Let the quest begin!

The purpose of this blog isn't simply to post a list of negative threads. It's more an effort in highlighting the very best places to eat, drink and be merry. All experiences are my own, or with my family. There is no connection between myself or any of the establishments other than as a paying punter. If you take exception to any post, please feel free to offer your own comments. This is meant to be a fair an honest opinion of where we've eaten.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Caffé Vivi, 29 Broad Chare, Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3DQ

Saturday 19 December 2009.
Remember that dreadful Saturday night when snow traveling down from Scotland fell as heavy as.. well, snow? Along with some friends, we'd booked a concert at Newcastle City Hall and opted for an early evening meal at Caffé Vivi, on Newcastle's popular Quayside. I have to confess, although we, (my wife and I) are both big fans of Bistro 21 (in Durham) and Cafe 21 (in Newcastle), we'd never heard of Caffé Vivi, another of Terry Laybourne's adventures and probabley Newcastle's most well known restaurateur. It was early doors and the joint was still buzzing (Christmas parties). Caffé Vivi models itself on something Italian, and to be fair, the decor was smart and stylish with a menu that cheered our cold cockles! Throw into the equation a festive menu, and you have two couples in a dilemma. From the festive menu, three of us choose the Roman Suckling Pig, while our companion choose the Veal from the main menu, I seem to remember (the wine was flowing-three bottles one Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and two spicy Italian Reds). My starter was smoked Mozzarella on Rocket which was okay, my wife had the Pumpkin, as did my friend's wife, while he had the Calamari. I was disappointed that the suckling pig wasn't crackling, but I guess that was my mistake rather than the kitchen's. Yet there was something missing and I think it was food! The portions are very small, and I know it's not meant to be fuel, but the servings are on the cute side. My friend's Veal seemed reasonable enough, but when I opted for the cheese as part of the three course menu, I swear it was cut so thin that when I held it to the light I could see my wife through the other side! £170 we coughed up. Okay we had three bottles of wine that must have raised the tab by at least £70, but I still think it's very expensive and living on reputation. Final verdict?... Food, nice but small portions. Service, very good. Price, think a bit expensive. But hey, this is the swanky part of town and after 7.30 on a Saturday night I bet you can't book a seat for love or money!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Langon Beck Hotel-Upper Teesdale

Travel the lonely road from Middleton–in-Teesdale, that winds past High Force looking out across the rock and grasslands of Upper Teesdale, and eventually tucked in the corner of a bend in the road, you happen upon a tiny small hotel by the name of Langdon Beck. Frequented by locals and travellers, I’ve often wondered what Sunday Lunch might provide in such a beautiful, if isolated resting house. Familiar as I am with the location and even the establishment, it took some courage to finally drive the 90-minute journey from our home to risk Sunday lunch. I wanted this place to prove itself worthy so much, that I’d put it off for an age in the fear it might let me down. How wrong I was! Without doubt, the best Sunday lunch I’ve ever had outside of my home.

We arrived at 12.30 on Sunday 8th November on a day determined to shift from autumn to winter. The surrounding hills were white with snow. I asked if children were allowed into the hotel and was greeted with a kind ‘yes’. I stepped back outside to give the family the nod, and we quickly ordered Sunday lunch for two, along with two childrens. The portions were huge! The vegetables all crisp and well cooked coming as; mashed turnip, mashed potatoes, broccoli, carrots (long), parsnip (roasted) peas, roast potatoes. Phew!, Huge crisp Yorkshire Puddings, a half roast onion, delicious, tender roast beef and a big jug of gravy. There was complete silence as we (the family of four) devoured our dinners with gusto! Had we been dogs at the bowl, we’d have snapped at your fingers had you dared to interrupt our feeding?

Fabulous, and £7.50 x 3. Never fear if your journey brings you this way. The Langdon Beck is a fine rustic, traditional hotel that serves good food with no frills and at price families might enjoy. When it comes to eating out, I’m as fickle as they come with both food, service and the bill. The Langdon Beck Hotel in County Durham is a winner!


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The White Horse & Griffin-Whitby, North Yorkshire

