Sunday, 2 April 2017

Restaurant Review: Harissa Kitchen, Sandyford, Newcastle upon Tyne

A few words of praise here then for a place we've frequented a bunch of times since it opened last year, and always enjoyed. And, as if that recommendation wasn't enough to have you high-tailing it over to Sandyford by itself, it's also somewhere you can go to eat out and enjoy a clean conscience. You see, all profits from Harissa Kitchen are ploughed back into the parent charity (or Community Interest Company, to be more precise) Food Nation, who do lots of very worthy and worthwhile things around food education.
Not only that, but they pay their staff the living wage. Not only that, but they source some ingredients from their own allotment. Not only that but the halloumi on their menu is made by Syrian refugees. I know, that last bit sounds a little bit like something they would serve at Regime, the restaurant in Nathan Barley, but no: it's actually true.

Impeccable taste
All of this is fine and dandy but would be worth nowt if the restaurant itself wasn't up to snuff. The happy news is that it most certainly is. It's small but perfectly formed, having been done quite gorgeously by someone with annoyingly good taste. Whitewashed brick walls and white tables provide a stark backdrop which only serves to accentuate the blasts of blue and yellow which punctuate it via the medium of chairs, cushions and fresh flowers. Worn copper fittings stop it all feeling minimally stuffy. They even play great music. It's just a perfect little room to eat in.

All yellow and blue
And the food is tip-top too. They use a lot of North African and southern Mediterranean spices, such as dukkah, ras el hanout and (obvs) harissa. It's like going round to a friends place who's gone a bit mad with the latest Ottolenghi cookbook, but done it with style. We arrived just before they closed today, so the main kebab dishes were off - I heartily recommend the  monkfish job from previous experience - but we still managed to concoct a rare feast from the small plates menu.

Dips and flatbread
Their dips are full of verve and life, and lifted above the ordinary by means of attention to detail. A red pepper number with harissa was given crunch from walnuts, while a carrot and cumin effort was perked up with ginger and pine nuts. The beetroot one tasted of the earth itself, and was seasoned with salty Yorkshire Fettle cheese. Pliable toasted flatbreads were on hand to swipe through all of these.

(Clockwise from top) Hooba mushroom sausages, batata harra, fried cauliflower
Fried cauliflower was my pick of the small plates we shared, it having been fried to just short of burnt, and the excellent dukkah giving it length, depth, breadth and crunch. Batata hara - spicy fried potatoes to you and me - were a little under-fried, while Hooba oyster mushroom sausages were nicely shroomy, but texturally inferior to good ones made from dead animal. Sorry vegans, but that's how it is.

Fried aubergine
The way they do their crisp fried aubergine here is great. It's like chunky batter scraps, each of which just happening to have a creamy dod of veg at its core. More of that fettle provided seasoning, while date molasses sweetened the deal. A freer hand with the molasses would have been fine by me. Still, though: cracking dish.

Harissa house sausage, polenta chips
By now stuffed to bursting, we braved our way through some excellent spiced pork sausage, which could be spicier yet for my taste and some chunky polenta chips which were a minor revelation. Kasia has no love for polenta normally, but the parmesan and truffle oil in these specimens rendered them unusually delicious.

We drank Fentimans rose lemonade and home-made ginger beer, both of which went perfectly with these Levantine-spiced dishes. Had I not been driving and Kasia not been heavily pregnant, the booze options are various and excellent. Talking of being heavily pregnant I'm intrigued by the fact that the chef refused to serve the lamb meatballs cooked through to accommodate Kasia's condition. Would doing so would have ruined them entirely, or been a crime against minced lamb? Alas: we'll never know.

We took a bit of a chocolate tart thing home, and it was predictably great, all goo and richness. I say predictably because Harissa Kitchen is just a quality operation from top to bottom. There's not much on the menu we haven't tried and I'd happily have any of it again. Plus, the service is great. In a perfect world, every neighbourhood would have a cafe as perfectly formed as this at its heart. In this actual, tragically doomed world, on which we're all tottering madly around, I'll just have to jump in the car and head to Sandyford. And so should you.


Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen
31-33 Starbeck Avenue
Newcastle upon Tyne

0191 261 5501


1 comment:

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