Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Best Pubs in Newcastle

If there's one thing that Newcastle excels itself in, it's the somewhat lost art of offering a really decent set of excellent pubs. Yeah, there's the usual endless selection of chains, the quayside establishments with beer soaked carpets and assorted collections of hen and stag dos, and the type of places that you've hopefully never witnessed the likes of until you've seen Geordie Shore. But if you're willing to do a bit of digging about, you'll find plenty of pubs that are nothing but bloody lovely.

Having recently ended up back in Newcastle after a brief return to the homeland, I set myself the selfless task of carrying out some thorough investigative research into what could be considered as the cream of the boozer crop. It's probably worth noting that my beer knowledge is somewhat limited. So while I'm not professing to be an expert on such matters, these are the places that I'd choose to head to when in need of a bit of alcoholic respite, and the places that I'd suggest to people who I generally don't dislike.

The Free Trade Inn 

The Free Trade is my new local, but even if it wasn't, it's definitely worth a fairly long journey to get to. Firstly, THE VIEWS! Have you ever witnessed a pub with views as good as this?

No, neither have I. But as well as having the best beer garden in the whole of the city (maybe even the whole of the North East), it's got plenty in the way of substance too. Absolutely loads of local beers, an impressive array of CAMRA and other awards from those who actually know stuff about this kind of thing, and some of the friendliest bar staff that I've witnessed in recent times.

If that wasn't enough, they've acquired a resident pub cat that goes by the name of Craig David. There's even a little collection pot on the bar in his name, and I have it on good authority that he's had all his injections and other such feline essentials funded purely through the kindness of regulars and passers-by. And if that doesn't make you feel a little bit better about the state of humanity, I don't know what will.

The Tyne Bar 

Just thirty seconds down the bank from The Free Trade is The Tyne Bar. It's what I'd call a summer pub, in the sense that there's loads of outdoor seating, a regular selection of gigs played outside, and it's right on the river. Located under Glasshouse Road Bridge, they've got some funky under-arch lighting craic going on, and there's even a few disco balls hanging about.

Go here for late afternoon boozing, or slightly later on when there's a certain sort of holiday vibe. Well, the closest that you're likely to find to that in Newcastle, anyway.

It's a bit hipster at times, but it's Ouseburn. Par for the course.

The Forth 

I've been darkening the towers of The Forth since my university days, and it's remained a firm favourite. A decent selection of beers, and a laid back feel that stays present whether you're there for a Saturday night or have turned up on Sunday under the premise of 'what makes you bad, makes you better'. The nooks and crannies make it a wise choice for a date pub, and the little terrace on the roof is a good spot if you fancy chain smoking loads of fags. They've even got a board that states it doesn't serve the likes of Malibu and Fosters and Smirnoff Ice, so you can rest safe in the knowledge that you can tell your pals that you've been in a proper place that doesn't give in to such tomfoolery. You're in the company of other such booze snobs.

There's also a canny quiz on a Monday night, and the food's pretty good too.


Is BrewDog a pub, or is it actually a bar? It doesn't really matter anyway, because it's smashing. Possibly the coolest start-up story of the past ten years, it involves two Scottish fellas with a passion for craft beer and a dedication to bringing it to the masses. Since 2010, they've opened nine bars in Scotland and England, one of which is on Newcastle's Dean Street.

Kitted out with an industrialist sort of decor with bare concrete walls, steel beams, the odd neon light and huge windows, they've got loads of beers on tap, including their core Punk IPA and Dead Pony Club lines. Recently too, they've started doing beery cocktails, which have become my go-to beverage when visiting.

Masses of attitude without being pretentious, and they've got boardgames too. Pubs with boardgames always earn a few extra points.

