A new restaurant has opened up in the heart of Sandyford, just down Starbeck Avenue from the previously reviewed McCrouzer Cafe. Harissa Kitchen promises to bring the fresh and healthy tastes of the Mediterranean and Middle East to Newcastle with chargrilled meat, home-made flatbreads, stews and mezze. We were keen to visit as there was a selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu too.
The new restaurant operates as a social enterprise; committed to using fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, paying staff a living wage and protecting the local environment. It has been set up by Jamie Sadler, who is the brains behind Newcastle’s Food Nation, which works with schools, businesses and individuals to help them make better food choices. “We have worked hard to create a menu which is not only healthy and offers dishes which are low in fat, salt and sugar, but is also tasty and satisfying,” he said.
The menu was designed to promote healthy eating using fresh, seasonal ingredients to create tasty meals and snacks with fewer calories, fats and additives. Healthy kebabs are set to be a popular favourite with options including slow roasted shoulder of spiced pork with apple, grilled spring onion and crackling or monkfish with crispy capers and chargrilled lemon, lime and coriander crème fraiche.
The restaurant is stylish, with bright accents like sunflowers matching the yellow chairs in the dining area. It may have clean, modern lines, but finishing touches such as the cushions make it more comfortable and welcoming. Unfortunately Mr. Canny had to work late, which meant I had to go along with a friend. This meant we were able to check out the meat options on offer, as well as ordering some of the vegetarian small plate dishes. Presented with a bowl of pickled vegetables and olives, I tucked straight in – not realising that mustard seeds were studding the slivers of cauliflower and olives. It was a bit of a shock and I needed a glass of water to deal with the burn!The small plates included squid, Merguez sausage sautéed with garlic, goat tagine with olives, and Harissa chicken breast with chargrilled courgette and feta-style cheese. We ordered chargrilled halloumi, roasted orange and purple carrots topped with feta, steamed broccoli and a flatbread.
These were served with creamy garlic dip and were delicious. Costing between £3.50 and £5, 3 or 4 plates are recommended per person as a main course or 1 as an accompaniment to the kebabs. The vegetables were cooked al dente, meaning they kept their vibrant colour and taste. The dressings merely enhanced the flavour, rather than masking it. We kept ours vegetarian, but vegans could chose the Bulgar Wheat Salad or falafel instead.
Of course, we couldn’t visit without trying one of the kebabs. With falafel, monkfish, lamb, chicken or pork on offer, we decided upon the pork. Served with a fresh salad of apple, cabbage, carrot and onion, the meat was succulent and flavourful. Cooling yoghurt offset the spicy marinade, which had more of a hum than a zing, and the soft flatbread helpfully soaked up the juices.
You’d think after all this food we were bested, but you’d be wrong. With Honey Parfait, Whipped Labneh Cheese or Polenta Cake, Harissa have not chosen to play it safe. There’s certainly no Sticky Toffee Pudding or Chocolate Fudge Cake on this menu! In keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, any of these puds would round a meal off nicely. My friend decided to abstain, but being a conscientious food blogger I had to suffer for my art. The polenta cake was moist thanks to the zesty orange syrup it was drenched in, and the creme fraiche added a tangy sourness to what could have been citrus overkill. Served warmed, it is definitely comfort food.
We were both impressed with the quality of the food and prices. Everything is prepared fresh with great ingredients, and the staff made us feel welcome. Harissa is still bedding in, and as such are not operating the take away side of the business just yet. It feels very much like a neighbourhood cafe, as it should, and I am quite jealous when places like this pop up. It is sure to be very popular with the locals, who will be able to sit outside in the summer months with their pavement cafe-style tables. On Saturdays the restaurant will be offering a brunch menu, which features the Harissa Full English along with a vegetarian option.
We hope this new venture is a resounding success, and look forward to returning soon.
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