Award-winning beer writer ALASTAIR GILMOUR has just published The Great North East Brewery Guide, a book that celebrates the region’s proud tradition of brewing and those who contribute to its fine reputation for great beer. Those people are what make the drinks we enjoy so special, he writes…
People talk about gardeners having “green fingers” but it’s a description that could readily be applied to brewers. Leek-growers rear their plants like their children, dahlia experts talk to their blooms, and carrots don’t perform unless their rosettes are fondled regularly.
It’s the same with beer, it has to be treated with devotion at every stage. Brew it from the finest ingredients possible on the best equipment available with heaps of inventive muscle and brains and the results will speak for themselves. Craft brewers are fanatical about their choice of hops, the malt they order, the mashing-in regime, the conditioning, the ageing and attention to every detail. It’s what makes great beer – and here in the North East of England we have some of the most inventive, knowledgeable and skilful brewers in the nation, working on gleaming kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.
Our breweries range from cramped units such as shipping containers to huge and impressive structures lined with Italian marble. The process of making beer is much the same in all of them but honesty and flamboyance come out at the other end – and that’s beer’s beauty. The region’s brewers are a dedicated lot, a set of charismatic people with individual traits that influence the beer they brew. And we don’t half brew good beer here – which is what The Great North East Brewery Guide celebrates.
Latest figures tell us that there are now more than 2,000 breweries operating in the UK, taking growth rate over the past five years to 64%. The North East has enjoyed a similar percentage rise in craft brewery start-ups, many of them by former home-brewers inspired by a public demand for adventurous flavours and the realisation that now is the time.
We’re all reaping the benefit of better quality beer and more choice, plus the altruistic notion that we’re in our small way contributing to a fiercely independent movement and doing our bit in the growth of the local economy.
Beer can be as simple or as sophisticated as we wish it to be. Breweries produce it, but never forget, it’s people who make it and people who drink it. Cheers!
ALASTAIR GILMOUR is a freelance writer who previously worked for The Journal and The Northern Echo. His work has also featured in national and international media, such as The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Prague Post, Brewers’ Guardian, Eastern Airways in-flight magazine, Food & Travel magazine and – once – The Church Times. He founded and edits Cheers, an award-winning pub and drinks publication (www.cheersnortheast.co.uk), as well as having contributed to several books.
Beer blogger, PAUL WHITE doffs his cap to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s micro-brewers as he visits a new micro-pub and beer shop in Bishop Auckland.
One of the interesting by-products of the craft beer boom of recent years has been the entrepreneurial spirit it has unleashed in people.
Perhaps it is the relatability of the product, alongside a clamour from punters, that has made people feel more comfortable taking a leap and setting up a micro-brewery or bottle shop.
Whatever the cause, it’s great to see.
What’s really pleasing is how this has taken off in my home region, North East England. This week, I called in at the opening day of a brand new beer shop/micro-pub, Caps Off, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
Making use of a unit attached to the town’s train station, three young entrepreneurs have gone from selling beer on market stalls to opening their own place.
And it’s not just bottles. Caps Off has keg and cask beer, too, as well as gins and ciders.
All of this and they are focusing strongly on local producers. Local entrepreneurs supporting others in their local market is something to be applauded.
Alongside a selection from Brewdog – a smart move, as it will give newbies a brand they recognise, from which they can move on to trying the local ales – are beers from Rocket Town, Sonnet 43, Allendale Brewery, Wylam Brewery and more, mostly from across the North East.
This is something that’s pretty much brand new to Bishop Auckland, which sadly lost its local Black Paw Brewery earlier this year, so it’s a brave move in a town where pub footfall has dropped considerably in the last couple of decades.
By selling bottles for consumption on site, or to take away, and mixing it with the opportunity to have a pint from the keg or cask as well, it stands a chance, because it caters to both the pub and home drinker markets.
Caps Off is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11am to 10pm.
Sunderland fan and beer blogger PAUL WHITE swallows his pride, a glass of Shearer and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale but does it leave a bitter taste?
Well, my football team, Sunderland, got hammered and my fantasy league side had a pretty low-scoring day. Our rival football team, Newcastle, won. Ireland won in the rugby (that’s a good thing in our house). All round, yesterday was a pretty mixed bag, in terms of sports.
So, what better way to wind down than with a couple of beers, and I thought I would look at the relationship between beer and sport. In particular, beers that one might associate with a rival team. In my case, that means Newcastle United.
I guess the question I’m asking myself is, should you ever be put off a good beer because its association with the “other side” of a sporting rivalry leaves a bitter taste before the first drop has been tasted? Or, is it tantamount to a chance to get one over on the opposition: “I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.” I’m sure other analogies can be found.
Now, Tyneside has its fair share of excellent breweries, but I have gone for one beer that is indelibly associated with the football team, and one that is, well, only linked by virtue of an unfortunate name.
Let’s start with that one and ease myself into it.
Shearer, from Black Sheep, is actually named in honour of sheep shearers, as opposed to being a tribute to Alan. Still, I thought twice, only half-heartedly, about whether I could bring myself to drink a beer that carries the name of the hero – legend, even – for those up the road.
