Monday, 6 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Caffe Vivo, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside

There's some fine eating to be had around the Quayside these days, much of it bearing the imprimatur of Terry Laybourne. Cafe 21, Caffe Vivo and The Broad Chare are all within the lob of an olive pip's distance from each other. Must be handy if the ice machine breaks down, or you get shafted on a cheese delivery. The last man to hold a Michelin star in this fair city, these days Laybourne's places are more about good food at a reasonable price. The Broad Chare was just awarded a Bib Gourmand for doing that exact thing. On a rare weekday sans travail, we had a very enjoyable shuffle round the river (The Daniel Buren thing at Baltic is great, especially when the sun shines- you've got until 12th October before it packs up) before, after much indecision and the toss of a coin, we headed for Cafe Vivo.

Sharing a building, and indeed loos, with Live Theatre, Caffe Vivo is nicely done out in a straightforward kind of way. Large windows and mirrors set into the walls give a very airy feel. Those windows are adorned with all manner of rustic what-nots and dried meat. The semioticians in the crowd will not take long to suss out the manner of fare being offered; simply prepared Italian dishes - meat, fish, pasta and rice, but not a pizza in sight - are the order of the day. I have to say, just about everything on the set lunch menu (3 courses for £18.50) sounded flat-out great, and I like the fact you can have pastas as a starter or a main. You'll be relieved to hear we managed to choose in the end, otherwise this would be a pretty forlorn and rubbish review. Here's what we done and ate.

Nocellara olives; Cantabrian anchovies with Normandy butter

Nocellara olives are the new sun dried tomato, or black or whatever. They're everywhere. Fine, by me, I love them. These were dinky little things, but meaty and sweet as ever. Some cantabrian anchovies and Normandy butter were calories brilliantly well spent when generously applied to the dinky little crostini. I was gutted when the remaining half of the amazing butter was whisked back to the kitchen; I'd assumed that we'd be getting a house bread as it wasn't on the menu. No deal. Sigh. Is that pat of butter really meant to be applied to four tiny crostini, each then to be adorned with an anchovy? Decadence!

Calves liver crostini, cavolo nero
My actual starter was based on a decent wodge of bread anyway. There was a mere smear of the delicious pate-like liver on the thing, outgunned by swathes of brassica. I had been hoping for a slice of seared liver, but perhaps that was optimistic for a set lunch. Sigh again. Some of the cavolo nero was hot, but some was cold. Reheating is fine, but do it to the whole thing. This was still a nice enough starter, but could've been amazing with just a tweak.

Scamorza Fritta
Never had Scamorza before; it's a cheese, which you can batter and fry. Who doesn't like fried cheese? Not us, that's for sure. It was clean and mild tasting, against which a bit more poke in the tomato sauce would have sealed the deal.

Grey mullet, new potatoes, cherry tomato stew
My main was a prime example of how enjoyable simple things can be when done well. Crisp of skin yet moist of flesh, the mullet had just enough flavour to stand up to the lightly stewed tomatoes in which an occasional olive or caper intruded to good effect. Spuds were mega-waxy and delicious. Hurrah!

Fusilli with prawns and zucchini
Kasia's main of prawn and courgette pasta was ok, but a bit one-note, The tomato sauce, pretty familiar from her starter, just wasn't up to the job of doing the necessary heavy lifting. Long-sweated onions, a splash of white and a vegetarian-alienating nub of n'duja would have given it more depth I reckon.

Mirabelle plum crumble, custard
Both puds went down a treat. I was still feeling a bit hungry after my main, so the generously proportioned crumble, featuring plums that had admirably retained their structural integrity, was just the ticket. There aren't many more comforting culinary sights than a vanilla-speckled custard; this one was nice, but with a slightly odd - cornflour thickened? - texture.

Valpolicella chocolate mousse, chantilly cream
I'm intrigued as to what kind of Valpolicella, and in what format - straight; reduced to a syrup? - went into the mousse. Whatever, it was lovely, the overall effect not being too far off chocolate orange.

I had a very nice glass of Piedmontese red, Kasia was on the pop and the whole shebang, including pre-added 10% service, came to just over £60. Service was a bit patchy but then we did have a somewhat dud table, hidden from the main thoroughfare; I had to get up to ask for the bill as staff seemed more concerned with planning the evening's service but worse fates have befallen other dwellers of this realm, I shouldn't wonder.

The word to sum up this lunch is "nice", with the occasional foray into "really nice". There seemed little danger of our socks being blown off at any stage, although with just a tweak there and a touch more care here, these could have been stonking plates of food. Perhaps not everyone wants their socks blown off anyway. If you don't, but you do want to be well fed in a nice room with an excellent choice at sensible prices, Caffe Vivo could well be the place for you.


Caffe Vivo, 29 Broad Chare, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3DQ
0191 232 1331


1 comment:

  1. Just been having a much needed catch always your restaurant reviews make my mouth water!!

    Shame you need to down size but definitely a good idea if you're struggling a little as the allotment cab soon become a chore rather than a pleasure!!


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