MPW loves PA

On a warm Thursday evening in the centre of Newcastle a plethora of ‘food-a-holics’ got together and sampled the wares of a very talented chef named  Paul Amer at his home in Marco Pierre White – Fenkle Street, NE1.

Being made suitably dizzy from parking on floor eight of Grainger Town Car Park* it was just a five minute walk to the destination for the evening .

MPW had a happy atmosphere, staff and diners happily taking and finding out about about each others days. A semi private area (behind a curtain rather than a door) is where the story unfolds and we 12 diners sit and gorge. Sitting down with a glass of Chardonnay new and old faces alike up and share stories.

It was now time for the main character to appear and for us to find out more. Paul an animated character ran through his menu and fielded lots of our questions and he was calm and unfazed. His passion for food was apparent and good presentation is something he’d love to feature even more in the menus. Dipolmacy is a good trait witnessed in this resturant’s main man.

Before the food even arrived the tables were adorned with baskets of bread and olives. With bread as a downfall it’s best to atleast TRY to stay clear of the bread but my will was weak. For the olives no holding back was required, they are greatly loved and healthyish.

The food on the evening was plentiful.

Course one features both field and sea in the formation of Rillette of smoked mackarel with lightly pickled vegetables.

STARTER

Pleasing on the eye the course was full of flavour and was extremely well balanced. The mackerel was rich and needed something to lift it and Paul thought of something that has never adorned a savoury dish when I’m cooking…a blackberry. Who knew they go so well with fish? This is definitely banked and to be used in future.

Slow roasted tomato soup with basil pesto was on offer for course two.  Mr. Amer please don’t judge but when reading this menu the wonder of of how you would to top the ’57 Varieties’ sprung to mind. You took the gauntlet without realising it and won by a landslide majority. The soup was utterly delicious, creamy, smooth and thick in texture. Mopping in resturants may be considered a little uncouth but the hunk of bread called out to be dunked.

SOUP

LIGHTLY CURRIEDCourse three was a lightly curried smoked haddock risotto.

If this course was deconstructed into curry, haddock and risotto a definate appeal would be there but married together alas didn’t work for me.

The word ‘lightly’ definitely needs to be removed unless the person who made tonight’s offering was a little heavy handed.

Also is there really enough space on a tasting menu for two fish dishes?

 

Move over fish and hello meat.

 

 

 

 

Course four featured slow cooked belly pork, vale of Mowbray black pudding, pommes puree and roasted cauliflower puree. An excellent coupling of flavour and textures. The asparagus was a nice surprise. The crackling was a little well done but nice and crispy. Paul could this be one of the dishes that requires a presentation upgrade?

MAIN MPW

Desert time come with Course five in the form of Raspberry & Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with mini meringue, raspberry sorbet

Wow! I DON’T as a general rule ‘do’ dessert but my heart did a little leap. Panna Cotta can be done so badly but not today, the texture was perfect and the balance with the sorbet worked so well. The meringue was nice but a little bit of a gooey centre never hurt anyone. Overall this was the star of the menu.

Yummy!

Footnote 1: Thank you to Emma Wright (Sales & events co-ordinator) and Rachel Kershaw (MPW Newcastle Ambassador) for the invitation and I’m glad to be back. Having turned down every food review invite since Nov 2016 my welcome back to food blogging was definitely selected well.

Footnote 2: I’m not sure if it’s because I’m over forty, suffered from gallstones or because I usually have a small child in tow but I always like to check out the ladies. These ones get a thumbs up especially when Elemis is their hand wash and hand cream of choice, I’m a sucker for a British Brand.

* There is limited parking at the restaurant and on Fenkle Street. The restaurant is also only five minutes from the nearest train/metro station. Grainger Town car park is part of the Alive after Five scheme  which equals free parking after 5pm Monday – Saturday

I was invited by MPW to review the Paul Amer menu. All thoughts are my own.

Victoria Sponge

We love baking in our house and when I saw ‘Children’s Book of Baking (Usborne Cookbooks)‘ sitting on the shelves of our local charity shop I simply had to buy it and got a little excited to try out some recipes. Since it’s Valentine’s we thought we make a Victoria sponge, well who doesn’t love cake?

Apron donned and hands washed let the cooking commence….

Here’s what you will need if you’d like to join in;

Cake

2 x 20cm cake tins

4 medium eggs

225 g softened butter

225g caster sugar

225g self raising flour

Filling

100g softened unsalted butter

225g icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

4 tablespoons of strawberry jam

Victoria Sponge making

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.

Wipe the insides of the tins with cooking oil. Place parchment paper in the bottom of each tin.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat together with a fork.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat them until they are pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time and if the mixture curdles pop in a little bit of flour.

Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold in with a metal spoon.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins.

Smooth the top (Emily and I find this really tricky).

Bake the cake in the oven for 25 minutes. Pop on some oven gloves and carefully remove the tins from the oven.

Press the cakes to check they are cooked.

Leave the cakes in the tins for five minutes to cool. Then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto a wire rack.