As far as I recall, despite being the all-time Premier League goalscoring record holder, Shearer the player only ever scored three times against Sunderland (Gary Rowell managed that many against Newcastle in one game).He is also very fair about Sunderland in his punditry on Match of the Day, even quite vocal in his praise on the rare occasion it is warranted (not tonight, definitely not tonight). Plus, you have to admire a player who will choose to reject a move to a big club where he might achieve his true potential in order to fulfil the dream of joining the team he supported from childhood*.
So, actually, I don’t have any issue with the man himself, and as I take my first taste of the beer, I realise that I can put the loose link to Newcastle to one side and enjoy a really fresh, citrusy, pale ale. It’s probably more a summer ale, being so light and fruity, rather than a drink for a cold February night with a good chance of waking up to a snowy scene in the morning.
This is probably lighter than anything I’ve tasted from Black Sheep and I’ve had pretty much everything they’ve had on offer in the last five years or so. It goes down really well and you could drink it all afternoon on a good beer garden day, especially as it’s a nice steady 4.1%. Probably not in a Sunderland beer garden, though.
So, yes, this very loosely affiliated beer is a winner, but I won’t be shouting its name in bars any time soon.
Now, onto the second of the beers. Newcastle Brown Ale takes me back to the days when the iconic Blue Star adorned not only the label of its bottles, but also the shirts of Newcastle United. However, it’s also a beer I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, as far afield as New York. As someone who is proud of the North East as a whole, it’s great to see a beer from the region finding its way into bars around the world.
However, as I’ve historically considered it a strong beer, I’ve often only turned to Newcastle Brown Ale once I’ve been well into a night out. Nowadays, 4.7% doesn’t seem that strong, with many of the beers on the market going much higher.
In reality, it is probably my North East roots and the cultural identity that Newcastle Brown Ale has, stretching much further than the association with the football team, that make me feel more than comfortable about enjoying a bottle of Dog.
The nickname alone says something about life in the North East in days gone by, with “I’m gannin’ to see a man about a Dog” often being an excuse to get out of the house and down to the pub.
There’s something about Newcastle Brown Ale that makes it far more a part of the North East than purely being a Newcastle United-related drink. And that’s before I even talk about the beer itself. Few beers achieve such iconic status without being good. Dog is good. Very good.
Smooth and full of flavour and aroma, one can forgive the fact it’s now brewed in Yorkshire if it means keeping a great beer alive.
Having enjoyed bottles of Sunderland’s Double Maxim and Guinness Original XX last Saturday, while Sunderland were enjoying their 0-4 smash and grab raid at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and Ireland were narrowly being beaten by Scotland in an RBS Six Nations classic, I can say that great beers go with sport and it’s nice to have that association. However, why deny your tastebuds a treat simply because of sporting allegiances?
*Tongue firmly in cheek. You won’t get many footballers making that sort of choice these days.
DAVID SIMPSON speaks to former London marathon winner and Olympic medallist, Charlie Spedding about his big plan to tackle obesity and help the nation lose a million pounds in weight
A former North East Olympic marathon medallist has launched an ambitious online campaign to help thousands of people lose millions of pounds in weight.
Charlie Spedding, 64, is the owner of ‘Who Wants to Lose a Million Pounds’ a venture that hopes to tackle the nation’s escalating obesity problem, helping people become healthy without feeling hungry:
“I have this collective idea of a whole group of people losing a million pounds” says Charlie, one of the region’s most successful athletes, referring to losing the ‘lbs’ rather than the ‘£s’.
Born in Bishop Auckland and raised in Ferryhill, Charlie started running at school where cross country was compulsory:
“It was the first thing I was any good at” he recalls.
Charlie came second in the English School Championship for 1,500 metres in his final year at school and at 16, joined Gateshead Harriers, regularly taking a bus trip from Ferryhill to Gateshead just to train. Charlie proved not quite fast enough for the middle distances, but moved up to 5,000 and 10,000 metres before finally making his mark in the marathon.
The pinnacle of his career came in 1984, when he won both the Houston and London marathons and claimed Bronze in the Los Angeles Olympics, narrowly missing out on silver to Irishman John Treacy by two seconds.
Considering the marathon’s central place in the Olympic story, Charlie can take particular pride in being the only Brit to have won an Olympic marathon medal in the last 52 years. Furthermore he is one of only six British athletes to have won the London Marathon since its inception in 1981 and is the third fastest British marathon runner of all time, after Steve Jones and Mo Farrah.
I met Charlie at his home in a village near Durham to talk about loseamillionpounds.com the website at the heart of his new business venture. First, though, I ask Charlie if he thinks he should be better remembered for his past achievements.
He’s somewhat philosophical and modestly recalls that there were some great gold medallists around at the time like Seb Coe and Daley Thompson but he proudly reflects on a prized photo of himself with Steve Cram and Mike Mcleod fresh on arrival back at Newcastle from Los Angeles in 1984.
By trade, Charlie is a pharmacist and has been for most of his life, training at Sunderland Polytechnic Pharmacy School, before starting his pharmacy career in Ferryhill. In more recent times he owned a pharmacy business in Wallsend and along with his athletics experience this gave him a sound knowledge of diet, nutrition and how the body works at the chemical and hormonal level.
In his work as a pharmacist he became acutely aware of the dietary problems that many people have: “I just noticed that most of the people I saw regularly had what you call metabolic diseases, not infections” he says “their internal metabolism had gone awry, it wasn’t working properly, they’d been taking medication for years and hardly any of them got any better”.
