Here’s hoping Newcastle Eats gets its mojo back

newcastleeatsIt looks like I’m welcoming the Newcastle Eats blog to the northern food bloggers map precisely at a time when its authors might be suffering that regular affliction among us bloggers – loss of mojo.

The latest blog post which starts ‘I’ve been a bad blogger’ includes criticism of those journalists with no passion for food who get paid to write reviews and wonders where what they call the whole ‘armchair journalism’ practice is going.

“It’s a bit of disillusion all round really. Maybe it’s working in digital marketing and using it every day, but I’ve grown tired of Twitter, and lost the inspiration to do much blogging recently. Twitter has lost it’s charm for me, with, oh so much arse-kissing, @reply-please-RTing and general marketing spiel, though yes, this is governed by the people you follow. And see recent posts/rants here and here, that summarise my feelings on recent local blogging pretty well. ”Please invite me to your press launch so I can get some free bait”…”I need 7 more followers to hit 1200!”…”My blog had 42 hits today.”

Yes, yes, yes! I seriously hope the bloggers, Jeff and Kate, can find their way back to the dinner table. The reviews are thoughtful and put the experience into context well, the pictures are clear and informative and I particularly liked their use of map links to venues and the inclusion of food hygiene ratings in the reviews.

Please, can we have some more?

* If you belong on the map – drop me a line in the comments or by email to and tell me a little about your blog. A link back to the map would be appreciated as well.

Gallery: A whirlwind food trip in Cannes and Montecarlo

There’s the holiday over then. Rather than attempt to review places which many blog readers here are unlikely to visit I kept a short picture diary of places visited and food served up.

To see the locations and further details of any of the dishes just click on the image and the posting I made to my noticeboard while out and about in Cannes and MonteCarlo will open up.

Hope you enjoy – it’s made me hungry putting it together!

Five favourite restaurants of 2012

  Pick of restaurants for 2012

Pick of 2012, a set on Flickr.

It’s time for the obligatory end of year blog post, something that’s becoming as much a part of the seasonal festivities as crackers at Christmas.

Dining out has been curtailed a bit this year, and mainly indulged for special occasions, so this is a pick of places which were mostly researched beforehand or on recommendation. They didn’t disappoint.

Here’s five places I’d definitely eat again.

In the colds of February, we cheered things up with a visit to J Bakers in York. It was a birthday celebration and we pushed the boat out with their tasting menu – seven courses of intense taste and inventive combinations. I did write a fuller review at the time. Verdict: An intimate venue, attentive service and beautifully presented standout food.

The second birthday of our household took us to the north east coast in what was a sunny April. The Fox and Hounds at Goldsborough wasn’t the easiest place to find – yes it really is down that tiny lane which looks like a drive up to a farm. Inside the atmosphere can only be described as convivial and guests are treated to some exciting menu choices. The full review is here.
Verdict: Lovely surroundings, warm service and great fish.

The summer saw us sheltering from the lashing rain after a cloudy walk along the ridge above the Kilburn White Horse at the Michelin rated Black Swan at Oldstead . The food was as good as you’d expect from a place with such a pedigree and the service made for a relaxing evening. A standout dish from the meal was this desert with impossibly light elderflower froth like a fairy’s spit!
Quality experience and lovely rooms to stop over in the event of over indulgence.

A friend’s recommendation brought us closer to home to discover The Bridgewater Arms at Winston. This unassuming pub is housed inside a former school, menus on blackboards and a cosy bar to wait in or eat there. The selection of fish on offer looked interesting and I tried a seabass fillet with chili sweet and sour sauce. The sauce was as far away from that gloopy sickly sweet orange version as I could imagine – light and sophisticated, I was convinced and we’ve since revisited to explore some more the menu.
Verdict: Welcome change from the meat, two veg and a sea of gravy cooking too often served up in the pubs round and about. Well worth a drive out.

