Monday, 30 November 2015

Restaurant Review: Ottolenghi, Islington

One of the main criteria I tend to employ when trying to decide on a venue for a meal is the extent to which I'd be able to prepare any of what's on the menu in my own kitchen. This dictum applies equally to both high end and proletarian fare. I am as equally disinclined to spend days on end reducing veal stock as I am to stink out my house by installing a deep fat fryer; thus, both classical French cooking and fish and chips are high up the list of things I want to eat out. With cooking as with all else, there is a noble humility in recognising that sometimes other people just have the tech, the time and the know-how which you lack, and you should pay for it. This is capitalism, and it tends to work quite well. This is also the reason I've resisted Kasia's enthusiasm to eat at Ottolenghi on one of our all-too-rare sorties south to London, until now.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

End of season allotment scorecard

This was the scene at the allotment on Sunday, when our attendance managed to neatly and happily bisect a couple of squally rain showers. For shame: I haven't written anything veg-related on here since July, and in truth our attendance of the plot in real life over the last couple of months has been scarcely any more regular. The fact that we aren't now faced with an unmanageable forest of weeds is, as I have said since we took over this site in February, a function of its modest size. And yet, despite the limited ground space, and our infrequent trips to the site, we've still managed a very satisfying harvest.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Restaurant Review: Rossopomodoro, Eldon Square, Newcastle upon Tyne

I'm not much in the business of accepting free food for reviews, mostly as I'm not much in the business of being offered it. However, when, towards the fag-end of a dreamlike holiday in Naples and the Amalfi Coast I got an email asking us to try out the Neapolitan stylings of Rossopomodoro it all seemed a bit too apposite to refuse. What better way of softening the post-holiday blues than a meal that recalled the flavours of Campania? What indeed!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Restaurant Review: The Wood Oven, Wylam

My friends James and Rosie live out in the relative outback that is Ovingham these days. This is fine by me, as a trip out there is rather more diverting than the short hike across Newcastle's West End which used to seperate our dwellings. During the meal we recently shared at The Wood Oven in Wylam, and the day that preceded it, I could see the attraction of the move they've made.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Mid-harvest catch up

It has been all quiet from me on the blog front for a while - Hiya! - but you'll no doubt be relieved to know that things on the allotment have been trucking along in spite of their not being electronically documented. Plenty of rain along with some sporadic blasts of heat and light have seen things growing at full throttle. Kasia's mum lent a much appreciated hand which rid large sections of the plot of all weeds. We've been off work this week and although some serious downpours have kept us away most days, we squeezed in a few hours worth of graft yesterday in some lovely weather.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

It's all going so bloody well...

The track up to our bit
The pessimist in me is waiting for something to go badly wrong with the plot; an outbreak of blight, bindweed or some other grim pestilence to befall us. But nothing has yet. In fact, since we've taken on this former pigeon loft, everything we've put into the ground has done perfectly well. Considering this was basically a rubbish dump only a few short months ago, I'm impressed. Impressed, surprised and delighted.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Green amongst the brown

With Kasia away for the weekend, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday afternoon by myself at the plot. The weather was mostly gorgeous, with just the odd shower punctuating the azure ether, which helped, but I also realised a couple of things about this plot which just make it a more pleasant thing to garden than where we've been previously.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Laid the beds

The path to our patch
We crossed an allotment Rubicon in the glorious weather of bank holiday Monday , as we finally got the structure of the plot all laid out. Some recently purchased timbers were cut into raised beds meaning we can really start to think about what is going to fill them.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

First shoots and a new greenhouse

Let's have a bit of a catch up from the allotment shall we? Yeah! It's just over a month ago since I wrote that we'd gotten our spuds and onions in to the first two beds we'd managed to (mostly) rid of stones and detritus and transplanted some fruit bushes. Since then, despite time to spend at the plot being at an absolute premium (we've got a lot of weddings on this year), things have moved on a bit.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Restaurant review: Sunday lunch at The Rat, Anick