For the filling

Put the jam in a bowl and beat it. Spread it over the top of the bottom cake.

Make the butter cream by mixing the icing sugar and butter together until they reach a delightful texture then spread that over the bottom of then top cake (we ignored this and tried to pop it on top of the jam but this didn’t leave a nice clean typical Victoria sponge white and red line but more of a gorgeous pink marriage).

Sandwich both cakes together and gently press together.

Scatter some caster sugar on top. We decorated our cake with strawberries but this is optional.


TYummy cakeotal Time
: 70 mins Taste: Fabulous (if we do say so ourselves).

Check out Emily on Instagram.

Be our Valentine

Love from Sofa Stories x x

Suzanne HarissaNow when it comes to lovely dining, Sandyford in Newcastle might not spring to mind but our recent trip to ‘Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen’ has definitely opened our eyes. In fact we were a little reticent to share this gem of an establishment but since the blooming ‘Secret Diner has outed it as, “being so good he visited it twice” I only think it’s fair to give our view too.

This place most definitely has curb appeal and we were greeted by the owner (James/Jamie – depending on what day of the week it is) and we instantly felt as if we were at home, quite strangely as if we were going to a friends for dinner. Jamie was so friendly we were sure we’d already met him but couldn’t place where!

With a glass of ice cold water in hand, I started to talk to Jamie whilst Nicola took photos aplenty. My first question was; “What is Harissa” as I had visions of bottles of Harissa sauce in my head as my partner is a lover of all things spicy!  I on the other hand am a bit of a wuss, so Jamie talked through the menu and helped to select flavours that married well but weren’t overly spicy on the taste buds.

flowersThe decor is clean and crisp with such fab attention to detail. Jamie let us into a secret about the copper piping on the ceiling housing the Edison lamps (we’re not going to reveal his secrets though!).

Once all in-situ we were introduced to the restaurant and the concept of Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen or Harrisa for short.  Jamie explained the history of sister company Food Nation (at which point Nicola and I turned to each other and remembered Simon Preston who we’d worked with when promoting The Great North Eco-Feast way back in 2009 and is a director of Food Nation). You can read more about it here to stop me going off in on a whole other tangent!

Now back to the food. I was starving. I’d done a round trip to Leeds and back that day and Nicola had had a mega busy day and still had some prep for her LinkedIn training she was delivering the next day. Two tired, hungry ladies meant ‘eyes bigger then belly’ food consumption!

We started with a melody of nibbles in the form of spiced roasted nuts (hint go for the ones with less dusting for less spice), Honey, Cumin, Coriander & Smoked Paprika Marinated Olives (they warned us they weren’t pitted so all was good) Lemon, Chilli & Fresh Herbs Harissa House Pickles (punchy and well balanced).

Alongside this we ordered some marinated and char grilled Halloumi and some hummus – great flavours but I don’t think I will ever get used to the squeak of that particular cheese.

Fresh and lovely food Harissa

Next, mains. Be careful not to over order; at one point we had everything on our table as we hadn’t yet finished the starters.

We both opted for slow roasted shoulder of spiced pork with apple, grilled spring onion and crackling – they got me at crackling as it’s one of my all time favorites. It was tasty, but there was something missing and Nicola hit it on the head; honey. The very savoury taste needed to be lifted just a little with something sweet.

Et voila, a squirty honey pot was given to us and it really lifted the meal. Thankfully, the team didn’t think we were cheeky in-fact quite the opposite; the chef is going to make this part of the dish.

Mains HarissaDesert. We weren’t going to indulge but couldn’t resist and went for the honey, tahini & pistachio parfait and sesame praline orange and saffron polenta cake. Both were super scrummy but we couldn’t help coveting Laura’s and Kayleigh’s chocolate torte it was a ‘special’ and not on the menu. As we had already ordered it was a tad too late to change so we’ll go for that next time.

honey tahini and pistachio parfait

Overall:

There was a nice blogging buzz in the restaurant and it would be amusing being a fly on the wall watching us all trying to get ‘that perfect angle’! What was even nicer though, was people who saw us eating started to walk in and sit down and were greeted with open arms and the waitress (I’m so sorry we didn’t take your name) looked genuinely chuffed to be helping, ‘real customers’.

Hats off to food, your mission and your fabulous customer service, we’ll thoroughly recommend Harrisa.

Love Suz and Nic. x

 

Kingslodge Inn Durham

Conversation is at the heart of friendship.

It’s on our strap line and it’s certainly true for Suzanne and I. But what we need is a lovely, comfy, friendly place to chat. One that’s so lovely, comfy and friendly you forget to take pictures of the wonderful food you’re eating!

The Kingslodge Inn in Durham one such place. Nestled in a street not far from Durham train station you will find the vision of the new owners coming to fruition in a cosy and welcoming traditional pub with top notch en-suite accommodation (we didn’t see it but the waitresses assured us that it was true), serving beers, local real ales and home-cooked food to appeal to the local community as well as visitors to the area.

With the help of sat nav we were welcomed into the Kingslodge Inn through the metal gates and into their own private car park.