Finally a winter treat off the mainland – The Bull on Anglesey, North Wales. What looks like a pub from the outside is in fact a sophisticated restaurant. Guests are shown into the impressive lounge with its roaring inglenook fire place and comfy sofas before being invited up to the loft – an airy dining room in the eaves. The food is interesting take on local produce and there’s plenty of extras touches such as wonderful homemade breads and an amuse bouch course. The waiting staff display that increasingly rare mix of knowledge about the dishes and wine combined with easy friendliness.
Relaxing good food and remarkable value for money for the quality of food and cooking.

I shall be back in 2013 and hope to explore the eating possibilities in the north east a bit more, but for now, wishing the readers, commenters and contributors of this blog a very Happy New Year!

Is #solodining really that weird?

A debate on Radio 4’s today programme caught my ears this morning, discussing the experiences of dinner for one (listen again just before 9am).

Twitter flurry ensued!

Now this is a subject I know something about! It’s not that I’ve made some lifestyle choice to pursue a singleton eating out agenda or anything. No, like many people who spend time traveling or working away from home, eating alone quickly becomes a necessity.

And just because it is a necessity, why should eating, one of our daily pleasures,  be reduced to a rushed re-fuelling? After all, who wants to live on pre-packed sandwiches or burgers?

I got over that first-time asking for a table for one nerves quite some time ago and have quickly found, budget allowing, that the lone diner tends to get better treatment in posher establishments and that major cities cater much better for women than out-of-the-way.

While there are some places where staff look at the potential three empty seats with unguarded loathing, many go out of their way to be welcoming. Probably the best experience I’ve had to date was in Vienna where I had a remarkable meal, relaxed, attentive service and a general atmosphere of welcome. Looking around it didn’t seem that solo dining was particularly commonplace but that didn’t translate to treating a single customer as an oddity.

Closer to home I’ve also found, ironically, that I’m not alone! In some swanky part of London (Kensington I think) I walked into a French restaurant to find almost every table occupied by a woman on her own, mostly reading a book.

Given a choice, I’d rather have a special meal with someone significant, but in these time-pressured days, surely eating alone will become more and more commonplace – just please don’t add more people to my table.

One’s companionable, three is most definitely a crowd.

Introducing the food noticeboard

foodiesarahnoticeboardI’ve recently started a new service for this blog using the noticeboard platform which means people can share food related offers and deals, events or news.

I felt that this blog didn’t offer much scope to include offers or an easy way for other people to share things so I thought the noticeboard could answer both problems – plus, as regular followers will know,  I’m always looking to try out something new!

In these days of squeezed spending we all appreciate a deal, so I’m hoping that using in this way will give people a chance to spot and share bargains – whether a restaurant offer or simply anything cooking related like a cookbook share.

You can see it here,, and I’ve explained a little more about the reasons for starting this at the n0tice blog today.

Please do let me know if you’ve anything to share there.

Disclosure: I am part of the team behind the platform.

Six best places to eat in Richmond, North Yorkshire – updated for 2012

The first version of this blogpost was published in 2009 and has proved to be one of the most searched for things on this blog so I thought it was about time it got updated for 2012.
Taking into account some off the feedback, some re-visiting and some new ventures opening have led to this new version of the whistlestop tour.
1. Pub grub
Last time I recommended the Black Lion Hotel in Finkle street but I’ve updated this after a few disappointing meals there more recently. This year’s recommendation is the George and Dragon in Hudswell. Just a couple of miles out of town and well worth the trip, the community pub that’s found favour with the television programme makers and locals alike has got into its stride with the food. You’re unlikely to encounter much Fijian food in these parts so it’s worth trying out the specials for that experience. The chicken stir-fry with noodles or the fish with banana are both easy introductions to an unfamiliar cuisine. Call: 01748 518373. Map on
2. Cafe
Last time I mentioned the Cross View Ream Rooms (which remains good for home-cooked food) but this time I’d like to recommend Deli 10. On Darlington road near the island for the Co-op, this small venue has a well thought out menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, panini and cakes. The homemade soup is always well seasoned and piping hot and the salads with an interesting selection of leaves, walnuts and olives drizzled (not drowned) with dressing. The always friendly service is another bonus in a town where surly teenage waiting staff are the norm. Call: 01748 822114.
Salmon fishcakes
3. Fine dining

