Thursday, 12 September 2013

Restaurant Review: David Kennedy's River Cafe, South Shields

Squid Salad, not from Sambucas
To the Fish Quay at North Shields, on a bank holiday Sunday, a day which - in sympathy with my slightly frazzled state - couldn't make it's mind up how it was going to turn out. Malignant early threats of rain proved ungrounded in fact, and it was just getting out lovely as we sat down to the lunch which I shall here recount. This was a few weeks back, but there are, in the interests of posterity, things worth noting both about the lunch we had as well as the ones we didn't.

The Fish Quay presents a real mixed bag of dining options these days. I've been coming down here in the name of fish for years. Something of a family ritual was for my folks to drive over from Scotland, pick up my gran and/or great aunt, bring them down here and score some fish suppers. We'd all eat ours inside the restaurant while our temporarily acquired oldsters sat in the car and ate theirs looking at the river and making up stories about what various passers-by were getting up to. As eccentric as she was antisocial, my gran.

That chippie is long-since gone, replaced I think by one of a number of hyper-cheap Italians that have come to dominate the strip. How many renditions of Sambucas are really needed in such a small space? Lots, apparently. I'm a bit torn on these places. Here's the thing:

They have a 3 course lunch menu on for £3.90. Those are mental prices. I (grudgingly) pay about that for a pint not infrequently these days. How the frig do they do that?! Admittedly the first course is liable to revolve around potato skins or soup and the final "course" might be a coffee, but still; wedged between those will be a pasta or pizza that is liable to fill you up and taste sort of alright. For under 4 quid! Presumably they pay the staff, and have to pay for gas and electric, and have to buy some plates and pans and candles once in a while? If people who are none too flush can get an actual meal in an actual restaurant for under £4, surely that must qualify as a good thing? Maybe not, says my snobbish side. Places serving up lowest common denominator plates of bog-standardness are exactly what's wrong with eating out in so much of these sceptered isles, so says my inner prig. Suffice to say that we didn't patronise any of these establishments, and instead headed up a flight of stairs above a ground floor pub to try out David Kennedy's River Cafe.

I've banged on a bit before about how we rate David Kennedy's cooking, and this outpost showed up predictably well. The small but light dining room was fully booked, so we perched comfortably enough on stools around a high table in a room next to it. We ate from the Sunday Lunch menu which had a good range of choices for each course, including familiar beef and lamb roasts.

My squid salad was simple but tasty, with batons of finely diced peppers and the like working nicely with well cooked squid and a dressing that I think had the sweetness of mirin about it. A bit more chilli on the squid would have hurt no-one.

Kasia's black pudding croquettes were very nice, as you'd expect deep fried black pudding and spud to be. The oven-dried cherry tomatoes were a welcome burst of acidity.

Black pudding croquettes
Kasia went for fish and chips for mains, as is her wont. Plus marks for a spanking fresh bit of cod, in a superbly light and crispy batter, along with a very nice home-made tartare sauce. Negative marks for chips that failed to deliver on the anticipated crunch (thrice-cooked, it said). Either something went awry with one of the cookings, or these had just been hanging around a bit.

Fish and Chips. Obvs.

My main of parma-wrapped hake, with chorizo, beans and a light broth was a bowl of perfectly seasoned and well-cooked loveliness. Hake is a really great fish, no wonder the Spanish love it so much. The broth was summery and delicious, but given some substance by the butter and broad beans. Those oven dried tomatoes showed up again, which was fine by me.

No puds, as we were already mentally committed to heading to Whitley Bay for ice cream. As I recall, 2 courses came in at £12 each, which considering we could have had a full roast (which looked great), comes in as good value. Service was very friendly and prompt.

Among the thronging, clamouring crowd of unfathomably cheap "Italians" on the Fish Quay are now a couple of far more interesting propositions, of which this is one. Irvins is somewhere else we've been meaning to try for a while. We really enjoyed our lunch, and I emerged into the sun feeling well satisfied and fully restored. We wandered back to the car, past "Sambucas 8", or whatever it's called. People were getting stuck right into their economy-defying pizzas, and who can blame them? I (just) resisted the urge to inwardly tut, but allowed myself a confounded shake of the head. How do they do it?


Restaurant Website


  1. it wasn't so long ago they were doing 3c for £3.95 here, and people still walked past and went to "sambucas"!

  2. That's just good old fashioned insanity, plain and simple!


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