He concluded that medication was treating the symptom, not the cause of the problem and felt that it would do a lot more good to prevent the cause.
“A lot of metabolic diseases are caused by lifestyle and the most important bit of lifestyle is diet” he says. “I know a lot of people would expect me as an Olympic marathon runner to say exercise, and exercise is very important for mental and physical health” but he quotes the words of influential NHS cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra, who says “you can’t outrun a bad diet”, a point on which Charlie agrees.
Charlie notes we are told that one third of the UK has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 25 and that another quarter has a BMI of over 30. “It’s not good, but how do you visualise that?” he asks.
As part of the argument Charlie assumes a BMI of over 25 is about 2 stone overweight and a BMI of over 30 is 5 stone overweight. With roughly 60 million people in the country one third of the population is 20 million and one quarter is 15 million. Charlie equates this to a UK population that is a staggering 2,000 million pounds overweight. On this basis, the North East, which has one of the highest levels of obesity within its 2.5 million people, is around 85 million pounds overweight. Charlie thinks that if he can gather together a group of people on his site to collectively lose a million pounds it would be a great start in beating obesity.
Charlie’s particular dietary approach to tackling the problem will have its critics. He is an advocate of a LCHF based diet (Low Carbohydrate, High Fat). There are a number of eminent supporters of this approach but in the UK there are some major heavyweight opponents such as the NHS who are broadly opposed or at least very cautious and the British Heart Foundation who are a significant opponent. High fat diets are often associated in some minds with heart disease but Charlie refutes this research.
He acknowledges that his approach does not fit in with official guidelines and his website makes this clear. His opinion has been informed from extensive research and he encourages people to make their own decisions with their own research.
In truth, major aspects of Charlie’s campaign are hard to deny. Reducing sugar, present in so many processed foods (a particular bugbear for Charlie) and sugary drinks is a key part of Charlie’s campaign and certainly a key factor in tackling obesity. Charlie is a great believer in what he calls ‘real foods’ as opposed to processed foods and advocates the importance of cooking as opposed to ready meals.
Widespread processed foods, excessive carbohydrates and sugary drinks are a relatively recent feature of the human story and Charlie believes humans are not equipped to cope with this change. Foods with more fat content are in tune with the way we have evolved according to Charlie.
He feels the terminology of ‘fat’ is something of an issue. “The problem is we use the same word for dietary fat as being fat” he says. In fact scientists call the fats within our body ‘lipids’ but it is understandable that in the public mind it is hard not to associate ‘being fat’ with dietary fat.
“It’s carbohydrates that make you fat”, says Charlie.
He notes that fats of various kinds are an essential part of our body’s structure and that much of the body is made from fat. The brain for example is around 70% fat and our cells are encased in membranes made of fat while our nerves are encased in protective sheaths that are fat. Charlie notes that while the body is made up of proteins and fats, “no part of the body is made from carbohydrates” and advocates that fats are a perfectly good source of energy.
He argues that saturated fat as part of a diet became demonised, especially after 1977 when official US dietary guidelines encouraged a diet based on carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, pasta) and discouraged fats (butter, lard, cream, eggs, cheese). Much of the world followed suit, but Charlie highlights a graph on his website that shows a very sharp and continuing increase in obesity in the US since 1977 which he associates with the dietary changes.
According to Charlie some researchers think a low fat diet and lack of correct nutrients increase health and mental health problems and he points to a theory that Alzheimer’s Disease may actually be type 3 diabetes.
It’s seemingly the excess glucose from carbohydrates that is the big problem. The liver turns extra glucose into fat and this makes you fat and the high levels of insulin that come from high blood sugar content prevent the burning of the fat.
Although LCHF diets have picked up a significant following in recent years there is a significant body of opinion that disagrees with Charlie’s approach. As with many issues in the modern world it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth.
Clearly, processed food manufacture is a multi-billion pound business and sugary drinks are amongst some of the world’s most powerful brands and Charlie is cautious of this: “Big business definitely affects some of the research” he says “when I see a scientific paper on nutrition, I always look to see who paid for it. In my opinion it’s nearly always funded by the sugar industry in some form or another”.
Charlie is clearly animated and excited by his new venture and is aiming for at least 20,000 subscribers in order to achieve the million pound weight loss. “I want people to join and learn more about what a healthy diet and lifestyle is” he says.
There are opportunities for family membership (£8.99 a month) so that families can work together for mutual support and individual membership is £5.99 a month. The site includes a personal page for each member to record their progress, calculating how much weight has been lost and plotting it on a chart. There are regular articles and updates on how to enjoy delicious foods that satisfy and nourish, video clips, recipes, meal suggestions, articles, ideas on exercise, information on childhood development and lots of regular blogs.
“I’m aware I’ve got an uphill struggle” says Charlie, using what might be seen as a runner’s metaphor but that seems unlikely to deter him given his proven track record for endurance.
Note: This article is not intended as an endorsement of loseamillionpounds.com or Charlie’s views by England’s North East or Truly Awesome Marketing Ltd. As with all diets, consult your doctor if you are not sure. The opinions expressed on loseamillionpounds.com are based on intensive research however they arenot intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional.
