Sunday, 24 November 2013

Restaurant Review: Al Baik, Newcastle upon Tyne

Proteins!
I've held the view for quite some time now that Lebanese is one of the premier pre-piss up cuisines. The conviviality of shared mezze starters, the light and zingy flavours and the wilful contrariness of starting your evening off with a kebab are all very much in its favour in this regard. And anyone who doesn't enjoy scooping up mounds of silky smooth hummus with those airily light breads you get at the start of the meal is sadly defective in a quite significant way. There was no piss-up happening when we visited Al Baik recently to celebrate a family birthday, but I was looking forward to it nonetheless, not least as there had been furtive whisperings that we might take on the "Super Al Baik Special Mixed Grill", of which more later...

The restaurant occupies a fairly uninspiring spot at the end of the Byker Wall. I remember when, years ago, this place was an all you eat Chinese. It was, even for that category of eatery, wildly grim. Then it was some nondescript "Mediterranean" place. Now, happily, it is neither, but something a good deal better. We'd been a couple of times previously on weekend evenings when it gets rammed, many taking advantage of the BYO booze policy. It was nice to visit when things were a bit less hectically busy.

We started, as we always do, with a bunch of stuff from the list of mezze. Everything was somewhere on the scale between pretty good and lovely.

Dolmades, Lebanese pickles at the rear.
Kallaj

Batata Harra
Parsley salad
Kellaj is magic stuff, halloumi cheese being sandwiched between crisped thin pastry-like bread. I like that the parsley salad is mostly parsley with just a sprinkle of bulgar wheat for company. Hummus, unpictured, was canonically smooth and an also undocumented moutabal was delicious, bringing smoke and aubergine together to great effect. All of this, alongside free breads, garlic and spicy tomato dips was however a mere overture for the crescendo of meat that was about to arrive.

Why hello there.

The birthday boy had decided that the best way to celebrate another year on this earth was by ordering the £45 Super Al Baik Special Mixed Grill, and I could see no good reason to argue. Three of us took it on, ably assisted by others when required. It comprised a whole grilled seabass, 4 of the biggest prawns I've ever seen, also grilled; both chicken and lamb shwarma, a hunk of baby chicken, lamb kofte, chicken wings and a couple of other types of kebab to boot. This was garnished with moreishly crisp chips, rice and some delightfully pointless bits of raw carrot and onion. Phwoar. As I type, I wish all of this stuff was in front of me right now. The lamb shwarma, prawns and baby chicken were the highlights. The lamb almost tasted like it had been dipped in marmite such was the umami tang of it, while the prawns and chicken were both supremely juicy, particularly impressive on the chicken which was a solid hunk of breast which I'd normally avoid in favour of something with a bone in it. Others, not in on the mega-feast plate, also commented in favour of everything served.

We finished up with some spiced rice pud stuff, the name of which escapes me, and baclava, neither of which were anything special, nor really had to be by that stage of proceedings. It's worth noting that all the staff were super-friendly, dealing with our constant and uncoordinated demands for drinks and additional sauces and rice with grace and alacrity.

So, a pretty great meal and certainly one which, having been consumed at lunchtime, rendered the rest of the day a food-free zone. We used to frequent Al Basha in the Bigg Market for similar fare, and loved it. Then it got really quiet and commensurately not as good, and now it's closed. Al Baik is a worthy successor. Everything isn't perfect - that bass was a bit over done and the puds weren't up to much - but the combination of shared starters comprising all manner of freshness followed by unending quantities of charcoal grilled protein is a total winner. The tab was very generously handled by Kasia's dad, so I can't tell you how much this lot came to. On previous visits we've had an absolute feast for something in the region of £15-20 a head.

Grab yourself some companions, tactically develop a hunger as epic as you dare then order the Super Al Baik Special Mixed Grill and sit back, safe in the knowledge that the ensuing hour or so is going to be very good. Very good indeed.

8/10

Al Baik, 98 Byker Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 1LA
Tel: 0191 228 9000
Website

2 comments:

  1. Sounds great, love sharing dishes! We spent some of our honeymoon in Dubai and ate our body weight in hummus! Love the way you write, great post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ta very much, one does one's best!

    ReplyDelete

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