All posts by Paul White

A Taste of the Med in the Heart of Newcastle

It’s a while since we’ve reviewed some places to eat in the North East, so our blogger PAUL WHITE sets out to put that right with a visit to the newly refurbished Carluccio’s in Newcastle.

Carluccios, Newcastle upon Tyne
Carluccios, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: Paul White

I’ve been to a couple of Carluccio’s Restaurants, but never the one in Newcastle.

So, when I received an invitation to try out the newly-refurbished restaurant on the city’s Grey Street, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve reviewed everything from music to beer, but never a restaurant, so it was new territory for me.

And, somewhere around the main course, I realised that, being a few weeks into a City & Guilds Level 2 in cookery, I’m probably more qualified than Greg Wallace to review a restaurant, anyway.

So, what was it like?

The restaurant has had a make-over, the deli counter replaced to focus upon the restaurant experience. New lighting, new marble tables, Mediterranean style pictures on the wall. It’s all very stylish.

Dining at Carluccios
Dining at Carluccio’s. Photo: Paul Whire

And the welcome was very warm. Manu, our waiter, was very attentive, allowed us a choice of seats, explained the menu – including additions, subtractions, alternatives- very well, patiently answering questions throughout. Queries about sauces weren’t simply responded to with a list of ingredients, but the method and style of cooking was explained, too. We also met the Assistant Manager, Maria, who ensured all was ok. Pleasingly we saw all the other diners receiving similar attentions.

So, on to the food. There was a good range of starters. My normal favourite, calamari, wasn’t available on this occasion, driving me to a choice of prawns marinara (with white wine, tomato, chilli and fennel sauce) or Sicilian arancini (on ball mozzarella, the other beef ragu).

I went for the arancini. My wife went for the prawns.

It looked so appetising, I forgot to take a picture of the arancini as a whole, but I can tell you it was up to the standards one would expect from a high-end chain like Carluccio’s. The pepper-based dip was a good accompaniment, not too overpowering. While the mozzarella ball was a great start, the beef ragu ball was well seasoned and a great complement.

Carluccios. Photo Paul White
Carluccio’s. Photo Paul White

While the prawns were very spicy, my wife tells me they were hot without overpowering and killing the other flavours, particularly the sweet tasting tomatoes.

After a suitable pause in proceedings, the mains arrived. I had been spoiled for choice. The crab and lobster lasagne special sounded like a sure thing, until I looked at the regular menu and spotted pork saltimbocca, veal ossobuco, sea bass and lobster tagliolini. I think I’d have been happy if only one of those had been an option. There were lots of vegetarian and vegan options, too.

Risotto, Carluccios.
Risotto, Carluccio’s. Photo: Paul White

I went for the special, conscious that it could so easily be a bad choice, if not done correctly. As a side, I opted for the garlic and chilli broccoli, as did my wife, who went for the special risotto, with leek, pesto and ricotta (“a good vegetarian alternative to the usual mushroom”, she tells me).

My main had very delicate flavours, extremely tasty and the chef had done a great job of balancing the ingredients so that no one overpowered the others. I was worried the side would be too much, but it was definitely more garlic than chilli and reminded me very much of the garlic broccoli we were served on visits to Beijing.

The main and side complemented each other pretty well and I found myself mixing between eating together or separate, enjoying the flavours of both. The broccoli – a tad al denté – was the star and as good as we’ve had anywhere since our China visits.

The portion size was pretty much bang on, too. I felt myself slowing towards the end, mindful that no reviewer worth his salt would be too full for desert.

My wife’s risotto was well cooked, but perhaps a larger portion than was manageable in a three course meal, yet still great “comfort food, winter fayre”.

For desert, I opted for the torta di cioccolata. My wife went for the plum tart, the menu writers having lost their translator by this point.

Torta di cioccolata. Carluccios
Torta di cioccolata. Carluccio’s. Photo: Paul White

The chocolate tart was a risk, considering the fact I was close to full, but I needn’t have worried. Served with vanilla ice cream, the combination simply melted in the mouth; a surprise after the tart had proved quite robust when using my spoon to cut a piece.

The plum tart was was a nice, light contrast to what was a heavy main.

Plumb tart, Carluccios
Plumb tart, Carluccio’s. Photo: Paul White

So, what about the drinks. As I was driving and had had a pre-meal beer at the nearby Lady Grey’s, I stuck with good old tap water, a touch envious of those who could enjoy a Peroni Gran Reserva (always nice to see a restaurant give that more malty alternative to the standard Nastro Azzurro). My wife, who knows a good wine when she drinks it, enjoyed a glass of the house white, a Sicilian Sicani Bianco. The word “quaffable” was used.

My one disappointment? I’d always thought a food critic should be just that, critical, picky.

Perhaps it would have been nice if I could have tried ALL the above-mentioned mains…

Carluccio’s fans, and those of good Mediterranean food in general, won’t be disappointed.

Carluccio’s website

Carluccio’s, 89 Grey Street, Newcastle, NE1 6EG

Tel: 0191 2302148

 

Been to Carluccio’s recently?

What’s your favourite Italian restaurant in Newcastle or the North East?

We’d love to hear your comments below. 

Crafting The Entrepreneurial Spirit

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.

Caps off to the region's micro brewers, photo: Paul White

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 TownSonnet 43Allendale BreweryWylam 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.

*This blog originally appeared on poetsdaypint.weebly.com

Reconnecting with the great outdoors

PAUL WHITE pays homage to the region’s scenery and explores the beautiful Low Barns Nature Reserve in the Wear Valley of County Durham.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

In the last year or so, I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors.

I remember when I was a kid, I had books galore on things like birds and could recognise many breeds and even some of their calls. I’d spend my weekends and holidays exploring the area in and around my uncle’s farm and any sunny day would be spent out and about.

That sort of thing was probably lost to football and girls and, to be fair, not that I was that good as far as either were concerned (all together now, “aww”).

Then life got busier as I got older and, as much as I enjoy a nice walk, other things got in the way.

But since starting to work with Northumbrian Water a year back, I’ve found new connections with the great outdoors. I won’t go into too much detail about the great work the company does for the environment, but suffice to say, I’ve learned to find time to just put my walking boots on and get outside more.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

Having had the need to visit Low Barns Nature Reserve at Witton-le-Wear a few weeks back for a whistle-stop tour, I decided to go back and take a more leisurely look around.

The site is one of many run by Durham Wildlife Trust and I had vague recollections of primary school trips there, but, despite it being only around five miles from home, I hadn’t been back since.

I’d certainly been missing out on this wonderfully tranquil place. From the reed beds (which are on the site of an old sewage treatment works – how’s that for a stunning change of use?) to the banks of the Wear, it has so much to enjoy.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

And the peacefulness is incredible. Needless to say, we signed up as members of the Trust on the spot and will be planning on visiting as many of the other sites around the North East as we can.

Between that and spending Easter weekend in beautiful Weardale, as well as recent trips to Kielder Water & Forest Park, I can safely say I’m hooked once more on the beauty of the North East.

Our region truly is stunning and not one of us can say we have explored and seen it all. So get out there and find those places that really inspire you with natural beauty.