Chef’s wife and food blogger, KIRSTIN HANNAFORD heads to Prezzo for a pre-match meal with her dad before joining the crowds for some festive season football
There used to be a time when a midweek home match at St James’ Park followed a set pattern. I’d rush to get finished at work by 6pm and race down into the centre of Newcastle to meet my dad for a bite to eat before heading to the ground to take our seats in time for kick off. That was back in 2010 when relegation to the Championship after 16 years in the Premier League led to an increase in games on weekday evenings, and I still cared enough to sit in the cold for 90 minutes knowing I had to be up early for work the next day.
Six years on I still make it to most Saturday afternoon matches, but it’s been a good few years since I spent an evening shivering in the crowd watching 22 men run around the pitch at St James’ Park hoping I’d be repaid for my efforts with the glory of a win.
So when my father offered me the chance to accompany him to the Nottingham Forest match during the lull between Christmas and New Year, I decided it was time to get the layers on and join the other 50 odd thousand folk hoping for another three points. Plus, a spot of Italian cuisine and a night with my dad had far more appeal than another evening of eating left-over turkey curry and watching the Big Fat Quiz of the Year on catch up.
Feeling pretty fed up with festive fodder, I booked a table at Prezzo, located on the edge of Old Eldon Square’s “hippy green” in the spot that once housed fellow Italian chain, Strada.
Prezzo opened its doors in Newcastle in November 2014 and became the company’s 250th restaurant. It immediately blended in with the plethora of high street pizza pasta chain restaurants that appear to be multiplying in the city centre, each presenting identikit menus to droves of hungry customers, often seen clutching two for one vouchers.
For many people the idea of a chain is synonymous with mediocrity, but this doesn’t need to be the case although such unimaginative places frustrate my husband. Apparently they are the culinary equivalent of painting by numbers. However, Mr Chef wasn’t invited on this occasion and while I understand his preference for a good old fashioned trattoria, where mama lovingly serves up a hearty Italian feast, there is something slightly reassuring about a familiar menu and recognisable surroundings when you have a quick turnaround and you’re feeling rather peckish.
As I approached the glass fronted restaurant on what was a surprisingly mild December evening, I could see my father waiting expectantly in the doorway and so we swiftly made our way inside.
We were met by a direct but not unwelcoming waitress who showed us to our table at the front of the restaurant looking out over Old Eldon Square and the multiple crowds of teenagers set for the night with their beer cans in hand, each trying to outdo one another with their bizarreness.
The restaurant has a modern interior over two floors with a mix of tiles and wooden panelling lining the walls, shiny silver light fittings and neutral décor giving a contemporary minimalistic feel devoid of any real atmosphere. Most of the tables were occupied by diners of varying ages, families with children and a number of obvious fellow match goers, so I was pleased to have booked in advance. We settled down at our table and surveyed the menu which as expected contained a selection of pizzas, pastas, risottos, salads, and meat dishes.
As anyone who lives with a chef will know every good Italian meal should contain wine and olives, so I decided to start with marinated olives and a large glass of Merlot. My dad on the other hand opted for polpette gigante, large meatballs made of veal, pork, beef and pancetta. Having always been a bit of a cheapskate, he chose to accompany it with a glass of house white which perhaps predictably was a tad sharp.
The mixture of black and green olives served in a light olive oil with peppers, garlic and herbs was full of flavour and proved a successful choice in taking the edge off my hunger. My father’s meatballs were tasty and came in a tangy tomato sauce, dressed with basil and some kind of unidentifiable cheese slivers which he described as somewhat insipid.
On to the mains which arrived promptly once the starter plates were cleared. I plumped for prosciutto e funghi pizza (Prosciutto ham, mushrooms, olives, rosemary, mozzarella and tomato), but chose the light option which is made with a smaller flatbread base and is complemented by a side salad with optional dressing.
My dad played devil’s advocate and decided on pasta. His large bowl of pappardelle gorgonzola (chicken, pancetta, leeks, broccoli and parsley in a gorgonzola sauce) looked appetising enough and the pasta was cooked perfectly, however the sauce was disappointingly bland and lacked the depth of flavour promised by the prospect of a rich creamy blue cheese sauce. Mine was an okay pizza; a thin and crispy base just on the safe side of overdone with a decent amount of ham and mushroom topping.
The staff were friendly throughout and the service was on the whole attentive with a check back after the starter and again after the main to ensure everything was okay. We did wait around 10 minutes for my second glass of Merlot to arrive from the bar and at times there was a certain amount of aimless wandering to be observed as waiting staff tried to decide whose antipasto was whose.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair to be critical given that we got exactly what we ordered. The bill came promptly on request as did the amended version once I’d remembered the 25 per cent off voucher I had printed off in haste before I left the office earlier. The bill came to £43.41 which for two courses and three drinks I considered a reasonable price.
And so ended a meal that was generally competent, with a few own goals but no adrenalin surge from a superb shot on target. All in all an unexceptional but okay dining experience. But with the company’s tagline offering to “bring a touch of class to Italian casual dining” I had hoped for a bit more as well as the chance to prove Mr Chef and his cynical outlook wrong.
I suppose that the appeal of many chains is that generally you know what to expect, and I guess we got exactly that, another faux Italian delivering food that fails to surprise, but doesn’t offend.
In a quest for a great curry and a spicy Indian banquet, KIRSTIN HANNAFORD heads out to Dabbawal, a recent contestant in Newcastle’s Argie Bhaji Curry Battle, and finds that although they didn’t win the battle they may just win the war!
