Having chatted with some fellow NE bloggers on Facebook last night about Newcastle Restaurant Week I decided to write a post based on my own experience last year.In August we decided to attack the bi-annual #ne1restaurantweek with gusto. Him Indoors and I eat out a lot, and we thought this was a good opportunity to try some new places at a bargain price. When the list of eateries was announced we looked through the menus and made a list of where interested us, and whittled it down to 5. In the end we decided to only visit 4, which was still a lot over 5 days. I actually missed cooking for myself and looked forward to a night in front of the tv. These are words I never thought I’d utter!
Newcastle Restaurant Week has become a fixture in January, which is great for those who are still feeling the pinch after Christmas. It clearly works for the restaurants as the same places appear to be involved each time its announced. They’ll experience a busy spell with Valentines in Feb, and after party nights out in December this is a very clever way of ensuring they do a reasonable trade during this traditionally quiet period.
I didn’t write an official blog post concerning my trips at the time, but did a nightly recap on my own Facebook wall for my friends who were interested in my thoughts. Now may be a good time to share our experiences, and will maybe help you decide where to try out this week.
We started at Terry Laybourne’s Quayside establishment. This is somewhere both of us had eaten historically, but never together. We were both keen to start the week off in style, and were eagerly anticipating the food. I’d consider Café 21 somewhere reserved for special occasions, so this was a treat for me.
We felt rushed from the very start, and the service was more brusque than I was used to here. He had salmon rilette to start, which he said was beautiful. I had cheese soufflé, which is one my favourite starters. Unfortunately I didn’t feel it was properly cooked, although the plate suggested it was overdone!
For main course Him Indoors had the minute steak, and I chose chicken with herb dumplings. He was looking forward to the steak as he was hoping it would be similar to those he ate at home in Brazil. He felt disappointed when it arrived as he thought it would be a different cut of meat. My main wasn’t up to scratch, especially as the little dumplings were on the burnt side.
We were going to chose a pudding, but because of how we’d felt ignored during the course of the meal (no asking if we wanted more drinks, how the food was, etc.) we just paid the bill and left. Our opinion was mediocre, and we’d have preferred to pay full price for a better experience. We gave it 3 stars, compared to 4-4.5 on a normal visit.
This is a restaurant Him Indoors has frequented on work outings, and I have been quite jealous. I was definite on its inclusion during the week to give it a try. The interior is dimly lit and seems quite romantic, so I was feeling very positive about the experience as we walked through the restaurant to our table. We’d chosen the food in advance and had agreed we’d share a starter and a pud.
The prawns to start were bland and the portion size was tiny. We were both thankful for the bread we were given, but this was an additional charge on the bill. He had fish as a main, which he said was nice. I chose to have the steak, and was underwhelmed. I thought the fries weren’t anything special, and the fact the herb butter portion was the same size as the piece of meat drew attention to the fact the portion size was stingy. When I posted the above photo on my Instagram account a friend remarked on how small the portion was, so it wasn’t just my gluttonous opinion.
I was still hungry, so instead of sharing a dessert we had one each. He chose the chocolate pave, and I had a good sticky toffee pudding. We both agreed that we were underwhelmed by the experience. He said that it was definitely related to the special offer and not what he’d historically encountered. We rated it 3 stars.
I’m not a big fan of spicy food, but Him Indoors loves a good curry. We’d heard good things about this Quayside restaurant so put it on the list. We were almost in the kitchen where our table was situated, which didn’t impress me, but wasn’t going to make a fuss. The menu presented to us differed slightly from the one posted on the Restaurant Week website, which worried me as I wasn’t sure whether I would like what was available.
For starters I had Pakura and Raf had Angari Murg Tikka. We’d already filled ourselves on poppadums and pickles, and he had a Lassi to drink. It was all very nice, but the service was dismal. No-one seemed interested in asking us if we wanted more sundries or drinks. I unfortunately didn’t take a photo of our mains, which were fish and lamb curries respectively.
The food was well presented, and I felt compared to other restaurants during the week portion sizes were passable. Vujon let itself down on the standard of service, and having not been before I couldn’t say whether that was because of how busy it was or attributed to something else. We gave it 3 stars, and have not returned since. We find Sunarga in Birtley a better option if we’re wanting Indian food, and it is local to where we live. According to Jnr it is ‘the best place he’s ever eaten, ever!’.
As is traditionally said, the best was left until last. I was looking forward to visiting The Vermont, especially as I’d heard it had great views of the Tyne Bridge. On this particular August night the weather was dreadful, and traffic around Newcastle was a nightmare. I struggled to get parked as parking is limited round the hotel, and by the time we arrived we were considerable late and I was flustered. This mood was not helped by the lack of air conditioning in the restaurant, which made me feel uncomfortably hot. We raised this with our waitress but it was not addressed. Instead I decided to stand outside with the smokers in the rain to cool down.
That aside, the restaurant was lovely and I was really looking forward to trying out the food. It was also a first visit for us both. Him Indoors chose fish for both courses, while I had goats cheese tartlet and lamb.
Apart from the small lamb main I felt The Vermont hit the spot where other restaurants had failed during the week: attentive service, good food, not rushed through the meal to get more people through the door. We rated it 4 stars. Not quite up there with Jesmond Dene House for me, but definitely somewhere I’d return. I’m eagerly anticipating a visit in the summer to The Sky Bar to enjoy the amazing views of my hometown.
Restaurant Week was a great way to save some pennies and maybe try out new places, but I’d say not to expect too much. Him Indoors is of the opinion that if the restaurants are using this as a tool to encourage new patronage they’re doing themselves a disservice. Unfortunately we feel you don’t always get the best food or experience during the offer, which is a shame because you are still paying for the privilege. One blogger commented that Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse is participating but offering everything other than steak as part of the promotion. This is crazy as it is billed as a steakhouse! I think because my first experience of the offer was so good – see review here – my expectations were perhaps too high.
We’ve decided to sit this Restaurant Week (19th-25th Jan 2015) out and have booked a meal somewhere we really want to visit and are happy to pay full price for if it means we experience the best. Surely that is what dining out is all about?
Thanks for reading,Pip x