Thursday, 9 June 2016

Restaurant Review: Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle upon Tyne

People (and when I say people, what I really mean is idiots) often calculate the extent to which a meal out provides good value by doing a rough sum of how much extra they have paid for it than it would have cost for them to assemble the raw materials themselves. You'll often find comments such as "Fifty Quid for two people??!! I could have bought all that stuff for a tennner, what a rip-off. DON'T YOU KNOW SOME PEOPLE CAN'T AFFORD TO EAT AT ALL??!!" lurking below the line of newspaper restaurant reviews. This is childishly ignorant for at least two reasons. Firstly, what kind of insane masochist reads all the way through a review of a nice restaurant when they know in advance it's going to set their teeth so thoroughly on edge? Secondly, and more substantially, it fails to recognise what a restaurant actually is.

Restaurants are not places from which you pay some money and some plates of food magically turn up some time later. The things have to be cooked. Before that they have to be prepared. Before that they have to be ordered. All of these things take some skill and knowledge. In order for a restaurant to acquire staff with skill and knowledge of good suppliers, they have to pay them. They also have to pay the waiting staff who bring the food out, they barman who makes the nice G&T sharpener, the guy who looks after and orders the wine, the guy in the potwash, the people who supply the plates, the people who supply the gas, the electric, the linen... there's quite a bit to it. The point I mean to make by all all this ramble is that you're getting a lot more than three plates of food when you order three plates of food. At some places you get a lot more. Jesmond Dene House is one of those places.

Dinner at Jesmond Dene is, despite having put a few away over the years, still worth looking forward to. It's a bit of an event that begins as the taxi scrunches over the gravel drive and you settle into your favourite chair in the wood-pannelled bar of this very lovely Arts and Crafts building. Mine is in the fireplace. It's a big fireplace.

Negroni, and some non alcoholic thing
The a la carte menu was available, on which three courses will come to something like £40-50 if you avoid the luxe end of things, but they had recently put the early evening menu back on, which offers two courses for £19.50, or three for £23.50. This, given all the stars which align to make a meal here happen, is very keenly priced indeed.

The snacks, which come gratis, are fine, including some nocellara olives and some drop-dead gorgeous truffled salted cashews. A negroni, which does admittedly incur an additional charge, is well made, which means strong, with the bitterness level set just so. 

Once at the table we're offered a choice of bread and a choice of butter. The sourdough is pretty good, but the seaweed butter is, as ever, a total effing delight. Decadently rich and shot through with the kelpy umami thrum of the ocean, this is bloody marvelous stuff. I had a go at making some myself once, beating cream for ages before blending wakame and dilse into the resulting solids. I was quite happy with the result, but it was nowt on this. Again, this is included in the entrance fee.

Fishcake, watercress, tartare sauce
Kasia's starter does what it says on the tin, but it does it well. The fishcake is a greaseless crumbed puck, in which fish and spud are in agreeable proportions.

Wild mushrooms on toast, poached egg, sorrel
My starter of mushrooms on toast would have made a hearty brunch all by itself. A fair heap of shroom, bathing in a fine cream sauce, perches on more sourdough. A neat concasse of tomato shows that someone has been practicing what they learned at catering college while sorrel provides a jolt of green acidity. The poached egg is, of course, perfectly cooked.

Roast fillet of stone bass, cauliflower, samphire and curried mussels
The charring of brassicas seems all the rage nowadays. I can see why- it makes for a visually attractive presentation, while adding smokiness to the vegetal freshness of the thing. Cauliflower benefited from this treatment on my main course of bass, the fish itself being a touch overcooked whilst not especially crisp of skin. The lightly curried sauce was excellent however, having enough restraint to avoid drowning out the fish.

Belly pork, black pudding, carrot, glazed shallot, pancetta
Kasia's pork was a hearty, if fatty affair. I can happily chow my way through any amount of pig fat, and to hell with the effect it has on my guts; Kasia is less enthusiastic. Still, the black pudding bonbon was delicious, and the various treatments of carrot were all well marshaled for a successful dish.

I've got cheese! This is cheese!
We decided against desserts, instead opting to take advantage of the all-too-rare spectacle of a properly stocked cheese trolley. We weren't actually offered this, which was the one slip by the otherwise efficient and friendly waitresses. No matter; once the dairy-bearing behemoth pulled up to our table and the gorgeous stench of controlled decay made itself known, all was forgiven. They were served with lavosh flatbeads and fig chutney, which are great ideas, and some oxidised slices of apple, which is less so.

HOW did they know?
Kasia "accidentally" let slip that we were there in recognition of an occasion, which meant I got the piped chocolate treatment. Ps, see all those chocolates, which were really well made? You guessed it. Also included in your £19.50.

Banging on about the cost of this meal throughout may give you the impression that I know the price of things without understanding their value. I hope that's not true. The value of this meal was that it was a night out in rather lovely surroundings (although that carpet in the dining room does need taken out the back and shot...), being looked after by people who are very competent at what they do, and cooked for by a skilled team that uses quality ingredients. All those old fashioned ideas of hospitality which are sometimes forgotten by neophiles in search of the latest zeit-burger or whatever. We had a lovely evening, and that is Jesmond Dene House's speciality. What price do you put on that?


Jesmond Dene House
Jesmond Dene Road
Newcastle upon Tyne

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