My wife and I had a great time sampling what Newcastle had to offer, as well as two pretty special meals up in Edinburgh.
We arrived in Newcastle on Sunday, and dragged our jet-lagged bodies over to the Ouseburn street market. It was fun to take a look at everything on offer, but our rabid hunger got the best of us, and we ordered pizza from the pizza truck because it had the shortest line! We had one pizza with porchetta, and another with cinghiale. Both were good, but not remarkable. We stumbled around for the rest of the afternoon, and then went to La Tasca because we were standing in front of it when we decided that we needed dinner immediately. We had the romesco chicken, the superfood salad, a third tapas I can't remember, and the fennel, tomato, orange and radish salad. The romesco chicken was good, but the other three were bland and boring. Unimpressed, we chose to skip dessert.
Monday lunch for me was at Olive & Bean, where I had a very nice sandwich of roast chicken, bacon, cheddar, chilli jam, mixed leaves and tomatoes on ciabatta. I saved half for breakfast the next day, and it was just as good then. For dessert, I had a large slice of millionaire's shortbread that was nice but nothing special. I also treated myself to a salted caramel cupcake from Pet Lamb, but the flavor didn't wow me. The girls were very nice, and gracefully accepted my suggestions on how to make their cupcakes moister and more flavorful. I squeezed in one more treat that afternoon - a ginger creme brulee tart from Cafe Royal that was excellent. Dinner that night was at The Broad Chare. Loved it. We devoured the Scotch Egg, with the most orange yolk I have ever seen. The mixed green salad was intriguing, as it came dressed with a vinaigrette AND a creamy dressing alongside. That creamy dressing was intoxicating and addictive. I found out that the secret ingredient was beef stock. We also loved the battered spring onions with cider glaze and blue cheese mayo. Perfectly fried and perfectly seasoned. We split a beautifully seared fish special with barely cooked veggies and potatoes that I kept dipping into the creamy salad dressing, even when I wasn't hungry anymore. No room for dessert.
Tuesday lunch for me was at Little Saigon. I enjoyed the BBQ pork with jasmine rice. Tuesday dinner was at Pan Haggerty. The best way to describe the food is to say it seemed like it was prepared by a young cook with big ideas that were not matched by an equal amount of skill and execution. Another way to say it? It paled in comparison to Broad Chare. My starter was a mix of spring vegetables with toasted breadcrumbs. Good flavor, but way too many breadcrumbs. They were out of pork tenderloin, but offered pork belly in its place. The problem was that they had created such a thick candied shell that it was almost impossible to cut, even with the steak knife that I had to ask for. The different sauces and accompaniments were nice if underseasoned, but not cohesive. My wife had a crab salad with grilled plums. The dressing was so strong that she couldn't taste the crabs, but she did rave about the plums. Her main was a duck breast with vanilla sauce that seemed like a good idea, but still felt unfinished. We were feeling underwhelmed, so we adjourned to The Broad Chare for dessert. My wife had the warm chocolate raspberry pudding, which she loved. I had the chocolate and salted caramel sundae, which was good but not great. The salted caramel was almost unnoticeable. We had a very funny conversation with our young waiter who tried to explain to us that salted caramel wasn't really supposed to be salty. Good times.
The Shanghai Pork with Thick Noodles I had for lunch on Wednesday at Nudo was truly excellent. I asked for the Mini Trio of Coconut Pudding, Red Bean Mousse & Mango Pudding, but they were out. Oh well. On my way back to the hotel, I picked up a banana & toffee mess pudding for takeaway from Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, and I'm very glad I did. It was my favorite dessert of the whole trip. After a nice train ride up to Edinburgh, my wife and I had dinner at Kitchin. What an experience. We opted for the surprise tasting menu with matching wines. The little dish of crudites and breads was nice, but the veggies were dried out as if they had been cut too long prior to service. Appetizer was a jellied chicken consomme with pea and crispy bacon - we both enjoyed it. The shellfish rockpool was an interesting concept - a "rockpool" of various shellfish like you'd find in a rockpool, along with sea vegetables and a shellfish consomme - but needed better execution. Three courses done, and we were underwhelmed to that point. Fortunately, from then on, they definitely raised their game. Next was a creamy razor clam "risotto" with vegetables, chorizo and lemon confit, and except for maybe needing to be a little warmer, it was excellent. This was followed by the pig's head and scallop served with a crispy pig's ear salad. Loved this - spicing was fantastic. The lobster served with escargot butter and squid was the high point of the week, definitely the best thing I put in my mouth on the trip. If picking it up and licking it clean wouldn't have made my wife squirm, you could have fit me with a bib! The last savory course was a roast rabbit saddle with artichoke, olive, tomato confit and rabbit kidneys. This too was delicious. The palate cleanser of elderberry and gooseberry sorbet was a bit too flowery for us, but it definitely blew away any lingering savoriness in our mouths. Dessert was great, a cheesecake served with macerated strawberries and strawberry sorbet that was the second best dessert I ate that week. We adjourned to the bar area for petit fours and coffee. Truly a grand meal, but I'm not sure that it was worth what we paid for it.
Thursday lunch proved to be the best meal of the trip. We feasted at The Honours. I started with the pork belly minestrone soup with a poached egg, which was as damn near perfect as it could be. My wife had the chef's salad, very similar to frisee lardons, which she loved. We each had a small plate of pasta for our main - I had the parmesan and potato gnocchi with morel pesto (great), and she had the spelt risotto with caramelized onion, mozzarella and hazelnuts (truly amazing). My wife selected the blackberry souffle with pear sorbet for dessert, and I had the almond cake with chocolate raisins, coconut ice cream and white chocolate granite. Both were excellent, but the souffle was really the top one. All in all an amazing meal from start to finish, for one-quarter the price of the prior night's dinner! After some takeaway sandwiches for dinner grabbed at the station, we took a later train back to Newcastle that night.
My last lunch was at Wagamama, which I went to based on a friend's recommendation. I had Yaki Udon, which needed more seasoning, and paled in comparison to what I'd had at Nudo. Friday dinner was at Cafe 21, which we had been looking forward to all week. What a colossal disappointment. I started with the cheddar cheese and spinach souffle, which could have used a nice sharp or acidic counterpoint. Thank goodness that there were olives on the table (came with the bread) to brighten up the souffle. My wife had the melon salad, which was slices of melon tossed with a vinaigrette. I liked the flavor, but my wife did not, and she also wasn't crazy about the texture. She was equally unenthusiastic about her main course, the fishcakes with buttered spinach. I described them to the waitress as "unremarkable", and the owner came out to thank us for the feedback, tell us that he agreed after eating it himself, and then take it off our bill. My entree was the bass, which was cooked nicely and almost properly seasoned. For dessert, I had the beautifully textured vanilla panna cotta with brandied cherries. If only it had tasted like vanilla! The wife had the raspberry chocolate pudding, and enjoyed it immensely.
All in all, a really fun week eating out in Newcastle and Edinburgh.