The moment we walked through the door we were greeted by lovely staff who showed us to our booth. And then, we looked up and a couple of hours had passed! Partly due to the fact that we’d not seen each other properly for AGES, partly due to the fact that despite there being a plethora of signs saying to go to the bar to order we patiently waited (until we could wait no more) and thirdly but not least important, because the food was so wonderful we kept ordering, eating and chatting.

The perfect night out!

This would be a pretty useless review if we didn’t mention the actual food! So here we go…

Kingslodge-starter

This wonderful Antipasto was enough to whet our appetites. A tasty selection of cured meats, olives, bread and oils, is a lovely sharing platter (unless you are Suzanne and want to eat the lot). (I’m sorry Nicola but I don’t like sharing ^Suz)

And now we need to be honest….We were chatting away when our mains came and we completely and utterly forgot to take images (sorry but it’s your own fault Kingslodge Inn you shouldn’t have made us so comfortable). That has to be the best testimonial we could give, right? We ordered (and wolfed) down pan seared salmon with creamy lemon sauce, served with wild rice & broccoli and The Kingslodge Burger which consisted of Aberdeen Angus steak mince, topped with melted cheddar cheese & relish, served with fries, salad & coleslaw.

The salmon, rice and broccoli were all well cooked alas the lemon sauce was a let down for Suzanne and she’s glad she asked for it separately – it could just be her though as on the whole she’s not a lover of sauce on fish. The burger and it’s accomplishments were absolutely huge and ever so tasty.

Onto dessert…

Kingslodge cheesecake

Suzanne-icecreamThis cheesecake was as indeed very pretty. Different from the usual cheesecake, it’s a bit mousy but no less flavoursome for it! The sticky toffee sundae was as glorious as it looks below but well and truly defeated us. It was a little too much for one (you can see that it’s nearly as big as Suzanne’s head!), I’d recommend sharing it, unless of course you’re in the mood for a full-tummy treat.

We washed everything down with a couple of glasses of wine from a bottle of house red (the rest we took home) and we’d order the same bottle in future.

After we had finished and our plates were cleared we spent some time talking to one of the waitresses (I’m so sorry I didn’t take down her name). She truly seemed happy in her new role and loved that she was being developed and receiving a lot of training. Investment in staff is so important to both myself and Suzanne and so it was so nice to hear about her story so far and we wish her good luck.

Would we visit again, absolutely infact we can’t wait to try breakfast sometime soon.

I’ve also just visited the newest member of the Inn Collection which is The Commissioner’s Key  in Blyth Northumberland keep your eyes peeled for our review.

Take care

Nic and Suz x

Le Raaj curry

Every night is #currynight at Le Raaj.  And me and Suzanne do love a good curry. We have our firm favourites, always mild and creamy and I have eaten the same meal for about 15 years, but Le Raaj in Chester-le-Street brought out Suzanne’s adventurous side!

BubblesLe Raaj is a lovely restaurant. Clean and fresh, it’s tastefully decorated and the ladies toilets are very nice too (these things matter).  The first thing you notice when you walk through the door are the water panels and the bubbles. They’re dotted throughout the restaurant and are strangely hypnotic and very calming.

It was a Tuesday night when we visited so we weren’t expecting it to be super busy but were pleasantly surprised at the amount of people eating; always a good sign, and the atmosphere was happy .

An extensive well priced menu had little impact on me, the usual onion bhajis and korma (chicken not veg this time for a bit of variety) were swiftly ordered, but Suzanne struggling to choose, took the recommendation of the lovely Ahmed and ordered a Chingri Mirch, lightly spiced prawns served in a whole grilled pepper and a Makhoni, a creamy tikka chicken with a really fruity kick.

And then, she asked for a cheesy naan. Now, I love cheese. And I love naan. But together with a curry? I assumed that the bubbles were influencing her decision making capabilities but I went with it – variety is the spice of life after all (dreadful pun I know).

Starters = Lush. Fresh, tasty, well cooked and plated. Couldn’t go wrong.  And the main courses ditto. The korma was as creamy and delicious as it should be and the Makhoni was as beautiful in taste as it was in colour. There’s something about a vibrant bright red curry that’s very exotic, making you dream of warm weather and travelling around far away countries.

Suzanne devoured the cheesy naan. It was very cheesy. I hastily ordered some additional rice and left her to it!

Le raaj icecreamAhmed convinced us to try a sweet. We wouldn’t have ordered one and were already onto coffee, but we’re easily persuaded.

Cheesecake topped with ice cream and a wafer, ‘monkey’s blood’ (raspberry or strawberry sauce for those outside if the North East) and a dash of cream. Devoured.

We sat in the restaurant for a fair while chatting away after we’d finished. We weren’t hurried out but rather left in peace for some rare best-friend down time. Very much appreciated.

The question for us when visiting new places is always ‘Would we return?’.  Great food, lovely staff, hypnotic bubbles, a resounding yes for Le Raaj.

Check out their full menu and price list and they even do take away!

You can follow them on twitter, facebook and instagram.