Obviously, this select few may be my personal favourites, but there's plenty more that could be strung onto the list to make up the finest of pub crawls. The Bacchus, Lady Greys, and The Bodega are close contenders that are worth a mention, and a visit, for that matter. Make a day of it and visit each one. It is summer, after all.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Newcastle Restaurant Week 2013

January, eh? Broken resolutions, a bank balance that you daren’t even look at, and the horrible realisation that it’s no longer acceptable to crack open a bottle of wine before 2pm. The less said about the whole thing, the better. Not to worry though, as the nice folks at NE1 have thoughtfully coincided Newcastle Restaurant Week with what would otherwise be the most depressing month of the year. 

Seven days when you can dine at some of the city’s best restaurants for just a fraction of the price that you’d usually pay. At £10 or £15 per person, it’s almost cheaper than eating at home. Forty restaurants are taking part in total, but that’s probably a few too many for even the most enthusiastic of diners to work through in a week. So without further ado, here’s where you should be eating between the 21st and 27th of January.

This was a guest post for KYEO.tv. You can read the full piece over at their website.

Monday, 31 December 2012

I'm going vegetarian! (For January)

I'm going meat-free for the whole of January. 31 days of no meat or fish. Obviously, everyone keeps asking 'why?', which is a bloody good question, and one that I'm starting to ask myself. I almost definitely eat too much meat. I have pretty much no clue about how to cook good veggie stuff. I think that perhaps I just fancy a new challenge.

A few kind souls have offered to sponsor me for my efforts, so I've set up a page on JustGiving to raise a bit of money for the Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman. If that's not an incentive to stay on the meat-free wagon, I don't know what is.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few weeks while I've been researching, it's that it's a bit of a minefield in terms of knowing exactly what you can and can't have. So in the interests of clearing things up from the offset, I will be eating dairy products, but I'll be avoiding everything that isn't suitable for vegetarians (not vegans).

I absolutely love meat and I've got no desire whatsoever to give it up permanently, but I'm pretty excited about the whole thing now.

So, please do point me in the direction of any veggie blogs I should be reading, recipes I should be trying, or places I can go out to eat in the North East when I totally run out of inspiration.

Meanwhile, I'll be cursing about the whole thing over on Twitter.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Getting back on the food blogging horse

As far as hobbies go, food blogging is a bit of an odd one. Taking photos of your dinner and writing about it is a fairly strange concept to most normal people. Giles Coren went so far as to call all food bloggers 'pointless wankers' recently. Even so, it's been the source of much enjoyment over the past few years, and something that I always wish I had more time to do. 

In fact, it was probably what led me, in a round-about way, to start my own business earlier this year doing copywriting and other 'wordy stuff'. But since I now spend a large chunk of my time stringing sentences together for other people, it's hard to find the motivation at the end of a long day to write about the latest restaurant I've been to, and whether or not the waitress had a look on her face that suggested she might have spat in my soup. 

Every now and again though, I really miss it. It might be a self-indulgent pastime, but I've made many lovely friends with a similar passion for food. Writing about fashion and SEO and whatever else rears its head might pay the bills, but it's not really anywhere near as exciting. Plus, I've been amazed at just how many people actually take the time to email me and just say that they love reading my blog. What, MINE?! It turns out that it's not just me who will happily spend 5 hours reading whatever drivel they can find on the internet before actually getting down to some frigging work. 

Getting to the point, and as the title suggests, I'm back on the blogging horse. 

So here's to continuing to be a pointless wanker in 2013. 

And just to prove that I haven't been doing nothing whatsoever for the past 6 months, here's a few cakes that I've made during my unplanned blogging break. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Veg Box Company experiment: the verdict

So a few weeks ago, I jumped on the veg box bandwagon and received my first delivery from The Veg Box Company. £12 got me the couple's fruit and veg box, packed with more than enough to feed two people for a week. The challenge was this though: could I actually use it all in a week to create lovely, healthy recipes? Or would it end up shrivelled in its box, forgotten about while I was easily persuaded to go out for dinner after work, or low and behold, pop into Tesco?

