Tag Archives: Eating Out

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. 

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