I should start by saying ‘the White Horse & Griffin is a very nice restaurant in the centre of Whitby-North Yorkshire’. We’ve enjoyed several meals here, some with our young children and we’ve always found the food and service to be very good. So when my wife and I, found ourselves looking for somewhere to eat, on a wet, November afternoon in Whitby, we decided on the White Horse & Griffin because it was a safe bet. I’m always cautious with lunchtime menus, but was easily persuaded by the simple ‘Cod &Chips’ sign in the doorway.
I do remember having the same meal in the same establishment with the entire family and it was wonderful; crisp beer batter, fresh fish, great homemade chips and mushy peas that were piping hot and almost liquid. That was during the summer; in November things had obviously changed somewhat. We were the only two punters in the restaurant during our meal (no surprise for a mid week I suppose-at least they were open!) The extremely professional waitress did a lovely job on the service front. It was just the food that let them down.
They do have a nice trick up their sleeve by serving you a small taster of the day’s starter. On this occasion a small bowl of pumpkin soup, which was delicious. The main course proved a disappointment. The batter was wet and stodgy; the fish inside the stodge was almost non-existent. The chips although home made were few, only the mushy peas made an impression. Should I be surprised or even disappointed for a midweek meal? Well, just like everyone else, we work hard for our money, and for £20, this was well below the standards we’ve come to expect from this place. My wife thinks the fish was from a box, although I’m too sure! Was it bad enough to complain? -I don’t think so; although the only thing it achieved was to make a wet day even more miserable. Sorry, I don’t like leaving negative feedback and this was after all, only one bad meal out of several other visits that were really good!
£20 for two including drinks. Not too expensive, but we won’t hurry back out of season. However, on its day, it’s second only to Greens. I should mention the queue outside the Magpie was down the steps.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Amalfi Restaurant 148 West Nile Street, Glasgow

We thought we’d take the children for a pizza and this Italian Pizza house did a pretty decent job. Situated in the centre of Glasgow, the Amalfi restaurant may not look a great deal from outside, but it’s the food that matters and those who serve it- am I right? Inside it’s very snug; the kitchen smokes away behind you and open to view, (which I always like). We ordered a portion of calamari and mushrooms on bruschetta to start, the children opting for potato skins (I did try to dissuade them!) The starters were okay, but the main course was good. My wife and I both choose the spaghetti with sausage, (lots of sage in there and fantastic tomato sauce). The boys shared a pizza, which was decent.

The service was tentative and helpful (although the poor waitress couldn’t speak a word of English- perhaps no bad thing. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio not what I originally ordered. The owner searched the wine fridge but couldn’t find a bottle; instead he thrust a bottle of the Pinot Grigio into the waitress’ hand. I think he should have come over and explained rather than leaving it to the waitress knowing her English was limited. Can’t for the life of me understand when it’s your own business, how easy it is to forget the importance of ‘touching flesh’ and interacting with your customers. Hey-ho!

I would recommend Amalfi, if you're in Glasgow, but a touch expensive perhaps for the food.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Grill on the Corner-21-25 Bothwell Street, Glasgow G2 6NL

Monday 28th September 2009. This was a challenge for any restaurant on Bank Holiday Monday evening. Think: really swanky restaurant in the centre of Glasgow, where all the tables are fully booked, lights dim and the atmosphere buzzing, and we arrive — with two children under the age of eight!

They agreed in allowing us to book a table, (under condition we left by 9.00 o’clock), a reasonable request considering it’s full of couples and large groups, probably not the place where families eat- or am I mistaken?
We arrived a good fifteen minutes late and were shown to our table by polite friendly waiting staff. My wife and I love our food and we’ve brought our children up to enjoy and embrace all things. They’ll never shy from any given seafood, nor will they dismiss vegetables or greens. Instead of choosing from the surprising existence of a 'Children’s Menu'! Instead we opted for a rump steak, one for both my wife and children, theirs to be halved and shared on two plates. I had the rib, not sure if it looked 11oz, but it was still tasty with a nice amount of fat making it full of flavor. One day I’ll order the Kobe Beef (£50!).

The children’s food was only a pound more than if we’d chosen two meals from the Children’s Menu. We had broccoli, beans and chips before a shared starter of squid.
Not cheap, but great dining. The service at The Grill on the Corner is exceptional. The waitress understood our fickle requirements, and did her very best to accommodate. Perhaps the squid could have been served on one plate to share, but the steaks came out top dollar. Rare, yet black! Our waitress also new the score when we tried to mix and match our desserts. She was a credit to the establishment I just hope the tips make it all worthwhile.
Tab was on the expensive side, but that included a couple of beers, two soft drinks and a superb bottle of Friendly Gruner.

I would really recommend The Grill on the Corner, if you're in Glasgow.

Friday, 11 September 2009


When we were kids growing up, one of the things we enjoyed most was pinching ‘goosegogs’, or should I say gooseberries from the house with the big garden. It was every child’s’ duty under the age of 10 to pinch their share-hech we got chased (and I’m sure that was all part of the fun), but the one thing I remember was being the only one who ever eat the gooseberries! The other boys used them as ammo for catapults, or to throw at girls on the swings. I eat mine- all of them!! sometimes making my tummy ache. So where did all the gooseberries go? You rarely see them in the shops, only occasionally at a good fruit markets. Are they in danger of disappearing? Next year I plan to grow my own, and accept that by doing so, I’m also obliged to allow any would be ‘goosegog’ thief to their fare share. Any one with tips on growing gooseberries please contact me. For now I’m going to open the recipe book to plan next years fruit puddings!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Roast Leg of Lamb with an anchovy, garlic and apricot chilli stuffing, served on a mixed bed of roasted almonds, tomato, black olives, and coucous

