|Beef Fillet, Asparagus, Morels, Wild Garlic, Nasturtiums|
Firstly, the building. It's a total stunner, at least to these architecturally ignorant eyes. They seemed to be using the rooms downstairs for people to get comfortable, order drinks and see out the amuse courses before heading upstairs to the main restaurant. There is wood everywhere, some of it very old indeed, some of it less so. They've managed to create a simply laid out but still modern feeling restaurant in an ancient and presumably very needy building and it's great. There are some nice off-kilter touches such as a massive chandelier in the bar made mostly from deer antlers, and a blue neon light highlighting the brick wall tumbling away from our table to downstairs.
Once sat downstairs, we were quickly presented, by Atkinson himself, with a whole baby leek each over which black truffle was grated (it looks like dirt! but it's not!) and beside which a blob of onion puree. They've obviously decided that his name is above the door and so an early meet and greet is appropriate, notwithstanding the current trend for chefs bringing plates to tables. Following the leek was a Lindisfarne oyster on the halfshell, with cucumber and ginger. I found both the amuses pretty underwhelming; the leek texture was all wrong, being both chewy and squidgy (might have been better charred?), and the truffle, despite there being plenty of it, lacked any flavour or aroma. The oyster had lost its struggle to be heard over the din the ginger was making, while the cucumber never stood a chance. Both my parents were suitably impressed however, so perhaps I'm just wrong. We trooped upstairs and were served some spiced bread, the only kind they were doing, which seemed both an odd, and oddly limited, choice. At this point I was honestly fearing an expensive flop.
|Ayrshire Scallop, Pig's Head Braised and Rolled, Apple, Celeriac, Smoked Eel, White Truffle|
Redemption was full and swift, and came over the course of three quite superb fish dishes. A seared scallop, just the right side of overcooked, sat astride a pressing of pig's head. Tiny croquettes of smoked eel lent acres of depth while cubes of fresh and jellied apple cleansed and sweetened. Minuscule shards of white truffle had the wonderful (and all-too rare in my experience) quality of tasting strongly of truffle, rounding out a stonking dish.
|Wester Ross Salmon, Cauliflower, Golden Sultanas, Coriander, Curry Granola|
|Craster Fish Pie ( Great British Menu 2009)|
The beef dish atop this post was, for fillet, packing impressive levels of cow flavour. Classic springtime accompaniments of morels and asparagus were married to the less obvious wild garlic and nasturtiums by a gravy, the remnants of which just demanded to be drunk from the jug. Bisto of the gods.
|Mini Ice-Cream, Rhubarb and Custard, Honeycomb|
A bit of frivolity arrived next in the shape of rhubarb and custard ice cream lollies The rhubarb tasted rudely, almost suspiciously, of itself. These were great.
|Dark Chocolate Pave, English Pear, Pistachio, Meringue|
Wines were enthusiastically, but not piss-takingly marked up. We had a nice enough bottle of Costiere des Nimes which needed some time to open up, followed by a superb Malbec which was outlandishly smooth from the off.
Service needs a mention, as our waiter was one of the most likeable, humble and just plain nice we've ever come across, ably talking us through the dishes. The pacing of the courses, so easy to screw up on a tasting menu, was about right. I've heard people criticise some of the waiting staff for their inexperience. We did have to ask for pre-ordered white wine twice, a screw cap from a bottle of red was screwed back onto the bottle after pouring (!) and we only scored half a slice of bread each until asking for more, so not everything is flawless by any means. Issues like these are easily sorted though, while genuine warmth and enthusiasm are not easy to train for, but were both available and in good supply.
Those two amuse courses and that missing cheese on toast aside, this was a really great meal, and House of Tides was a place we found it very easy to enjoy ourselves. The restaurant seemed more or less packed full of people, and of laughter and chatter. I was a bit blown away by some of the cooking. Tiny touches, like crunchy grains of fleur de sel for seasoning, and the immaculate technique in the veg prep, the jellies and the sauces resulted in some powerfully good food. Needless to say, all this ain't cheap - £65 per head for the tasting menu on a weekend, although you can have three of the above courses for £40 - and I wonder if they'll be inclined to do a lunch service with lower prices anytime soon. While spend per head is likely to be higher in here than at just about any other restaurant in town, the quality of the produce and the cooking shone through regularly enough for me to suggest that, for those into their food, it's worth it. There is an undoubted sense here that, with more consistency, and as we go through the seasons and things really bed in, everything is in place for this to become a properly stellar place to get yourself fed. I'm chuffed and maybe a bit relieved to be able to report that fine things are afoot in The House of Tides.
Ps, these photos are turd and scarcely do the plating, which was gorgeous, justice. I'm going to have to make the step up from smartphone photography soon... I've put up the least awful of them so you at least get an idea of the look of the food.
House of Tides, 28-30 The Close, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3RF
0191 230 3720