – away from the shops (so a little quieter during the day) and from the focus spots for night-time activity such as the Bigg Market and Quayside. But it isn’t just this slightly off-path location that makes it a winner; it’s also its lofty perch above the River Tyne. And the pub makes the most of the views, with an outdoor terrace and a raised area inside which looks out over the river to Gateshead beyond. OK, maybe a view of Gateshead isn’t going to grab you, but with three of the Tyne’s famous bridges in the foreground there’s plenty to look at, and at night the lights of the city make the view even better.
But you could get a view from many places, I know. This is a pub and you want a drink! Well, if real ale is your thing you’re in luck, with a decent selection of regulars and a varied rotation of guest ales. In fact, the pub has been listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide every year since 1998.
Once you’ve chosen your drink there’s plenty of room in which to relax and enjoy it, and you can also admire the stained glass windows which depict various scenes linked to the surrounding area – the bridges, the houses stacked up on the steep river banks, boats on the Tyne etc.
Stained glass window at the Bridge
Bridge Hotel, Castle Square, NE1 1RQ
The Crow’s Nest: our match-day choice
Almost all the pubs in Newcastle are frequented by football fans on match-day, either before or after the game, or both. And every fan has their favourite – indeed, many of us would be superstitious about the idea that we might drink anywhere other than our usual place, as it could impact negatively on the result. Incidentally, this belief isn’t restricted to where you drink – most fans will have superstitions about things such as the route they take to the ground, the clothing they wear, and other details.
Anyway, for us the match-day pub is always the Crow’s Nest on Percy Street, and has been for some years. This is partly down that that superstition thing – we watched a memorable victory on the big screen TVs here years ago and have been coming ever since. But also we have a group of like-minded friends who drink here before and after every match so it is natural to join them whenever we are ‘in Toon’ for a game.
Match day drinks in the Crow's Nest
If you’re looking for somewhere to drink on match-day this pub has a lot to recommend it. It’s always busy with fans, and is happy to welcome away fans as well as home ones. They usually have enough staff working to serve you your drinks efficiently even when the pub is packed. There is a good selection of beers and other drinks, and food is available. The TV screens show Sky Sports news and/or any live games, helping to keep the football chat going. Maybe we’ll see you there?!
The Crow’s Nest, 137 Percy Street, NE1 7RY
City Tavern: a pub for dog lovers
When an aunt told us that the City Tavern had been refurbished and was reopened, Chris got all nostalgic, having drunk here many times in his (under-age!) youth. So of course we had to try it. We went for a beer one day when shopping in town, and went back a few days later for lunch. On both occasions we were impressed. There’s a cosy atmosphere, although the country house hunting / dogs theme seems a little out of place in the city centre perhaps (we realised on our second visit that the owner is definitely a dog lover as his own rather large but placid hound was there with him – one of several as I later learned).
Food is served both upstairs and down, but the upper floor has a little more of a restaurant feel perhaps – and the bar there doesn’t seem to serve the real ales that are available downstairs (though we didn’t check to see if these could be brought if requested – the service was very friendly, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that possible). We stayed downstairs on both our visits. On the first, we enjoyed our beers and had fun watching the Laurel & Hardy film being shown on a nearby screen. This too seems to be a theme of the pub, as another of their films was being shown on our next visit. On that occasion we both had the chicken wrap – generously filled with good breast meat, mustard mayo, beef tomato and cheddar cheese, and served with chunky fries and home-made celeriac remoulade, which was very good. We’ve been back since and enjoyed fish cakes and burgers, while Chris’s aunt also recommends the 'honey mustard glazed mini sausages'. The menu helpfully offers two sizes of many of the dishes, contains a good number of vegetarian options, and also offers dietary information and lots of gluten-free alternatives.
And back to the dogs ... The pub’s website makes it clear that these are welcomed (they even have a menu of doggie treats and even non-alcoholic dog beer! And it also says that one of the owner’s ‘resident bar hounds’ will be in the pub each day. Other dog owners are invited to post photos of their own dogs – and I would suggest that anyone who dislikes dogs stays away! But although we are more ‘cat people’ than ‘dog people’ we continue to visit regularly, as the tasty food, good beer selection, pleasant environment and city centre location make for an inviting combination.
City Tavern, 10 Northumberland Road, NE1 8JF
Pitcher and Piano: all about the view
With an unbeatable location on the quayside, this is our favourite spot for lunch on a sunny day. If the weather is warm enough you can sit outside in the sunshine enjoying the river views, while on bright but chilly winter days we make a point of arriving early enough to get a table by the huge windows where we can soak up the sun and watch the world go by.
The Pitcher and Piano
In the Pitcher and Piano
Mediterranean Platter, Pitcher and Piano
You do pay a little for the setting and the view, with beer at London prices - but it's well worth the extra. There's a good lunchtime menu with salads, burgers and other staples, but for a light meal we usually go for one of their "sharing platters" such as the Mediterranean – salami, chorizo, chicken skewers, olives, mozzarella and garlic bread. There’s a wide selection of drinks too - various beers on tap and in bottles, a good wine list and a tempting selection of cocktails.
Pitcher and Piano, 108 Quayside, NE1 3DX
Central Bean: coffee shop favourite
This coffee bar is a little away from the main shopping area, but convenient if you’re paying a visit to St James’s Park or checking out some of the more individual shops in that part of the city. It’s bright and cheerful, with plenty of room to sit and relax over your coffee, and has become a favourite haunt for us, especially for a weekend breakfast. The coffee is very good – the baristas clearly know what they are doing. I particularly like their “classic cappuccino” – a smaller, stronger cappuccino of “greater coffee depth” as the menu puts it. There is also a good selection of cakes and pastries, sandwiches and other snacks.
Central Bean, Gallowgate, NE1 4SN
Great Coffee: coffee with a view
If you are going to call your coffee shop “Great coffee” you had better make sure that this is what you serve, and thankfully the coffee here is very good. It could equally have been called “Great location” and that is arguably the more important claim it could make. There are other places in Newcastle to get good coffee but few if any can boast a window overlooking the river in a prime people-watching spot. Furthermore (and surprisingly) it’s usually not difficult to get a table here, as much of the custom is for take-away coffee to fuel the many lawyers, solicitors etc who work around here, right next door to the law courts.
As for the coffee, it is reliably good here, and there’s a range of teas, hot chocolate and cold drinks too. Unlike many coffee shops, you can get a full English breakfast here, but the selection of pastries is perhaps less good than elsewhere. There’s also porridge and yoghurt, but on the whole this isn’t my favourite choice at this time of day. It’s better later on perhaps, when you want a mid-morning coffee or an afternoon mocha, and to sit a while and watch the world go by on the Quayside outside. There’s also apparently a good selection of lunchtime sandwiches, rolls etc., though we’ve not yet been here for lunch. I imagine it would get very busy with takeaway orders.
In Great Coffee
Exterior of Great Coffee, and sign on its wall
The décor here is bright and light, with large windows, pale wood tables and chairs (a few softer chairs are available but often snapped up) and some good black and white photos of local sights. There are newspapers available and a meeting room downstairs for hire.
Great Coffee, 81 Quayside, NE1 3DE