A re-thinking of museum mentality

PAUL WHITE admits he’s not a museum fan but speaks in praise of the Oriental Museum, a hidden gem in Durham City

Some readers will call me a philistine, others may agree wholeheartedly, but I have a confession: it is a rare museum indeed that doesn’t have me wishing I could escape to the nearest pub.

I like culture and the arts, but not in the “shuffle along, item by item, trying to take in masses of information at a time” sense.

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Oriental Museum Durham. Photo: Durham University

However, we have a gem of a museum hiding away in our region, to which I have voluntarily returned on more than one occasion. The Oriental Museum, in Durham, is full of great items for anyone who has an interest in the culture and history of the east.

Having visited China on a number of occasions and fallen in love with Japan on a trip that took in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I find these cultures intriguing and a pleasure to learn about.

I dropped in to the Japan section of the Oriental Museum today – I’d recommend taking it in chunks – and from Manga to the Samurai and the mix of Bhuddist and Shinto religions, it’s full of items and information that I find far more exciting than the naval gazing minutiae we fill many, admittedly far from all, of our museums with.

I’m hugely proud of coming from Shildon, but it took me 20-odd years to return to the Timothy Hackworth Museum after being taken there as a child, and that was a work-related visit.

I would hasten to suggest that we are getting better, but I think I’ve been scarred from my childhood, and from being dragged to museums when I’m really not in the mood.

The colliery, Beamish Museum
The colliery, Beamish Museum. Photo: Paul White

The Oriental Museum, alongside Beamish, show how museums can be great resources and are a massive credit to the North East. Both are done very differently, yet equally fire my imagination. On trips to the US and Canada, the museum elements of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Johnny Cash Museum, were visits I made voluntarily, despite there being an abundance of bars and other amenities I could easily have opted to escape to.

Perhaps there is something niche in each of these examples that appeals directly to me.

In any case, if, like me, you were put off such visits as a child, maybe it’s time to think again and find a museum that holds a particular interest for you. The North East is a great place to start.

Review: Martha, Live Theatre, Saturday 08/10/2016

RICHARD CALLAGHAN is captivated by Durham-based Martha, one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the North East in recent years

Photo: Steven Landles
Photo: Steven Landles

This Saturday’s concert in Newcastle was the third time I’ve had the privilege of watching Martha live, my sole regret upon leaving Live Theatre being that it was only the third. Where their 2014 debut Courting Strong confirmed them as the most exciting band to have emerged from the North East for years, this year’s thrilling follow up, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, surpassed its predecessor in every department. Yet, such recorded brilliance threatens to raise expectations to a level that many bands simply cannot meet. All too often the product of a tightly controlled recording studio, however exemplary, can prove impossible to match on the stage. It takes a very good band to be as good live as they are on a record. Fortunately for all concerned, Martha are indeed a very good band.

Matching music with an uncommonly muscular grace to lyrics betraying an acute and gentle wit, the Durham four piece know exactly what is required, the ferocious charm of their live performance grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck and dragging us along. It helps, of course, that they possess such a strong collection of songs, but as previously stated having great tunes is only an asset if you can carry them off in person. This Martha do with aplomb.

Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Blisters in the Pit of My Heart

The ability to produce a set entirely free of filler is a rarity in a band with only two full length albums behind them, yet the eleven songs Martha raced through on Saturday evening constituted just that. Personal highlights included two of my favourites from the new record (“Chekhov’s Hangnail” and “Goldman’s Detective Agency”), alongside Courting Strong’s “Present, Tense”, and the ever wonderful “1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely”.

Whether it is by virtue of their determinedly DIY ethos, or a symptom of the changing face of the music industry (one cannot help but feel that were this a decade or so ago they would have been beguiled with, and engulfed by, an enormous recording deal long before now), Martha have emerged as one of the most consistently interesting and staggeringly complete bands in the country. That the nature of their progress to this point means that we still have the opportunity to watch them play in small rooms (rather than the enormous venues which are clearly their destiny) is a gift to music fans everywhere, and one I urge you to seize if you have the chance. You might not get it again.

Any review ought to be balanced by the mention of both positives and negatives, so I’ll end this one with my two biggest criticisms of Martha’s performance. The set was too short, and they’re not playing again tomorrow. Come back soon Martha, I can’t wait to make it time number four.

Martha. Photo: Steven Landles
Martha. Photo: Steven Landles

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It’s a Chef’s Wife : dAtbAr hits the mark!

In a  bid to banish the holiday blues KIRSTIN HANNAFORD finds that dAtbAr in Newcastle hits the mark!

Photo courtesy of dAtbAr
Photo courtesy of dAtbAr

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.

Olives. Photo: Kirstin Hannaford
Cerignola olives. Photo: Kirstin Hannaford

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!

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Joe Burger. Photo: Kirstin Hannaford

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.

Photo courtesy of dAtbAr
Photo courtesy of dAtbAr

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.

dAtbAr can be found at: 

11 Market St.
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 6JN

0191 244 2513

Twitter: @dAtbArnewcastle

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

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