Monday, 13 January 2014

Restaurant Review: Peace & Loaf, Newcastle upon Tyne

There seems to be a downturn-confounding slew of new restaurant openings in and around Newcastle at the minute. Either there are some foolhardy souls around, keen on ploughing money into new ventures despite the absence of disposable loot in people's wallets, or Newcastle has a restaurant-attending class of citizen sufficient to support all this. Hopefully the latter, obviously. One of the more interesting places to open doors over the last few months is Peace & Loaf in Jesmond.
Set in a handsome brick terrace just back from the coast road, Peace & Loaf was last occupied as far as I recall, by a cafe/restaurant that had something to do with Popolos. It benefits from being set over three floors, giving a really spacious feel and good variety of seating arrangements. The interior is nicely done out with exposed brick, semi-open kitchen, unclothed wooden tables and all that malarkey, plus some interesting animal based graffiti-type art that reminded me a lot of London-based burgery Meatliquor. So far, so on-trend. Head chef Dave Coulson got to the final of Masterchef The Professionals back in 2010 and a peek online at early sample menus suggested some ambitious and playful ideas, so by the time we got to go just before Christmas my interest was thoroughly piqued. My parents and some friends of theirs were in town; after a couple of early-evening sharpeners and a taxi ride across town we were well in the mood to be fed.

Canapes consisted of broccoli stem, sporting a dod of some sort of mayo or gel, excellent pork scratchings (there's a tautology for you) with a dod of apple gel and "textures of artichoke" which I took to be a crisp of jerusalem artichoke upon which nestled a powder of the same that stayed warm an eerily long time, presumably the result of a pacojet, or other clever bit of kit. Having grown broccoli, I've realised that the stems are by miles the tastiest bit, so it was quite cool to see them getting used here. All very nice indeed. The bread rolls, ironically given the name of the place weren't that flash and didn't taste (recently) home made.

Skate, Chicken Wings, Kale, Artichoke

We mixed and matched dishes from the festive set menu and the a la carte, having been informed by a waitress that this was no problem. My starter was a fairly complex plate featuring the surf and turf combo of chicken wings and skate, all shunted off to the side of a shallow bowl in deference to the current plating zeitgeist. Boned out chicken wings are an eating-out treat, as I couldn't really be bothered to do this at home. They were full of the kind of flavour that only comes from a well-worked bit of muscle, and supported by curls of tender skate, a potent chicken sauce and a smear of artichoke puree.

Ham Broth Terrine, Pease Pudding, Stottie Crisps
Elsewhere, some very neat plating was in evidence on a terrine of ham broth. The terrine itself was a little bit dry, but the surrounding bits and bobs, including a pease pudding puree all tasted superb.

Roast Turkey, Masterchef Turkey Pie, All The Trimmings
Mains, and I had to see what an evidently capable kitchen would make of that most maligned of meats, on a plate of turkey with all the trimmings. A hunk of breast was mercifully juicy and mash was perfectly good but the outright winner here was the "Masterchef Turkey Pie", a sort of deconstructed (sorry, Derrida) affair including a disc of crisped pastry and a joyously good puck, presumably made from some of the darker cuts of the bird. Alongside a winningly glossy gravy, this was undoubtedly the best turkey dish I've eaten out, even if a couple of orange and cream coloured dots - carrot and parsnip? - and some bacon crumbs do not "all the trimmings" make.

Daube Of Beef, Winter Vegetables, Mash
Salmon Fillet, Beetroot, Fondant Potato, Charred Leek
Elsewhere on the table a daube of beef was raved over and a fillet of salmon with a dreamy hollandaise-type sauce likewise found favour, and probably took the prize for prettiest plate.

Christmas Pudding Spring Roll, Marzipan Ice Cream
Puddings were a hit and miss affair. I decided to push the festive theme to it's logical conclusion, but was not especially rewarded by a Christmas pudding spring roll that was unfortunately a bit dense and dry. One of these shot off the plate when one of our number attempted to impale it on a fork, which tells you what you need to know. By way of redemption, the accompanying marzipan ice cream was bloody great. In hindsight, I wish I'd asked for some extra scoops of that. Don't remember ever seeing this anywhere before, so top marks to whoever's idea that was.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie, Cherries
Spiced Panacotta, Mulled Wine Syrup and Sorbet
Other puds were more successful. A chocolate brownie was rich and dense, and the panacotta was very well made, displaying exactly the correct degree of wobble. In a very nifty touch, the sorbet adorning it came in the shape and hue of a red-wine poached pear.

On this evidence, Peace & Loaf is a very welcome addition to Newcastle's dining scene with some touches of real class about the food. The service was very friendly, and, barring one cock-up whereby the wrong terrine was brought, efficient. It's a nice room to sit in as well, the multiple floors helping to create a very unstuffy atmosphere. Minor niggles with the bread, ingredients appearing on different dishes - charred leeks, mash and that artichoke powder seem popular - and a wine list that, with bottles starting at about £19, felt a tad unforgiving can be overlooked as the cooking was generally very good, excellent in parts and we had great evening.

The menu seemed a little safer than the impression I'd gotten when the place first opened. Perhaps this was to do with the fact we were there just before Christmas, a time when some of life's less adventurous diners are known to venture out. However, there was ample creativity and interest in the food here to suggest that a repeat visit would be rewarded. We'll be back, and I'd certainly recommend you give it a go.


Peace & Loaf, 217 Jesmond Road, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1LA

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