Friday, 1 June 2012

Restaurant reviews, Newcastle upon Tyne: Blackfriars and El Coto

Was in Newcastle this week and sampled a couple of the city's many restaurants.

Newcastle is pretty
The first was Blackfriars, set in a medieval former Dominican friary, the place has a lot of atmosphere.  This always makes me a little nervous, I tend to assume that restaurants in lovely settings won't always bother going the extra mile with the food but, in this case, that fear was unjustified.  The restaurant makes a genuine effort with its vegetarian options and both of the main course options looked very tempting - one involving mushrooms and truffles and the other involving smoked fried goats cheese.*  Perhaps inevitably given my fondness for cheese, I went for the latter and it was extremely good - I've never had smoked goats cheese before and I really liked the flavours.  

The river has pretty patterns in the mud
I don't usually say this as I don't have much of a sweet tooth but the best part of the meal, though, was the pudding - sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice-cream and honeycomb.  Just gorgeous - the sticky toffee pudding was indulgently sweet, the salted caramel ice-cream was genuinely salty enough to provide the requisite contrast, and the honeycomb added an interesting texture on top.  To add to my enjoyment of the pudding course, unlike a lot of restaurants, Blackfriars has a decent range of pudding wines, including one that I'd not seen before - a Pineau Rouge de Charentes, a blend of grape juice and Cognac, which I enjoyed.  Overall, I'd definitely come back here if I'm ever passing through Newcastle again.

*The menu on the website seems to have changed now - presumably to their spring menu but the new vegetarian options also look nice.

And there are sands nearby and seagulls
The other restaurant that we tried was a tapas place called El Coto, which we went to largely because we both quite like Spanish food but it's rare to find one that has good vegetarian options.  The service was a tad on the surly side - we got told off for not waiting in the deserted bar area to be seated, despite there being no evidence that anyone had noticed us lurking there or would notice, the waitstaff took quite a while to take our order, etc.  But the food was pretty good. The portions were huge, in retrospect going for three tapas each, plus bread to share, was a bit too much food.  I had tomatoes drizzled with garlicky, herby, olive oil, which was lovely (and which I plan to try to recreate at home sometime), chickpea and spinach stew which they'd spiced with cloves (I think) which gave it an unusual flavour that I liked, the mushrooms in white wine were slightly disappointingly soggy (I think mushrooms are sometimes hard to get quite right), unusually for me as I'm not that into bread (apparently this is a Newcastle theme..), my favourite bit was the olive bread that they brought us, lovely and fresh and just the right consistency. 

My companion reported much the same - that two of his three tapas were really good but one was slightly disappointing.  So, overall, I'd say this one's worth going to if you really fancy tapas but, if you're only in Newcastle for one evening, I'd definitely recommend Blackfriars instead.  That said, if they ever expand to London, I'd definitely go there from time to time.

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