It’s a common misconception when you live with a chef that you must get delicious meals cooked for you every evening. What people clearly forget is that he works long shifts most days, rarely has weekends off and any free time he does get is more than likely spent catching up on his sleep.
When he does cook at home, and to be fair it’s a lot more often than I do, it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that it will be a curry. There’s nothing he loves more than creating a huge big steamy pot of generously spiced beef and spinach Madras and inviting a crowd of friends over to enjoy the results. I think it has something to do with his love of flavours and his slightly worrying obsession with the kind of obscure sounding ingredients that your everyday supermarket wouldn’t even know existed. Needless to say, he does curry well. With such high standards at home when we treat ourselves to an Indian takeaway or frequent one of the many local Indian restaurants, it has to be something special to impress.
When we found out about Wylam Brewery’s Argie Bhaji Curry Battle last weekend I got a craving for spicy cuisine. It seemed the perfect chance to catch up with some old friends for a good beer and a spot of curry all together in one place. Plus, the opportunity to try offerings from the likes of Sachins, Dabbawal and Curry Rolls was one not to be missed. Hot off the heels of their Battle of the Burgers event back in September and billed as a sensory overload of all things Indian spice, I have to admit I was quite excited.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as the unexpected hordes of hungry curry lovers led to a jam packed venue and queues for food that even my stomach couldn’t wait for. My hankering for a good quality Indian feast was sadly left unfulfilled. Not one to give up easily, I had a word in the other half’s ear and managed to persuade him that we ought to try out one of the contenders in situ. And so, the following Tuesday evening we ventured to Dabawal’s Newcastle restaurant in the hope of an Indian banquet to top all others.
The modern looking eatery is tucked away on High Bridge Street, but when we arrived around 9pm we found most tables occupied, which for a week night can only be a good sign. Simply furnished with unclothed wooden tables, industrial light fittings and brightly coloured graphics adorning the walls, it provided a well needed haven from the bitter Geordie weather.
The restaurant is named after the dabbawallas – lunchbox delivery men, who bring the comfort of home-cooked food to offices in cities across India – or so I was helpfully informed by my curry connoisseur husband as we were guided to our table by a friendly waiter. While appreciative of the lesson in Indian culture my eyes turned quickly to the menu which offers an array of Indian street food served tapas-style as well as a range of traditional and more imaginative sounding curries. Accompanied by a friend, we chose not to be our usual selfish selves and opted to eat socially, sharing everything, making our selections from the street food tapas menu.
The Vegetable Samosa Chaat – a dome of sliced crispy samosa parcels on top of a spicy chickpea sauce, drizzled with tamarind and yogurt – was crunchy, fragrant and very moreish. On the recommendation of the waitress we also went for Haryali Chicken Tikka, succulent chicken breast pieces marinated in coriander, mint yoghurt and green chili. Perhaps the best chicken tikka I’ve ever tried and I was pleased we’d asked for the expert advice.
The Seekh Kebab Kybria – spiced minced lamb kebabs with red onion and sweet peppers – were tasty but a bit dry and in my opinion would have benefited from a bit less time in the oven and a tad more yoghurt sauce, but they were devoured all the same. With the addition of some juicy Citrus King Prawns, and sides of Lentil Battered Okra and creamy Paneer and Spinach we were set for the night.
We chose to mop up the sauces with some steamed rice, a perfectly baked roti and a somewhat disappointing Peshwari naan. It was overly sweet, with congealed sugar crystals clearly visible on the surface of the dough and the only real let down of the night.
It might be stating the obvious but none of us had room for dessert and with work calling in the morning it was time to head for home. Carrying on the sharing spirit we split the bill three ways. In my view £22 each for an over generous helping of spicy delights, a bottle of cobra beer and two large glasses of house red wine wasn’t bad value.
With the majority of dishes hitting the mark and impeccable service throughout from attentive, knowledgeable and friendly staff, Dabawal may not have been crowned the winners of Wylam Brewery’s Curry Battle (that prize went to Curry Rolls), but they definitely won us over. I certainly won’t be giving up the home cooked curry from my mister, but we’ll absolutely go back to Dabawal for seconds.
Beer blogger PAUL White tries out a local beer inspired by a poet.
It’s nice to learn something new, especially if it’s about your own part of the world.
I hadn’t been to the Toronto Lodge, just outside of Bishop Auckland, since a revamp a couple of years back, but decided to drop in for a bite to eat. I’d also heard it was home to some real ales, as well.
It turns out that it offers a range of ales from Sonnet 43, a brewery from nearby Coxhoe, which is where the learning begins.
I hadn’t been aware of this particular brewery, but it has an ale for all tastes. Personally, I decided to go for the bourbon milk stout, The Raven. After all, this last week did feature Stout Day.
Now, the brewery name and that of the beer itself are no coincidence, as I also learned that Coxhoe was home to a rather famous poet – most of you will at least be familiar with one of her lines.
For it was Elizabeth Barrett Browning who, in her Sonnet 43, wrote “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”.
I’ve driven past Coxhoe thousands of times, but I had no idea that it was home to Browning, or that she had inspired a brewery.
The beer is likewise poetically-inspired, taking its name from Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic classic.
Likewise, I have driven past the Toronto Lodge countless times since the revamp and it has been remiss of me not to have called in before now. What a great place with reasonably priced, but very good, food and drink.