In the end, I surprised even myself. A week after it had been delivered, all that was left was a single orange. It probably goes without saying, but one of the best things about getting a veg box is that you don't know what you'll be getting, other than that it'll be local, seasonal produce. Planning what you'll make therefore turns into quite an exciting little project.

Everything was used without too much ado, and it was actually quite nice to make meals led by the content of the veg box rather than having to think of endless ideas off the top of your head. All the produce was really fresh and high quality, and my only complaint would be that there was nothing too 'out of the ordinary'. Probably a plus really, in terms of getting everything used, but it would have been nice to see something that you might usually have to go out of your way to find. The content of the boxes changes weekly though, so maybe next time I'll be able to have a moan that I don't know what to do with all these weird and wonderful vegetables.

I made frittatas, stir fries, numerous honey roasted vegetable side dishes, a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, and on lazy evenings, just whatever was in the fridge with a tray of roasted vegetables. A caramelised onion and tomato tatin was a particular success. Yes I cheated and used ready made pastry, but really, who has time to make their own on a weeknight?

Recipe serves 4.

You'll need:

500g puff pastry
75g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
400g tomatoes, cut into large chunks (or use whole cherry toms)

  • Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan assisted/gas mark 6. Heat a heavy based pan over a medium heat and melt two thirds of the butter with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook for about ten minutes, or until golden. Add 1 tsp sugar and balsamic vinegar, stir well so all the onions are coated, and cook for another few minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining butter and olive oil in the pan and once melted, add the remaining sugar, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Pour the tomatoes into a tart tatin tin. If you don't own one, any large ovenproof bowl can be used. Scatter the onions over the top.
  • Roll out the pastry so it's slightly bigger than the top of your tin. Lay the pastry over the top and tuck in at the edges.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out of the tin. This is the only tricky part of the whole recipe. Place an upturned plate over the tin and quickly turn over. No messing around here. Edge it out slowly and you'll end up with a broken tart.
Serve with new potatoes and green beans or salad.

All in all, my little veg box experiment was a resounding success. Buying from local suppliers such as The Veg Box Company isn't going to change the world, but it will mean that you have lovely local produce at fair prices while supporting people who are passionate about what they do. Buy a box. You won't be disappointed.

Electric East, Newcastle

Anyone who enjoys getting fed seems to be raving about Electric East at the minute. Previously operating as Barn Asia, the Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian fusion restaurant was a jewel in Newcastle’s culinary crown, winning the North East’s only addition in the Times Top 100 Best Restaurant list and a Remy Martin Award for Excellence. Sadly, I’d never quite gotten round to eating at Barn Asia before it closed its doors for the last time in October, another casualty of the recession. But no sooner had it gone the distance, it was reopened as Electric East. Same staff, same management, and a bloody good excuse to have an evening out...

This was a guest post for KYEO.tv. You can read the full review over at their website.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What's on in January: Newcastle Restaurant Week

Like most, I started January with the best possible intentions. A copy of the latest Weight Watchers magazine, a clear out of the alcohol cupboard, solemn promises to myself that I'll be looking svelte and gorgeous in a bikini by June.

Also similar to most, I expect that the sentiment will be dashed by the end of the month. But really, could there be a worse time to deprive yourself?

If you're looking for ways to add a bit of excitement to an otherwise dull January, or an excuse for falling off the dieting wagon with a bit of style, pencil in Newcastle Restaurant Week. Running from 23rd-29th January, the event involves over 20 of the city's top restaurants, mostly offering 2 courses for £10. My personal favourites from the list include Blackfriars, Cafe 21 and Pan Haggerty, though I also intend to try out a few places that have been on my 'to do' list for a while now. On a more serious note, it's also an affordable opportunity to support the local restaurant scene during these tough times.

For a full list of participating restaurants, check out the Get into Newcastle website. Booking in advance would be sensible.

I'm taking full advantage and I've booked a table at two restaurants throughout the week already. Everything in moderation, eh?