Category Archives: Food and Drink

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. 

Fabulous festivals, fabulous food

Michael Payton looks forward to this summer’s variety of food festivals across the North East of England.

The weather so far towards the tail end of spring has been nothing short of magical for most of the country. The summer looks set to follow suit.

Alnwick Food Festival
Alnwick Food Festival

Whether you are on the way to the North East for a holiday or currently reside in this culturally dense and beautiful part of the country, and have a keen interest in food and drink, you may be on the look out for fun things to do.

Fortunately, one thing that the North East does offer in abundance is truly great food and drink events. Here we highlight some of the key events taking place this year.

North East Chilli Fest 

 Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 July 2018

Meggies Burn Fields, South Beach, Blyth

If the heat from the sun is not enough and you like a good fiery chilli or two – you should definitely try and visit the North East Chilli Fest. This event is scheduled to take place from the 13th of July through to the 15th and is the 7th of its kind.

North-East-Chilli-Fest
North-East-Chilli-Fest

With a new theme and new location, this weekend celebration of food, drink, music and entertainment that puts chillies front and centre, looks set to be an unmissable festival.

The infamous Chilli Eating Competition which is definitely not for anyone of a weak disposition is undoubtedly one of the key moments. Alongside this will be appearances and stalls from local food producers and suppliers such as Grim Reaper Foods, Fire Pizza, Earth and Fire Bakery, The Chilli Pepper Company and many more.

www.chillifest-ne.co.uk/

Saltburn Food Festival

 Sunday 29 July 2018

Milton Street, Saltburn

Now in its 6th year, Saltburn Food Festival will feature 100 food stalls from local producers and suppliers lining up the centrally located Milton Street.

Saltburn Food Festival
Saltburn Food Festival

Alongside the stalls there will be exciting and inspiring live cookery demonstrations and a number of intriguing fringe activities too. That The Sunday Times once noted that Saltburn was one of the best places to live in the country because of the wide array of great food and drink available there, is testimony to why the food festival is such a popular event.

saltburnfoodfestival.com/

Berwick Food And Beer Festival

 Friday 31 August (Beer only) Saturday 1 & Sun 2 September 2018

Barracks and Main Guard Parade, Berwick

The Berwick Food and Beer Festival is thought to be one of the long running events of its kind in the area and returns for an 11th time to the seaside town in 2018. With the 18th Century Berwick Barracks as its backdrop, there is no shortage of interesting food and beer (along with champagne, cocktails and wine) to try from local producers.

Berwick Food and beer Festival
Berwick Food and beer Festival

Street food galore and lots of food-focused films, live cooking theatre, live music and an animal farm round out what is sure to be a memorable weekend that kicks off with the Friday focusing firmly on the pride of Britain – Real Ale.

www.berwickfoodandbeerfestival.co.uk/

Alnwick Food Festival 

 Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 September 2018

Market Place, Alnwick

Since 2005, one of the most important dates on the town’s calendar has been the popular Alnwick Food Festival. All of the food and drink action takes place the town’s busy centre and will consist of hot tasty food to buy and try, food producer stalls, live music and entertainment and demonstrations by local and national chefs.

Alnwick Food Festival

Incidentally, the Alnwick Beer Festival will be running alongside the Food Festival and is definitely one for all lovers of cold and crisp and oh so refreshing pints.

alnwickfoodfestival.co.uk/

Morpeth Food and Drink Festival

Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 October 2018

Bridge Street and Market Place, Morpeth

Well in excess of 45,000 people attended the Morpeth Food and Drink Festival in 2017, suggesting that this year’s will be even bigger and better. Around 100 stalls will be there along Bridge Street, in the Town Hall and Market Place over the course of two days. So all lovers of good quality local produce will have a lot to salivate over.

Morpeth Food Festival

Breads, chocolate, meat, chutneys, jams, vegetarian and vegan options, gin and of course, real ales will all be represented and there for you to try. One of the notable names who will be displaying their skills and demonstrating some live cooking will be Lorna Robertson, a Masterchef finalist who comes from Berwick.

www.facebook.com/MorpethFoodandDrinkFestival/

The above is just a little snapshot of what is taking place throughout 2018 in the North East. For more information about great food and drink festivals not just in the North East, but the UK as a whole, be sure to check out www.eatdrinkseek.co.uk

Brewing up a Great North East Book

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.

NEBreweryGuide

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.

nebg(1)

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.

The Great North East Brewery Guide is published by Offstone Publishing.

Follow Alastair on Twitter @CheersPal