But what of the beer itself?
Well, it’s a pleasant discovery, with a full flavour that is at once bitter and also smooth; a proper milk stout. It’s not an overly heavy drink, so could easily be one to settle into for an evening, should the opportunity arise.
With a lot of my beer reviews, I’ve highlighted those ales that are a natural progression for a lager drinker coming into the realms of beer. This is not one, but Sonnet 43 have plenty that would fit that bill.
Overall, it was an outing of discovery for the brain and the taste buds and I will be returning to sample more of the food and drink in the very near future.
In a bid to banish the holiday blues KIRSTIN HANNAFORD finds that dAtbAr in Newcastle hits the mark!
My husband and I have recently returned from seven glorious days of sunshine in southern Spain. We enjoyed a fantastic break from the daily grind; a welcome escape from the office for me and a well-deserved rest from the kitchen for him. Now back in Gateshead with the temperatures barely scraping double figures and the prospect of another full week at work looming for us both, he wasn’t in the mood to cook and we needed a treat to ease the pain of being back to reality. And so we found ourselves in central Newcastle on a busy Saturday night amidst the chaos that inevitably ensues the day after payday, on a mission to seek out some good grub.
‘dAtbAr’ on the corner of Market Street next to the Theatre Royal wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice, but as we strolled down from the Monument and it started to rain, the bright neon sign above the door caught my attention and we decided to dive inside for cover and peruse the menu.
We were greeted immediately by a young friendly waitress who directed us from the bar area to an inviting looking booth in the dining section and took our drinks order. I had always thought of dAtbAr as a bit of a hipster hangout and inside it certainly has a young and trendy feel with an open kitchen at one end, and a quirky, arty interior which lends it a relaxed, creative atmosphere. You can’t fail to miss the comic book-style wallpaper and array of modern artwork adorning the walls. With my eyes still focused on the décor, predictably the other half was already dismantling the brown paper menu from its clipboard to see what was on offer. Unless you’re edible, it can be difficult to get a chef’s attention at the best of times and when he’s hungry and keen to scrutinise his competitors, it’s virtually impossible.
The menu boasts a range of small platters, sliders, sourdough pizzas, ribs, steaks and burgers and as my eyes scanned the options I felt my appetite increase. It’s quite meat focused and the impressive looking mix-and-match charcuterie boards are prepared using a vintage Berkel slicing machine. Veggies are not forgotten either with a number of meat free pizza and salad choices.
After much deliberating we opted for a couple of the ‘small plates’ to start. I ordered Cerignola olives with roasted salt almonds and rocket while he went for the meatball slider, billed as a pine nut and raisin beef meatball in a ‘soft milk bun’. With the open kitchen in clear sight it was disappointing to see our starters sit on the pass for over ten minutes before they arrived at our table. Not something I would have noticed had I not had a hawk eyed culinary expert by my side providing a running commentary on the number of dishes going out before ours.
When they came, my gigantic green olives were bursting with flavour and partnered extremely well with the salted almonds serving as a tasty and light appetiser. Unfortunately, the other half wasn’t quite so happy with his slider as he bit in to the ‘soft milk bun’ only to find it was rock hard – presumably due to its time spent under the hot lamps of the serving hatch. With a steady flow of diners on a busy Saturday night, the two waiting staff had their work cut out. To their credit they were rushing about trying their best, but with so many hungry customers they certainly didn’t have time for a check back to see if our meal was ok – which I’m told is a must in the restaurant world.
After the debacle of ‘starter-gate’, I was worried that it might all go downhill, however, I was quickly proven wrong when we were presented with a feast for two that even impressed Mr high standards chef!
The meat is taken very seriously at ‘dAtbAr’ – they make their burgers from beef supplied by Northern Ireland based Hannan Meats where they age the beef inside a 12-foot high vault of Himalayan Salt bricks to give it a distinctive flavour and texture. Naturally I was keen to sample the goods first hand. My Joe burger came with baby gem lettuce, large slices of beef tomato, gherkin, crisp pancetta and a creamy Dijon mustard sauce that had a pleasant but not overbearing kick. Served medium rare at my request, with a side of shoestring fries, it definitely hit the spot and the beef patty lived up to expectations with a unique, almost gamey flavour, encased in a soft brioche bun that bore none of the texture issues we’d encountered with the starter.
The husband opted for a pizza. I’m told that the perfect pizza relies on a good pizza oven and an even better pizza chef. A pizza chef that knows what they’re doing and manages to do it well is worth their weight in gold and apparently dAt bAr have hit lucky. My other half’s Ava Rose pizza wasn’t a choice I would have made, but I have to admit the melty beef ragu sauce topped with loads of parmesan on a huge slow risen sourdough base had my mouth watering with food envy. To my relief, it was a resounding success with him too and what he couldn’t manage got boxed up and taken home for my supper.
After several attempts to get the waiting staff’s attention I ordered a second round of drinks; for me, another glass of Shiraz and for him, a pint of Heineken. Call us philistine’s if you wish as the drinks selection is vast. There’s a rotation of 20 draught beers behind the bar from UK brewers and beyond, providing a real treat for anyone that knows their Beavertown Smog Rocket from their Brooklyn lager. It’s not all about the beer though – there’s also a good selection of ciders and wine and a pretty impressive looking cocktail menu.