We’re still struggling in this category with the Frenchgate Restaurant and Hotel the only place coming close but…. of the two more casual dining places to open up in the past few years, Rustique in Chantry Wynd is worth a try. Aside from the cliche theming of the decor (cancan, chat noir etc.), the food on offer is well priced and well-cooked. The menu is very much on the traditional side of French – rich and buttery. The meat dishes are large and attention is paid to the customer’s cooking preferences. The pleasant service also adds to make for a relaxed evening out. Call: 01748 821565. Map on

4. Smart lunch
Last time I mentioned the Seasons Restaurant at The Station which is OK as far as cafe style service and menus go but the other addition to the town which is worth a try is La Piazza 2. The stylish decor and prompt service have quickly made this into one of the busiest eateries. Basically pizza and pasta which are well done. My only criticism is the lack of any dinner salads (just rather a dull side salad) and the extremely costly soft drinks. Call: 01748 825008.

5. Take-away
The Delhi-cious kitchen made the list last time and is still working away to deliver curries across the town but I thought I’d make an addition for the town centre itself in this update – Shanghai City in the Market Place. With it’s hand-written menu additions scribbled on bags pinned up on the wall, perusing the choices can be a bit haphazard but worth struggling through. Although the main menu is fairly standard Cantonese stuff, these specials include items such as massive dishes of udon noodles cooked in your choice of sauce or salt and pepper squid from the Malaysian cook. Call: 01748 825955.

kingsheadhotel6. Missed opportunity
I’ve added this category in because of the disappointment first at the closure of the excellent Frenchgate cafe and also about the way the landmark King’s Head Hotel has proved to be in recent times. What a fabulous building, what lovely new decor and add to that the interesting menu and the selection of wines – this should be the jewel in crown for the town. Why then is it so often empty? Having seen people wait more than an hour to be handed a menu and then marching out in exasperation as teenage waitresses gossip ignoring their efforts to order or have the tables cleared – it’s not difficult to understand why. I seriously hope summer 2012 will see its return to form as well as the Frenchgate cafe finding a new owner.

Mapped: Northern Food Bloggers

There’s quite a few of us now! In an attempt to keep track of some of the food blog I follow from across the north of England I’ve plotted them on a Google map which you can see here;

If you belong on this map, or any of the details are incorrect, please let me know in the comments field below.

Also, you might be interested in this Northern Food Bloggers group which has started as a sub group of the UK Food Bloggers Association.

Leeds Loves Food launch

Foodies gathered at this morning's launch event

Full post to come on this at a later point, but for now a very quick update from this morning’s food lovers’ festival launch. This year’s Leeds Loves Food event will be held between July 1-4 and for the first time will step outside of the city centre.

Headingley, Chapel Allerton and Leeds Urban Village will be included in the festivities which aim to showcase and celebrate the Leeds food scene.

I’ll update this blog with more. Soon………..

20 different cuisines in one day of Leeds eating

How many different cuisines would you expect to find in the average UK city?

OK you’d expect to find various European and Asian options but what about Ethiopian or Cuban?

Intrepid food blogger Katie of LeedsGrub has come up with restaurants dishing up dinners from 20 different countries and is soon to embark on a voyage of foodie discovery by visiting each of them – in one day.

On the Facebook page for the venture, she explains why a small and determined group are taking this worldly challenge:

“Our challenge will take the form of an around the world backpacking tour where we visit the restaurants of Leeds and Bradford sampling cuisine from a huge range of international specialities. The rules are that we have to eat or drink one thing in each one of the 20 restaurants we hope to visit!

