Monday, 6 June 2011

Newcastle: Around Chinatown

St Sushi
This is the new kid on the block apparently, and a very nice one indeed. Situated just off Chinatown, it's run by Chinese but that's just standard. There's two other Japanese restaurants nearby, but neither feature the soupnoodle/bento box styled food that St Sushi does. Whilst I don't think it quite hit the spot, it was a welcome release in Newcastle, when all you want is some sushi or a bowl of rice rather than the overwhelming sauce-covered meals that western menus can bring.

Pumpkin Croquettes to start. It's standard fare but they do it very well. The croquettes were dainty, but piping hot. Very nice indeed.

I ordered a range of sushi for my main, and I wish the waitress was a little more helpful. If you see at the back, that's a lot of sashimi rolled in roses and covered with fish eggs. Did she warn me of this when I ordered it after my salmon sashimi? No. Other things I ordered were a soft shell crab handroll which wasn't the best, a little bit soggy. If you're in London though, I highly, highly recommend Noodle Street in Westferry for their softshell crab, it's very reasonable for what you get and the only pitfall there is that if you order it takeaway the steam affects the crispness, but it's still a close your eyes moment. The other little thing at the back covered in little green dots is Arctic clam and apple. It was very refreshing and certainly different.

Dessert was Apple tempura with ice cream. The apple was crisp rather than the chinese cooked style of toffee apple, but the tempura didn't hit the mark and was slightly underdone. Processed raspberry sauce also affects the delivery of the dish.

I don't know how to explain this dish, I really don't. This was on my second trip to St Sushi in the same week. Thinking I really wanted a nice clean dish of noodle and chicken maybe, I ordered this. I can't remember the precise name but it did have "Butter Corn" in the title and it contained some pork and udon. They failed to mention what this means is that the cook takes a large handful of butter/margerine (see the finger marks in the dish!) and puts it in your bowl of noodles. It was very nice. But I did scoop the butter out!

Now this was on the edge of Chinatown and touted as "the oldest dining establishment" or something close anyway. Blackfriars I thought was a solid establishment with a bit too much theme looking decor. There were also several people like me who were on expenses, eating alone or with colleagues, all of whom had blatantly looked the place up and gone.

I think the food was good, but pricy. It also lacked some of the wow factor and the consistency of brillliance. Let me explain.

Starter: Pan-fried scallops, smoked haddock & English apple soup, shredded braised pork cheek 
This was three nice fat scallops. A creamy tasting soup/sauce, although as they failed to supply the spoon but just a fork, I'm calling it a sauce. It was okay. You wouldn't turn your nose up for it that's for sure.

Main: Roast local chicken breast & drumstick, nettle tortellini, carrot puree, wild garlic pesto 
This was quite possibly some of the nicest chicken I've had that I've not roasted myself. The skin was perfectly done. However, see that yellow puree? Did absolutely nothing for me. See that tortellini? It was a bit tough. It was done, it was just tough. I'm fine with al dente, but on something like this, that pasta needed to voluptuous and smooth. A little moan here whilst we're on the subject, this dish took at least 15 minutes to come. If the guy next to me ordered dessert with "an eight minute wait" I'd finished my starter and waited after he got his pudding before this arrived.

Dessert: Potted Rhubarb Pie and Ginger ice cream.
For want of a better description, it was "meh". The ice cream rested on ginger crumbs but was blatantly frozen in a scoop because it was too hard. The rhubarb was stewed and the pastry was fine, but it didn't rock my world. And they told me it was a ten minute wait.

Overall, if I was in Newcastle, I'd give this place a skip. You can do much, much better down in Trinity Gardens.

Why do I even bother? This was because there was a queue at Nandos. Ask is one of those chains that you're not quite sure why you go to. However, on expenses, it was comparatively cheap to all the things I did this week. Making my expenses balance to a nice £25 a meal.