With no room left for desert we asked for the bill and to be honest £46 for two courses and two drinks each felt like pretty good value. Yes, the service was slow, but with a couple more waiting staff that wouldn’t have been a problem and although the starter was disappointing the main event made up for it. The verdict? Great food, in a vibrant atmosphere and even with a few minor hitches, it still more than succeeded in easing the post-holiday blues.
The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation. What better a reason do we need to indulge in one of the nation’s favourite treats? HELEN GILDERSLEEVE samples gourmet chocolate that is made right on our doorstep in Newcastle and speaks to a producer from local business, North Chocolates.
The aptly named North Chocolates founded in 2013 is the brainchild of local lass, Bev Stephenson of Forest Hall in Newcastle whose products have been described as ‘more desirable than world peace’ and proudly won ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ (Newcastle Business Awards, 2015).
Made from the finest couverture (which means less sugar, no vegetable fats and lashings of cocoa and cocoa butter) they specialise in small batch gourmet chocolate bars from the classic to the unusual. Think surprising flavours that you wouldn’t expect at all to go with chocolate that just seem to work. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory here in the North East. The fact that they’re healthier than the average chocolate bar is an added bonus!
Chocoholics are spoilt for choice with North which has a core range of 15 to 20 flavours including popping candy, lemon and sea salt, lavender, chilli and lime and coffee and cardamom (a particular favourite of mine). Yum!
I was unleashed to try a couple of bars and I must say I will now be a regular customer at North. I’m a big fan of dark chocolate and ginger so when I spied the award winning ginger and fennel bar, I knew it was the one for me and boy was I right. It had the perfect combination of richness and smoothness with the delicious zing of ginger and infused fennel. It didn’t last very long.
Next I tucked into the lavender bar. The creamy milk chocolate is enhanced beautifully by floral lavender tones. I (almost) felt guilty breaking into it as North bars are packed so prettily, wrapped in an array of coloured foil complete with a quirky ribbon bow. These will certainly be high up on my Christmas list (family and friends, you know who you are).
I spoke with the chocolate goddess herself, Bev Stephenson, to find out the secrets behind her fantastic business:
How did you get into chocolate making?
I used to be a freelance journalist, specialising in food and lifestyle (The Guardian/ Observer, Metro North East) but then the recession hit! I’d been thinking long and hard about another career in food and I’d written articles on chocolate and played around with it a lot and thought I’d spotted a gap in the market. I got a lot of help from a friend who makes chocolate, went on a few courses and launched North in 2013.
Is the business going well?
Very well! I took on an apprentice last year, Gillian Ibbotson, who has been fantastic and I won ‘Artisan Producer of the Year’ in the Newcastle Business Awards last November which was a huge surprise. I wake up some nights thinking I need to hire more people and go bigger but then I wake up the next night worried people will stop liking the chocolate!
Which chocolate is the most popular?
Some bars have won awards including the dark Ginger & Fennel and the milk Lemon & Lemon Sea Salt so they have a head start, but the Chilli & Lime, Coffee (using the Ouseburn Coffee Company beans) and my new one Liquorice & Blackcurrant have sold brilliantly. Bizarrely the milk Geranium is one of my other best sellers – geranium is very similar to rose so it’s a little like eating Turkish Delight without the jelly! It’s a real love or loathe bar but for those who like it they keep coming back for more.
Many people would view what you do as a dream job, would you agree?
I truly love this job but it has its ups and downs. When you’re covered in sticky chocolate and you’ve done an 18 hour day to try and complete orders and then you have to clean down your kitchen, do the marketing, the social media, the admin and then pack and deliver the bars then it can get a little overwhelming! But all small businesses have those pressures and when someone says they love what you’re producing and come back for more it’s honestly the best feeling in the world.
How do you sample?
Some people prefer milk or dark so I always ask them that first and I try to winkle out if they’re adventurous or prefer something more classic in their chocolate bar. I have some flavours that people hate and that’s no problem – we all have different tastes and palates – but sampling is important as we’re sometimes a little safe and they may try and absolutely love something they wouldn’t necessarily buy and that’s a great feeling.
Where can people buy North chocolate?
I’m mainly based in the North East in a lot of delis and shops around the region including Fenwick and some National Trust outlets. You can buy via the website: www.northchocolates.co.uk or if you click on stockists on the site, it gives you a list of where to nab your bars!
More chocolate makers and sellers around the region.
