Scalini’s was a bit of a Jesmond institution, so it was a surprise that it was to be rebranded and refurbished as part of a project to update the Malhotra Group’s New Northumbria Hotel. El Paso has replaced the Italian restaurant and I’m happy to report their menu has clearly labelled vegan options, including a specific section dedicated to tacos.
The venue is beautiful inside, with more than a whiff of the fit out at Sohe up the road. Twinkling chandeliers greet you when you enter and the bar area is impressive. One set of diners close to us complained about the wobble on their table, which is not something you’d expect from a newly kitted out dining room, but staff said they’d sort it out.
We ordered some tortillas while we browsed the cocktail list. Prices were reasonable for drinks, especially compared to other venues in the same group. We paid around the £5.50 mark for each of our Mexican inspired beverages. La Fortuna, a mix of vodka and Frambois, was a clear favourite for us.
It was the inclusion of a vegan section in the menu that prompted our visit as we have some excellent local independent restaurants like Tia’s in Durham and Chucho’s in Byker already serving up great quality Mexican scran. We’re also eagerly looking forward to the return of Barrio Comida to the Toon. The lack of classic ingredients like black beans was a bit of a head scratcher for me, while Doner Tacos scream to me Bigg Market rather than Guadalajara.
Gavin ordered a Lentil Burrito, which was baked and filled with wild mushrooms and rice. This dish was veganised by leaving off the dairy accompaniments usually served with Mexican food. With vegan cheese and creme fraiche widely available these days maybe we’ll not have to wait too long before they’re added to ‘standard’ menus in restaurants.
We thought £9.50 was a bit steep for this main, especially without any salad. It wasn’t a particularly filling plate of food for Gavin, but we decided we’d peruse the desserts instead.
I opted for the Asparagus Baja and Cauliflower Fritter varieties from the Taco menu, and requested the smaller tostadas to share with Gavin. I felt the fillings were quite bland and needed the zing of the lime sauce and guacamole. The tostadas were also quite dry, as was the frisee. I think adding some salsa or using fewer leaves might help.
Considering Chuchos charge £6 for 3 tostada I was feeling a bit cheated by my £12.60 main.
Unfortunately the dessert options were limited to sorbets so we decided to pass and had another round of cocktails instead. The wait for our bill after the drinks arrived was excessive and it was difficult to attract the attention of the staff. El Paso wasn’t exactly busy either, but I suppose it is still early days in terms of service.
I feel El Paso is ok enough, but feel you’d get a better feed from the likes of Zapatista than this upmarket Jesmond eatery. Credit where its due, I wish more restaurants would put some thought into their vegan offering as these guys have, even if the execution wasn’t quite there.
Thanks for reading,