Linguine Genovese. There was no call for the extra £1.30? for adding chicken. There's barely any there, it was kinda dry and to be honest the dish didn't need it. Embrace the beans, spuds and pasta. It isn't bad. Even if it doesn't look like Nigella's version. If you're looking for this place, it's in the Cinema complex by the casino and the bars. Look for the back of Debenhams/Chinatown and you're there.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Newcastle: Trinity Gardens (Slightly South)

Newcastle in the glorious sun. You got to love the quayside (although maybe not the people buzzing around on jetskis. I've been to Newcastle on multiple occasion and I have to say, I do like it. They have the best cabs (Grosvenor Cars) with the most sparkly clean cars and polite drivers. The airport is a breeze to get through and also has Eagle Diner which has the BEST chocolate milkshake. 

Hotels - first of all, I usually stay at the Hilton Gateshead. I've tried the Thistle and that was a shoebox where you can't sleep at night thanks to it facing Newcastle station with it's drunks and taxi rank. In addition it loses points for having a towel heater burning your leg as it's so close to the toilet, cookies which aren't replaced after the first night, and cleaning which managed to leave the two hairs that were on the shower wall when I arrived, still stuck up there when I left. Oh and they take your old shower cap and don't supply you with a new one. Major loss of brownie points. Malmaison Newcastle is supposedly very nice but my budget does not stretch. FYI Copthorne I used to think was lovely 6 years ago (it's been that long!!) but all the cabbies have said it's gone downhill as no-one has invested in the place. Apparently they save the "nice" rooms for people who complain. I used to like it. It had the random northerness of a sitting room for your bedroom, free Playboy channel (whatever floats your boat.) and table service for breakfast for a lovely breakfast served by very "British Butler" type staff.

Anyhow, to the food.

Ubiquitous chicken caesar salad (sauce on the side). I'm afraid to say it - not as nice as the Marriott (Bradford). It is my bow to my waist line, but if you have to work in the hotel at night, it's not that bad to nosh on this.

Cafe 21
Cafe21 is a lovely spot in Trinity Gardens. Bit on the pricy side, but that's okay. It's a posh modern restaurant which you could take clients to.

I had the monkfish and prawn curry. I liked it, but at three prawns and three pieces of monkfish it *felt* limited even though it was actually quite lovely.

This was a mistake. I asked for the Hot Chocolate doughnut with pistachio ice cream and they brought me the Chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream and orange blossum macaroon. Did I complain? Of course not.  It was delightful. Tiny nitpick - the macaron had a very hollow shell and one of the sides actually featured a large dimple inwards where the piping bag was pressed down. Ah, those that can't make macarons perfectly... judge others :) I'd put Cafe 21 on the worth a visit pile, just make sure your expenses balance out because it will be one of the more expensive nights.

Cafe Vivo
Onto CafeVivo. This was just around the corner and might even be run by the same people. The pub next door certainly is and apparently the food there is also great. Cafe Vivo has current top ranking in my foodie heart for Newcastle. The menu is very Italian, which I had reservations about since I was told to go visit Marco Polo but this was absolutely gorgeous. It's a nice informal place with lots of locals sitting around. It also features a set price menu: 3 courses for £17.50. Basically the price of a main at Cafe21!

Starter for me: Wood Fired Bruschetta with local Wild Mushrooms, Poached Egg & Shaved Pecorino
One edge of the bruschetta underneath was ssssssssslightly blackened but otherwise a major winner of the evening.

Main: Ziti with Slow Cooked Pork, Chilli, Oregano, Sultanas & Pine Nuts
I'll admit it. I forgot what Ziti was when I ordered it. It's actually slightly longer, softer penne. Whilst this was a very simple dish to look out, the flavours were amazing.

Finally dessert: Watermelon Jelly with Prosecco Granita & Strawberries.
I wasn't a major fan of the Granita but once it melted it made a great, sweet, icy drink.

More to come from the world of St Sushi, Blackfriars... and Ask (don't ask!)