There’s a wonderful variety of chocolate makers and chocolate sellers in and around the North East. Here’s a selection:
North Chocolates, Newcastle
Fabulous range of flavours from Bev Stephenson owner of Newcastle’s ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ 2015 (Newcastle Business Awards). Dark chocolate range includes Ginger and Fennel; Geranium and Orange and Chilli and Lime. Milk chocolate flavours include Lavender and Lemon and Lemon Sea Salt. There are many others to try. For details visit www.northchocolates.co.uk or find on Twitter @bevnorthchocs
The Chocolate Smiths, Newcastle
Unusual flavours made by The Chocolate Smiths of Newcastle include everything from bacon to bubblegum. Intriguing flavours include cheese and cracker and peanut butter and pretzel. The Chocolate Smiths sell through a number of North East stockists. For details visit thechocolatesmiths.com or find them on Twitter @ChocolateSmiths
Kenspeckle of Northumberland make unique chocolates and home-made fudge created by a dedicated team who create favourites of yester-year with a traditional artisan twist. Notable products include Northumbrian Honey Truffles and Puffin Beak pralines. Find them online at www.kenspeckle.co.uk or on Twitter @kenspeckle_choc
The Little Chocolate Shop, Leyburn, North Yorkshire
Situated in Leyburn in Wensleydale, this small chocolate factory has a visitor centre where you can watch chocolate being made. You can sample the wares in the adjoining shop and cafe. Visit online at littlechocolateshop.co.uk and on Twitter @littlechocshop
Kennedys Fine Chocolates, Cumbria
Based in Orton village near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, Kennedy’s is a small family chocolate making company producing more than 90 chocolate varieties. Visit their website at kennedyschocolates.co.uk or on Twitter @kennedyschocs
Chcocolate Fayre, Barnard Castle (shop)
Chocolate Fayre of 31a Horsemarket, Barnard Castle, have chocolates and truffles specially hand made for their delightful shop in this county Durham dalestown. For more details visit www.chocolatefayre.co.uk or Twitter @ChocFayre
Hotel Chocolat, Newcastle (Shop)
One of a number of luxury chocolate sellers nationwide, the Newcastle store is based in Blackett Street. Visit online at hotelchocolat.com or on Twitter @HotelChocolat
In the first of our ‘It’s a Chef’s Wife’ reviews, KIRSTIN HANNAFORD checks out Zaap, Newcastle’s new Thai street food restaurant
In a bid to save some pennies for our imminent holiday, the other half and I have been trying to avoid too many indulgent nights out of late. However, after hearing a lot of positive noise on social media about Newcastle’s new Thai street food restaurant Zaap, we decided it was about time we had a lapse in our self-control and give it a try.
The restaurant is housed in the iconic former Co-op building next to the Gate that recently underwent a £17 million renovation. It officially opened its doors on 17 August, becoming neighbours to Cabana and Turtle Bay.
As all of you fellow chef’s wives will know, a meal out with the husband can often involve a level of scrutiny that those of us lacking in culinary expertise would view a tad extreme. Our visit to Zaap was no exception as we approached the restaurant entrance and he quickly took umbrage to the hand written sign on the door stating the restaurant’s opening hours. Not a great start, let’s hope the food wasn’t going to disappoint.
Once inside the greeting was immediate and warm, staff were relaxed and confident. We were led to a table of our choice past the busy open kitchen towards the back of the restaurant. There’s so much to look at with bright neon lights, lanterns hanging from the corrugated iron ceiling and a plethora of trinkets from the Far East adorning the walls. What the owners are clearly striving for here is the bright lights and heady atmosphere of Ko San Road, and although I have never been, I’m told by the husband that has, that it makes a pretty good replica.
The menu, printed over both sides of a sheet of A3 paper, was full of roasted meats, stir fries, curries, noodles and soups and to someone less familiar with Thai cuisine was a little bewildering. However, don’t forget I’m with an expert, and not just of the culinary variety given he’s spent a lot of time in Thailand as he sought to remind me while we perused the list of dishes. Plus, there are handy translations below each option which he seemed to overlook. Alongside the food, there’s an extensive drinks menu that includes Thai beers and whiskies, not to mention a few unusual soft drinks, like bubble tea (Taiwanese milk tea served with tapioca balls), Ma Toom (Bael fruit juice) and An Chan Soda (butterfly pea juice with soda).
After ordering a glass of red wine and a bottle Beer Lao, much to the appreciation of my other half who fell in love with the tipple whilst travelling and reckons it’s a scarce larger find in the North East, we set the ball rolling with a couple of starters to share. Moo Yang are grilled strips of pork on a skewer with sesame seeds, tender with a slight extra bite to them, seasoned to perfection. They came with a mildly spiced dipping sauce, and coupled with a generous portion of edamame beans, made for a tasty and not too heavy introduction to the main event.
Service, though speedy and attentive, wasn’t totally flawless yet. We had to ask for some kind of vessel to dispose of the edamame pods and my partner’s request for a glass for his Beer Lao resulted in the delivery of an extra glass of water. Still, given the quality of the starters both issues were easily forgiven.
Mr. Chef then opted for Moo Gang Panaeng (Pork in rich panaeng curry with lime lives) while I went for Gai Pad Kee Mao (spicy stir fried rice noodles with chicken, basil and vegetable). Both of which thankfully succeeded in hitting the spot. His curry came with an impressive sandcastle of rice and to my relief was a hit. Perfectly cooked pork, with a tangy and flavorsome sauce, that was just the right amount for his man-size stomach. My noodles were equally delicious with succulent chicken strips and stir fired vegetables that retained just enough of a firm texture – you could taste the basil in every bite. Unusually, both meals came presented on a round tin tray which I’m told was another authentic feature of my Far East dining experience.
With regards to value for money it’s another “yes from me”, with the total bill for two starters, two mains and a couple of drinks each coming in just under £40, meaning we didn’t make too bad a dent in the holiday fund.
It’s fair to say that there’s nothing quite like Zaap in Newcastle. The breadth of the menu, coupled with the eclectic decor makes it one of a kind. It may not be 100% authentic, but they’ve certainly gone all out to bring a slice of Thailand to Newcastle, and the result is a colourful, chaotic representation of the Thai street food scene.