Image: The Rat Inn (weather wasn't as clever the day we went mind...)
Sigh. Back to work today after a cracking bank holiday. No doubt many of us spent a chunk of it nursing a food-coma, the result of some serious roasted-meat-and-other-things feast, so I thought it would be apposite to record some electro-chatter on the subject of that fine British institution the Sunday lunch, before describing a recently enjoyed example of the form for your consideration.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Some progress of our own

Interested onlookers
It's a pleasure to report some significant progress on the allotment that happened while we were actually there. We took the last couple of days off work in honour of my completing another lap of the sun, and spent sizeable chunks of both putting in a bit of old fashioned graft on the plot. With so much work having been done for us so far, it seemed only fair.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Restaurant Review: The Raby Hunt, Summerhouse

When revisiting a restaurant, it's a pleasure to find the things you enjoyed the first time just as good as they were. It's even better to find that they've been joined by other plates of searingly good quality. When we ate at The Raby Hunt for the first time a little over a year ago we were fairly bowled over by some stellar-level cooking from James Close and his small team. Things have moved on since then. There are a couple more staff both in the kitchen and out front, and, when visiting for a birthday lunch at the weekend just gone there was a palpable sense of assurance about everything going on under their roof. The following words are in danger of sounding like the worst kind of fawning, hagiographic brown-nosing, but there's no getting away from the fact that pretty much everything we ate at The Raby Hunt was - spoiler alert! - flat out brilliant.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Restaurant Review: Sunday Lunch @ Vallum Restaurant, Vallum Farm

Another Sunday, another lunch. There are other things to do on a Sunday of course, but in these relatively godless times, lunch is a better and more rewarding thing to do than most. Aldous Huxley said something about how a lunch can turn a pessimistic determinist into an optimistic believer in the will's freedom. Quite right, but I wonder if he specifically had beef and Yorkshire pud in mind? We did, at the terminus of a fun weekend when we had friends up from darn sarf.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Here's one somebody else made earlier

We've been absentee allotmenteers this last week and a bit, as visitors from near and far claimed our attention. And yet significant progress has still been made, as if by magic. A path has been laid, a water gathering system set up, a gate installed and beds laid out. If you've followed any of what we've been up to with the new plot in Benwell since we took it on in January, you'll know it came with the added bonus of some unbelievably helpful neighbours who have catapulted its progress on way beyond what we'd have been able to achieve ourselves.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Restaurant Review: Irvins Brasserie, North Shields

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.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Restaurant Review: Bierrex Smoke and Tap House, Newcastle upon Tyne

This write-up completes a personal trilogy of Newcastle's current line-up of American-style barbecue-focussed outfits. First there was Hop and Cleaver, then Bierrex opened its doors in September, followed, more recently, by Longhorns on Mosley Street. From zero to treble-smoked inside of just a few short months; aside from snidey observations about trendy bandwagons, this seems to me to be A Good Thing. People are surely likely to find something to enjoy within at least one of these joints, and it all adds to the variety and gaiety of Newcastle's fodder scene. But would Bierrex complete the triumverate triumphantly or atrociously? Would it be Last Crusade or Matrix Revolutions?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Many hands, in the light, work.

In a weekend of limited allotment-time, we managed a couple of quick trips up to the plot. Hearing that there was a skip on site, Kasia and I dashed up there on Friday after work to rid our patch of some of the larger bits of detritus still littering the place. I managed a few more hours on Saturday morning, which I spent raking and bagging as much of the broken glass, plastic and dried bits of wood that still sit on top of the soil we will one day grow stuff in.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Restaurant Review: Miller and Carter, Newcastle upon Tyne

What with the recent up-tick in religious barbarism, and Europe threatening to fall apart in any one of a number of directions, you'd have thought there was enough negativity in the world at the minute without fools like me adding to it with sneering eviscerations of food outlets, and, of course, you'd be right. Yet, here we still are! The thing is, there were sufficient monumentally duff and dissonant qualities in the meal I shared with friends on a recent get-together at Miller and Carter in Newcastle that not to pass mention of it would be akin to dereliction of duty. Plus, the meal managed to somehow get even more annoying once I'd had time to - literally and figuratively - digest it. Life is short and people need to be told. That's my excuse for what follows, anyhow.