“We think you might be surprised and delighted at just how many different nationalities and cultures are represented in the restaurants around town!”

And I think she’s probably right – just see the itinerary penned so far which I’ve posted on the bottom of this page to see the wide range.

But this feat won’t be carried out for gluttony’s sake alone – the group will also be raising cash for the charity The Smile Train which provides free surgery for children with cleft  palates.

Donate here;

By Land, Air and Sea but Still Home for Tea! takes place on Thursday, September, 17. For updates about the event and to see what happens on the day follow @headingthere @culturevultures and @leedsgrub on twitter.

Provisional Itinerary, subject to revision:

Start 10am ease into it gently with coffee and croissants:
Ditsch, Commercial St (Germany)
Café Rouge (France)
Casa Mia (Italy)

Ditsch, Commercial St (Germany)
Merkato, Merrion Market (Ethiopia)

Saffran (Iran)
Ephesus Mangal (Turkey)

Then we hope to hop on the Trans Siberian Railway to…
(or the 12.37 to Sowerby Bridge)
The Russian Restaurant, Bradford (Russia)
Temujin, Sowerby Bridge (Mongolia)

Chinese Restaurant TBA
Pakistani Restaurant TBA (Prob do these in Bradford)

By this time it will prob be about 5.30pm
Hansas Guajarati (India)
Thai Cottage (Thailand)
Sesame (Japan)
Tampopo (The rest of SE Asia)

Walkabout (Australia)
River Plate (Argentina)
Las Iguanas (South America)
Sandinista *Confirmed*(Cuba/Latin America)

Salsa Mexicana *Confirmed* (Mexico)
Dutch Pot (Caribbean)

Prohibition (North America)

Blackhouse Grill, Leeds

Platter to share
Platter to share

Faced with customers’ tightening their financial belts, it would seem there’s two ways a restaurant can go. Some come up with a gimmick – two for ones, all you eat, happy hours, even pay what you like while others get back to basics and serve up the sort of food people actually can be bothered to go out to eat.

Blackhouse Grill is definitely in the latter camp.

It essentially does steak and it does seafood. And it does them in a straightforward, but quality way. The seafood is sourced from sustainable stocks and the steak is “grass fed hormone free beasts sourced from farms who use traditional husbandry methods allowing the animals to mature naturally under stress free conditions.”

Calling in on an unexceptional weekday night we found this stylish city centre venue had a bustling atmosphere with its live pianist and plenty of diners seemingly prepared to splash some cash.

We started with the house platter (£13.95) – a substantial shared plate of chicken which had been skewered on lemongrass so was fragrantly quite strongly infused, fishcakes which were fired up with a chili sauce and lamb kofta’s which had been cooked slightly rare to bring out the flavour.

In the spirit of keeping it simple, I headed into a generous helping of sweet queenie scallops (£11.95) just tossed in garlic butter and parsley with linguine. Pasta as is should be – just a few ingredients to bring up the flavours.

Steak, chips and red wine sauce
Steak, chips and red wine sauce

His steak (£13.50) was also what was wanted  – well cooked, succulent it even inspiring the description of “melting” to be uttered.

Praise indeed!

Taken together with some rustic, crispy on the outside chips (which can only serve to remind a person what a chip, as opposed to a fry, really is) this was a the sort of steak and chips that must be in the minds of so many condemned men when they order their last meals.

After such a blow out, dessert wasn’t really at the forefront of our minds so we shared a white and dark chocolate torte which, while it looks very pretty, didn’t completely match up to the simple but well seasoned other courses,  there not being much contrast between the two chocolate entities.

But that’s a minor point. What the Blackhouse Grill provided was good food at a reasonable price in an airy and stylish environment.

Blackhouse Grill is at 31-33 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 5PS.

Disclosure: We were invited to sample the menu as guests of the Leeds Loves Food festival, so this review was, unusually for this blog,  carried out with the restaurateurs knowledge.