Tag Archives: Eating Out

It’s a Chef’s Wife : Playing the chain game

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

Enjoying some pre-match food at Prezzo. Photp: Kirstin Hannaford
Enjoying some pre-match food at Prezzo. Photp: Kirstin Hannaford

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.

prezzo2

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.

www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/newcastle/

Twitter: @love_prezzo

Prezzo also have restaurants at Cramlington, Darlington, Dalton Park, Co. Durham and at Catterick in North Yorkshire

It’s a Chef’s Wife : Zaap

Zaap Thai Street Food comes to Newcastle

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson

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.

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson

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.

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson

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).

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson.
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson.

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.

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson

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.

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson

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.

Zaap. Photo: David Simpson.
Zaap. Photo: David Simpson.

Zaap Newcastle can be found at: 

117 Newgate Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 5RZ

0191 230 1280

www.zaapthai.co.uk/newcastle

Twitter: @ZaapNewcastle

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ZaapNewcastle/

Find out more about Kirstin Hannaford and our England’s North East bloggers here

Sparkling future for Tyneside Cinema

Canopy of Lights in High Friars Lane
Canopy of Lights in High Friar Lane

HELEN GILDERSLEEVE discovers new light and a dash of continental style in a much loved corner of Newcastle

A gleaming canopy of lights and a Continental-style café and cocktail bar form part of new plans at Newcastle’s much loved Tyneside Cinema.

Plans were revealed in January showcasing the transformation of High Friars Lane, where the entrance to the cinema resides.

The hope is to give the once dreary alleyway a makeover with a full ceiling of sparkling lights in a bid to turn the area from grotty to grotto.

Hundreds of cinema lovers across the region have helped fund the cost themselves with the Tyneside’s Just Giving page appeal peaking at £4,990.

As well as the canopy of lights, the Tyneside recently opened the doors of its brand new café and cocktail bar Vicolo (meaning ‘alley’ in Italian- see what they did there?) The former Intermezzo bar has already received rave reviews from film, food and coffee lovers alike.

Vicolo’s relaxing, chic and continental ambience is inspired by chef Tom Adlam’s desire to create a foodie hang out which boasts unique treats like Vicolo’s own ice cream, ‘sandwiches by the inch’ and ethically sourced coffee.

The interior was created to look like it had evolved through time and the space takes references from Italian cafes, particularly those dating back to the 1930s, ‘50s and ‘60s with a retro stylish vibe.

Vicolo
Vicolo

Additional features to the outdoor area include; new signage to welcome visitors, the installation of bicycle racks and a new and extended pavement café.

The much loved art house cinema is no stranger to makeovers and has undergone huge interior changes in recent years, including a £1.3m redevelopment which led to the opening of an additional cinema screen and the ever popular Tyneside Cinema Bar Cafe in 2014.

Tyneside Cinema’s Head of Operations, Phillip Scales said “We are thrilled to be able to make this exciting transformation to High Friar Lane making it a safer and more welcoming place to visit. We have already had great feedback from our customers  and we hope that this will encourage many more people to find and enjoy what Tyneside Cinema has to offer as well as being of lasting benefit to the city centre.”

Tyneside Cinema is an independent cinema in Newcastle and the city’s only cultural cinema that specialises in the screening of independent film and world cinema.

For further details visit tynesidecinema.co.uk/food-drink/vicolo

Vicolo’s opening hours are 9am to 11pm on Sundays and 8am to 11pm Monday to Saturday.

@VicoloNewcastle