This was supposed to be a review of The Staith House's Sunday lunch, but a couple of messages left on their answerphone and a tweet brought no response, and by the time we finally managed to make contact with them they were fully booked. I've heard the food is great there; I'll maybe find out some other time. Happily, this riverside section of North Shields is up to its bollocks in restaurants these days, and a call to Irvins secured us a table there. We went for a quick and entirely tokenistic walk along toward Collingwood Monument amid the freezing gusts of a hoarily northern kind of afternoon - you have to do some sort of walk before a Sunday lunch, don't you? - before scuttling back to Irvin's to eat.
Irvins is functionally handsome inside and out. Lots of natural light, pale wood and a high ceiling give the place a nice airy feel. Among the Sunday lunchers were people popping in for coffee or a glass of wine. A large bar offers a place to perch while in the open kitchen head chef Graeme Cuthell and his team projected calm assurance. He used to be a private chef for Andrew Lloyd Webber, don't you know. I was a bit saddened that the menu didn't take advantage of this fact by offering up any Musical-based dish titles (Jesus Christ Souper Star?), but you can't have it all now, can you. I was impressed by the collection of cookbooks that littered the place. They'll never be short of a recipe, that's for sure. I flicked through Anthony Demetre's Today's Special which brought back memories of a very nice lunch at Arbutus many years prior. If you're in our nation's capital and want a bargain Michelin starred lunch you know where to go. But I digress.
Free bread at restaurants is like the football season, or liberty; you don't miss it until it's not there. Irvins' was warm and light of crumb, and a perfectly good vehicle for some tasty unsalted butter. Not sure about the wooden butter knives, mind.
|Crab scotch egg|
For a set Sunday lunch menu there's a heap of choice, including some fine sounding piscine options. I was audibly considering a smoked haddock scotch egg, when the waitress offered an off-menu crab version of the same. It was a lovely thing; crisp crumb, feather-light crab filling and a canonically perfect egg sat on a splodge of tangy marie rose stuff. I appreciated the aniseedy sweet cicely; you don't see nearly enough sweet cicely, or "sweet ferns" as Simon Rogan calls them, on restaurant plates.
|Pan fried turbot, romesco sauce|
Turbot ain't cheap, so to get a lump of it on a set menu of under £20 for three courses is pretty unusual. Never having tried it before, I took advantage. It was snortingly fresh and perfectly done, with a suggestion of translucence at its core. The romesco was light and summery and totally inappropriate given the dross falling from the sky outside, but who cares. Sharing a large plate with just two roasties the fish looked a bit lonely until the platter of veg to share rocked up, which was all solidly cooked and tasty stuff, especially the herb-spiked carrots.
|Chocolate pave, toasted almond ice cream|
My pud was a geometrically precise cuboid of chocolately goodness. The ice cream was a revelation. I could happily smash a big pot of this stuff.
|Chocolate and almond torte, chantilly|
Elsewhere both the chocolate and almond torte and the cheeseboard found favour. Service from all the staff was friendly and assured.
I'm sure the food at The Staith House is great and everything but I'm actually glad they had no room at the inn on this occasion as Irvins sorted us out with as tasty and well cooked a feed as anyone has the right to expect at this price. The roast beef that I saw looked the business too, but having gorged on animal the previous night at Bierrex and, after all, being on the Fish Quay, what we had completely hit the spot. The cooking, on this menu at least, isn't doing anything wild or experimental, but it was all well seasoned, well cooked and tasted great, and you can't really ask for more than that on a Sunday. Hurrah.
Irvins Brasserie, Irvin Building, Fish Quay, North Shields, NE30 1HJ
0191 296 3238