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Rake and Progress

Things are really moving along at the new site as the mass clean-up job continues apace. We've hit the total jackpot in terms of plot neighbours as our (actual house) neighbour Bob and various others have put in some serious amounts of work during the week, setting fires with the brambles we'd hacked down and raked up, laying paths and pulling up no end of the utter shit that has strewn this patch for some time. It was the most heartening thing in the world to get to the plot on Saturday and see how much had happened without us; we couldn't be more grateful.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Back In The Game!

What have have we done? Signed up for a new allotment, that's what! Or, rather, we've signed up for what will, at some point in the future, be an allotment. Right now it's a bramble-strewn former pigeon loft dumping ground. But, in its favour,  it's our bramble-strewn former pigeon loft dumping ground, and there aren't any plans to close it down. After having a look round a couple of potential plots we decided that the fact that this site in Benwell is less than 5 minutes walk from our front door trumps everything.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Restaurant Review: "Brunch Gastronomique" at Hotel du Vin, Newcastle upon Tyne

Gluttony - full-on, no buggering about gluttony - is like some nearly-forgotten friend from the bad side of the tracks, prone to sidle up from time to time, regard you knowingly and mutter darkly "go on then; I dare you!" When it does catch up with you it's hard to ignore. Sadly, though reasonably, quality and quality usually vary inversely when it comes to food as so much else, so the opportunities to pig out on some properly decent stuff are rare. Which is why Sunday Brunch at Hotel du Vin had always seemed an interesting proposition. I'd heard furtive talk of a four-course scranathon; rumours abounded of a "market table" overflowing with shellfish and cold cuts, followed by a full Sunday lunch. And then pudding. In this month of restraint and denial, it seemed like a pleasingly off-kilter choice for an anniversary lunch, so under gun-metal skies we set off for Ouseburn.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New Year, New Plot?

As I mentioned in a previous post, the low level rumblings and consternation regarding the future of our allotment site became real and pronounced just before Christmas, as The Freemen finally made clear to the current committee that their plan is to shut the site. Bah humbug. Although there hasn't been any communication (to us at least) about when this is to take effect from, and for how long the site will be closed, we've started making enquiries into the availability of plots on other sites.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Review: La Petite Creperie & Nan Bei Dumplings, Grainger Market, Newcastle upon Tyne

The foodification of The Grainger Market continues apace. Turn your back for just a few weeks and another street-foodish unit has popped up. And, praise be, they're all pretty damn good! If you were so minded you could do a tapas-style tour of the place, taking in freshly shucked oysters, pizza, Turkish mezze, seafood noodles, cupcakes, macarons... and now, crepes and dumplings. This is all a far cry from the market I knew 10 or so years ago, but it's a fine development. Over the past few weeks we tried out the aforementioned La Petite Creperie and Nan Bei Dumplings: let me now tell you about them.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Restaurant Review: Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse, Newcastle upon Tyne

It all went a bit smoky in Newcastle in 2014. First there was Hop and Cleaver, then Bierrex, and latterly Longhorns opened, all bringing their take on American-style low-and-slow smoked meats to these parts. We thought Hop and Cleaver was a bit meh and haven't yet made it to Bierrex. However, I had a sample of Longhorn's brisket at the really quite good Craft Beer Calling festival back in October and resolved to head their way once they opened on Mosley St. Granted, I was extremely well refreshed at the time, but even in my drunken fug I could detect some serious smoke and flavour in their meat.
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