Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides; Newcastle upon Tyne

Beef Fillet, Asparagus, Morels, Wild Garlic, Nasturtiums
It's a pretty colossal understatement to say I'd been looking forward to this meal for some time. Partly because I reckoned on there being a good chance of eating some thoroughly top-flight stuff, but also to get the answers to a bunch of intriguing questions that had been floating rhetorically around since it was announced that Kenny Atkinson would be opening up on the quayside. What style would the food be? How had they squared the various circles that come with putting a restaurant in a grade 1 listed building that was meant for other things? And, having (somewhat bravely, I thought) gone tasting menu-only from the off, would there be any problem getting the requisite number of geordies to sit down to a not-inexpensive feast on a regular basis? Read on...

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
A piece of salmon had a stunning, almost rillettes-like texture while still tasting disarmingly lightly cooked, presumably the result of some sous-videry. Cauliflower, charred and pureed and some spiced granola were able accompaniments, but macerated and pureed sultanas were sublime fruity blasts of flavour. A really interesting plate of tastes and textures.

Craster Fish Pie ( Great British Menu 2009)
A reprise of one of the dishes Atkinson produced while on telly doing Great British Menu, the miniature fish pie served up next was by miles the best thing I've ever tasted calling itself one of those. Crisp parmesan topping gave way to stupendously rich yet light spuddage, while pieces of lobster, kipper and mussel lurked amongst shreds of spinach in a textbook white sauce. My dad reckoned it was short of a pea or two. I dissented from this view. An ambrosially brilliant bit of high-end comfort food.

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
I wonder if there had been some sort of general bread mis-fire, as the advertised "cheese on toast" course failed to materialise, with a straight up plate of three cheeses presented instead. No matter, they were all in decent if unspectacular condition. An Old Peculiar number was excellent. Isle of Mull cheddar was fine, although I've never tasted it so mild.

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
The main pud was a chocolatey blast, another textural triumph of density and lightness. The pear sorbet offset the richness of the chocolate, while the red wine sauce gave the thing a very grown up feel. Tiny micro-shoots of, I think, mint were fleeting bursts of vegetal freshness. The base of the pave had a light crunch to it that threatened to defy the laws of physics.

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


Kenny Atkinson House of Tides on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review! Think it's actually the first blog review for House of Tides I've seen so I'm glad someone has done one :) I think next time a special occasion is on the horizon I'm going to book a table :)

    1. Thanks! Another one, based coincidentally on the same night we were there is here:

  2. I too had been looking forward to this for a long time. Fantastic experience although I wasn't overwhelmed by all of the dishes and the wine matching was, I thought, a little eccentric. Only went a couple of weeks ago but your selection of dishes seem markedly different to mine. Want to go back already but think I will see what Mr Atkinson does with the new season. And I cant really justify it financially ;p

    1. Glad you had a good night. I reckon that once they get a bit more consistency it's be a total winner.

  3. nice one lee. one question: if i give you £130+drinks cost, would you go back here or try somewhere new?

  4. Um, both? My diary isn't that full. Is this an offer?!

  5. Great review - I went last week for the first time, although a few of the dishes were different it sounds like broadly the same menu I had - my wife went for the meat free tasting menu and instead of the Oyster they served a hay smoked coddled egg served in the shell with mushrooms - it was brilliant, one of the best dishes we had but only available if you're going for the veggie option which is a shame!

    1. Good on them for doing a full veggie tasting menu. That egg dish sounds quite Dabbous-y.

  6. I was interested to read Gareth's positive comment regarding the veggie option, when we looked at the on line menu a few weeks ago, the meat free option seemed to be a bit literal with the meat just having been removed, pretty disappointing, but on checking just now the concept seems to have been changed up a bit with more inventive veggie options. This coupled with your effusive review means we might have to give it a visit in the future... probably distant future now as we used up our anniversary splurge on JDH (I do love the seaweed butter!)

  7. Oooh, this place is definitely on my list, thanks for the detailed review! Don't be too harsh on your photography skills (I've had a nightmare with my food pics recently!) Have to say, the desserts look and sound amazing! :)


All comments gratefully received. Sorry about the word verification thing, but I've started getting bombed by spam.

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