Sunday, 22 May 2016

A lunch to end all lunches: Cal's Own, Jesmond

One man and his restaurant
I somehow managed to miss my twitter invite to the opening of the new Cal's Own in Jesmond. Gutted, I was. The only positive to come out of the whole debacle is that I've gotten a whole lot better at checking my Twitter DMs as a result. We've been in since and I need scarcely tell you how brilliant the Neapolitan pizzas are (especially that margherita), but anyway, they completely bloody are. They're definitely on a par with anything we tried when in Naples last year. When I got another message off Cal on the Twitter asking if Kasia and I fancied swinging by for a "tasting of treats", I definitely did. I had assumed, fairly, I think, that this would involve pizza. The fact that we sat for four hours stuffing ourselves but didn't consume a single slice serves notice of just what a great place to eat this already is, but also, excitingly, of how it may get even better over time. Here's what we had.

Olives- nocellara and some other type, marinated
Medjool dates wrapped in bacon
Things got underway with a very refreshing Aperol soda, then some excellent bubbles from Trento in the far north of the old country, with a few starters off the current menu. The dates wrapped in bacon were lovely- gooey, sweet and salty, and bathed in a typically delicious tomato sauce spiked with spianata spiced Calabrian sausage. You need to be ordering these.

Gorgonzola arancini
We moved away from items I recognised from the current menu with some jumbo sized arancini. These were impressive, the risotto rice having been cooked to just the right point, and a lava flow of excellent blue cheese releasing itself from the crisp orbs upon their dissection. The crumb was made from home-made sourdough bread, of which more later.


Really tasty
By this point it was clear that this was going to be a meal to remember, despite Cal doing his best to make that difficult, by plying us with wines matched to each course. "Yous aren't leaving until you're completely stuffed and completely mortal" he smirked. Ok, fine then. Cal's brother Kerry spoke to us a bit about how much care had been put into assembling their short but punchy wine list. As well as your punter-friendly Pinot Grigios etc, there are some lovely and more esoteric bottles on there, including a sunshine and peach-packed Grillo and a gorgeously supple Pinot Nero. I haven't tried many Italian versions of this classic grape (Pinot Noir in another tongue), but will again.

Chicken wings, Hamish's spice mix
Italian sausage, honey and mustard sauce
Back to the food and the feast o' meats wasn't about to relent. Chicken wings were the least memorable dish of the day (one of them had to be I suppose), mostly due to a lack of crispy skin and perhaps not enough of @The_Zaps spice blend to make them sing. An Italian sausage, on the other hand, was a rough-textured length of deliciousness, full of herbs and a feint tinge of heat that was kept in check by the soothing mustard sauce.

Shin of beef ragu, sourdough
The sourdough that had given its crumb to the arancini returned to quite stunning effect next, providing the vehicle for one of the best stews I recall enjoying. This thing was almost violently rich with a beefiness so deep it was nigh-on unplumbable. The bread itself, made from the exact same dough as the pizzas, had an extraordinary crust while the innards were somehow both light and hefty all at once. Stirring stuff.

Limoncello ice-cream
When a sherberty-sweet limoncello ice-cream turned up, smothered in some kind of liqueur whose name escapes me (like I said, lots of wine) I thought we were on the home straight. Nope.

Chicken parmo
Turns out that we were just becalmed in the eye of the storm. Next out of the oven, to much amusement, was a chicken parmo. This was a significantly higher-grade specimen than I've ever enjoyed when stumbling home from the Bigg Market; buttermilk soaked beaten-out chicken in more crisp crumb topped with (I think?) gorgeously funky Tallegio cheese and ham.

Meatballs, n'duja sauce

Rocket and tomato salad
The crescendo was another bullshittingly decadent dish; sensationally good meatballs, full of the very essence of cow, lurked in a sauce in which their juices had mixed with that of the rendered pork fat of n'duja. Cal gets his meat from, and works closely with Charlotte Harbottle of the excellent Charlotte's Butchery and in dishes like this, it shows. It should tell you something about how completely delicious this was that we were able to eat any of it at all, given what had gone already. It came with a salad which had some gorgeous little tomatoes in it. Serving salad at this point felt a bit like closing the door after the horse had bolted, lived a long and full life and been turned into glue. Still, it felt sort of healthy.

Wood-roasted bellini
Things finally drew to a fittingly triumphant close with a bellini-type cocktail made with peaches that had been roasted in the oven. I was mostly just relieved that this wasn't a Mississippi mud pie.

Cal gave us a bit of a tour of the place afterwards and we had a chat about his plans and all things pizza. He's going for certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the organisation which lays down the law of what does, and does not constitute true Neapolitan pizza (If you're interested, it's all in an 11 page PDF here). This is quite a big deal- currently only one other pizza joint in the UK holds this distinction. The plan is to continue cooking Naples style pizza in the 600 degree monster downstairs, while the upstairs will be refurbished and will provide pizzas more akin to those from the Chillingham Road place to take out.

As I pointed out at the start, we didn't get to try any pizza, but no matter, we can get that any old time. What we did try was an assortment of homely, rich, full-flavoured dishes paired with some vividly delicious wines. It was one of the best lunches I've had in an awfully long time. While some of these dishes are on the menu already, many are not. I think Cal may have some plan to offer a tasting menu once in a while, and we may have been (very willing and completely grateful) lab rats. If that's the case then perhaps just a tiny bit less meat and cheese, along with the addition of some lighter dishes of, for example, wood-roasted vegetables would provide some balance, along with some tangy and acidic elements such as capers and lemons to offset all that richness.

We didn't pay for any of this, so you're entirely welcome to assume that what I've written here is nothing but a bunch of typical food-blogger brown-nosing, and that would be fine. The thing is, you'd be very wrong. I knew Cal could cook sensational pizza, and that his doppio margarita was the absolute real deal. What I didn't know was that he, and the other fine people who work with him, could cook other stuff to a not dissimilar standard. The place hardly needs anyone else banging on about how great it currently is; it's rammed enough already. With dishes like these, what I'm saying is that in the future it could grow to become something even more interesting. We're lucky to have it in this town.

Ps, we were fortunate to share this lunchageddon with Jeff from Newcastle Eats and Kate from High Tea and Heels. Considering how bloody long we were sat eating all this, we were glad of such good company.

Cal's Own
1-2 Holly Avenue West
Newcastle upon Tyne



  1. That really is a spread...just reading about it has made me feel incredibly bloated. Some of the dishes sound marvelous...not sure i could have consumed quite that much though!!


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