One of my own occasional recipes. This roast leg of lamb dish comes with a slight twist. To begin, I removed the top end of the meat from the bone. This was a big leg leaving enough of a joint for the next day’s roast. (Lamb two days running!) I chopped some finely sliced garlic and chilli, placed over the flattened lamb followed by a layer of chopped apricots, with another layer of 6 anchovy fillets. I seasoned with a little pepper (no salt) then tied up with string, covering with a tablespoon of good Greek olive oil from Zanti, which I purchased on holiday from a true artisan supplier. I seasoned again with a little black pepper and popped into the oven in a tagine without the lid.
We like our lamb pink so while it was roasting on a medium heat, I sliced the peppers, tomatoes and garlic onto a roasting dish while preparing the couscous.
After about 30 minutes I checked the lamb, which was nicely sizzling filling the whole kitchen with that unmistakable smell of roasted lamb and garlic. I popped the fruit to be roasted into the oven along with a plate of almonds. I gave the almonds about 5-minutes before removing. The roasted peppers and tomatoes got 15 minutes extra before I removed them with the lamb.
A quick mix with the couscous, not forgetting the black ozone flavour of the olives, some more black pepper that all went into a mixing bowl. I drizzled a little more extra virgin olive oil in with the couscous and served. You’ll notice how I roasted the garlic.
They’re decious when popped from the little casings and mixed with the juice from the pan. The anchovy really brings out the full flavour of the meat and the sweetness of the apricot still comes through with that bite of chilli. There’s enough left for lunchtime tomorrow, so I reckon three to four meals from one huge leg joint.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Hide Cafe Bar & Grill-restaurant in Durham City

We don't normally do the Sunday lunch thing, at least not away from home! Forced to find shelter during a wet, miserable August Sunday afternoon, we headed in to Hide Cafe Bar & Grill, on Saddler Street-Durham. We choose the Sunday lunch and we were awarded in some style. My wife and I both choose the roast beef, which was pink and very tender. The Yorkies were huge, the vegetables crisp and crunchy, all served together on the same plate, non of this daft side-plate-portion thingy going on at Hide!. My two sons both choose the chicken. Hide do a great job in providing decent children's portions and the bill was considerate with just three meals on the tab. How often elsewhere have we asked for children's portions only to be told 'we don't do children's portions- we have a children's menu!', or to find I've paid full whack for half a portion. Hide is great, the service is really good and the food is very, very good. In fact, I don't ever recall having a bad meal in this place. Price for Sunday lunch?...£9.50. Some might find that a touch expensive, but this isn't your normal pub grub, this good food- well cooked.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Gourmet Burger Kitchen York

It would be easy to knock this joint by saying I dislike franchise chains (which I do) and that the best burgers are made at home (which in our home that’s true), but Gourmet Burger Kitchen isn’t that bad, in fact, it’s really okay! I first visited the chain in Windsor, when we took the children to Lego Land. It’s head and shoulders above anything you’ll find at McDonald’s, and I’m sure I do a huge injustice by mentioning them in the same sentence! We visited the York, Gourmet Burger Kitchen on a wet day in August 2009 with all three children. It proved to be a wise choice. The burgers are very good. I choose the Blue Stilton, my wife the Mexican with the salsa thing!. My daughter had the Chilli, and both boys had the chicken (which was very, very good). I thought the price including chips (that were big, fat and hot!) plus 5 soft drinks was reasonable’ish at £48.00. The staff who all look like university students with PhD’s did a friendly professional job, I hope they earn enough to make it worthwhile. Summary: If you like burgers, you’ll like Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It’s not for everyone, but on both days we visited with young small children, it did the job with five stars. FOOD 7 SERVICE 7 VALUE 7 REFER 8 TOTAL: 29 GOOD

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Green's Restaurant & Bistro- Whitby, North Yorkshire

Popular restaurant in the centre of Whitby.
We visited in August 2009, and although the restaurant had changed somewhat since our previous visit (not as snug), the food is still way beyond anything you'll find in town. We have four categories 1. Superb, 2. Good, 3. Bad & 4. Ugly. Green's are definitely in the 'Superb'. They have a great selection of specials and regular dishes, all produced with good local ingredients, they even list the name of boats that bring in the fish! I had a starter of Salted Squid with Lime and Chili Mayo £8.50 followed by Belly Pork with Apple, Black Pudding and Cider Mash at £15.95. My wife enjoyed a starter of Muscles in wine and Garlic £8.50 followed by a stunning seafood Ragu £16.95, all washed down with a bottle of White Voniger £20.00.

The service is very good which all adds to the pleasure. We visited on a busy night in August where every table was booked, but I know that it's busy most evenings even out of season, so it's a good idea to book first. Marks out of 10?