Saturday, 4 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Hop and Cleaver, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside

I'd watched, and hugely enjoyed, the first 4 or 5 episodes of Netflix's House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Directed by David Fincher, when I read an article about why the online streamer had been confident enough to throw $100m at the project in the first place. Basically, they'd noticed from their data that a shit-load of subscribers watched the entirety of Fincher's stuff on their service; ditto Spacey's back catalogue. Meanwhile, the original BBC version of the political thriller had garnered a surprisingly high number of streams. x+y+z= SURE FIRE HIT! All of a sudden I felt slightly used, if not outright soiled. The programme that I had thought I'd stumbled upon serendipitously turned out to have been custom bloody designed for People Like Me; they'd sussed out what I liked, fed it straight back to me, and guess what? I'd lapped that shit right up. I gorged on the rest of the thing, enjoyed it plenty, but with a newly jaundiced hint of quease.

I get the same sense of suspicious familiarity every time I walk into a place owned by Ladhar Leisure. Lady Grey's, Pleased To Meet You and Red House on the Quayside have fairly recently been joined by Hop and Cleaver. Each one feels, in terms of price, interior and food/booze offering to be aimed squarely at those who are willing to part with a bit more loot than the going rate in search of something just a bit "interesting" or "quirky". Guilty, with a sigh of resignation, as charged. The vibe in Hop and Cleaver on the weeknight we visited was heavy with smoke and concept. As bare bricks peered down at us, we perched on stripped back furniture at a rudimentary table and made our choices from a menu of "bang on-trend" low-and-slow meat action.

Chicken Fried Ribs
For all this cynical preamble, I should record that I was really quite looking forward to this meal. Here is not the place to get into what constitutes "proper" American style bbq (for that, have a look at Gravy Quarterly, surely the best named journal in print), but I was intrigued to find out what kind of approximation was on offer. Things got off to a solid start; chicken fried ribs packed smokey depth and tender but still toothsome meat encased in a reasonably crisp batter. The "gochujang" sauce on them was nowt spesh, but fear not: bottles of really quite superb house bbq sauce adorned our table. Made with coffee among other things, the number 2 bottle in particular was brilliantly moreish stuff, all tang, length and breadth.

Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers
Jalapeno poppers were ok, but like the ribs would've been improved by a much crisper batter.

12 Hour Pulled Pork
For mains we each ordered a "crate" comprising a meat thing and two sides, thus securing ourselves the "true barbecue canteen experience". Their words not mine. Anyway, Kasia's pulled pork was really pretty good. It had depth, sweetness, juiciness and a touch of spice. The meat had a pleasing texture; super tender but not mush. This comfortably passed the "better than I can be arsed to do at home test". The apple caramel stuff on the plate was an excellent foil for the meat; sweet spud fries were great and the "pit-smoked" beans were fine.

Char Grilled Glazed Pork Ribs
My ribs were of a similar standard. Good meat with a sticky but not-too-sweet glaze. The fries were ok, but the mac and cheese just wasn't. That, if I'm not mistaken is chifferi pasta, and the sauce lacked the artery-bothering lactic tang that comes from serious amounts of fromage.

14 Hour Brisket
Toni's brisket was the least succesful of the meats, being a bit one-note, and not really benefiting from the presence of a thick wodge of charred white bread. A veteran of such luminaries of the bbq world as Salt Lick in Texas, Toni reckoned that brisket benefits from being served as a whole lump of slow cooked meat, rather than the pulled version here.

Salted peanut butter and chocolate cheese cake
By now pretty stuffed, we shared a portion of a well-made peanut butter cheesecake.

Service was really good; swift, efficient and unobtrusive. On the booze front, my initial indecision led to me being presented with a taster of three different beers on a plank. They were all pretty similar, IPA style things. They do have an unusually good choice of American bourbon and whiskey. I had a shot of Corsair Triple Smoke to see things off which really hit the spot.

One glaring clanger; the music was all over the bloody place. Starting off with what what sounded like an old Shine compilation CD - Stereophonics et al - we veered into chart pop and then god knows where besides. If smoke and bourbon is your concept and you want people to suspend their disbelief, feed them some proper Americana, bluegrass or whatever, not Ellie bloody Goulding. It's like the fourth wall tumbling down, in a bad way. Imagine if Kevin Spacey, during one of his to-camera monologues broke into a tap-dancing routine. It would grate and clash, as indeed it did. Another thing: the website stinks. It took me a while to get the bloody thing to work on Chrome on my PC. Weirdly, it's ok on mobile.

Anyway, we had a really quite decent feed at prices that were just at the northern end of what you'd think ok for this kind of stuff, which is where the Ladhar folk always seem to pitch it. In spite of the amount of hours spent in various slow cooking contraptions there were no earth-shifting revelations to be found in the flavour department here, and on that basis I wouldn't hurry back to eat. The booze selection is good, so I'd be more likely to pop in for a pint, as the Quayside's renaissance continues. Would I have liked it more if I didn't feel my demographic being so directly pandered to? Who knows. I'm looking forward to the next time I know nothing about a place and don't recognise anything off the menu but have a brilliant meal, that's all.


Hop and Cleaver, 44 Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3JF
0191 261 1037

Website (prepare to get angry very quickly)

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