New Year, Newcastle
What better way is there to reacclimatise to the world of work at the start of the year than by heading to Newcastle for a long weekend? Well, none that I’ve found so for the second consecutive year I joined a merry band including the Beer Man, Bob, John and Murray on an escapade to the Tyne.
We set a series of stretch goals that included good beer, good food and fine karaoke. I am pleased to report that we more than exceeded them.
Beers started with a trip to the Wylam Brewery Tap where we were greeted by stormtroopers and a splendid selection of beers.
While sipping favourites such as Hickey the Rake and Jakehead, we munched on a charcuterie board which was just the snack we were looking for.
From there, a good stroll towards Ouseburn took us to the Cumberland Arms then on to the exceptional Free Trade Inn. It was my first visit since the demise of Craig David so I took a moment to pay my respects to the finest pub cat this country has ever known. He is suitably commemorated with a blue plaque above his favourite snoozing place.
An amble along the Tyne was punctuated with beers at Crown Posada and Head of Steam before Murray jumped on a train home and John, Bob and I headed for food.
I was keen to check out the city’s Chinese options so we headed to Stowell Street where the city’s compact Chinatown is located.
We went into popular hotpot place Happiness 2. Here we dined in fine style with individual pots of stock presented to each of us, kept warm on hobs built into the table.
With pots received, it was a case of loading up likely items to cook. We sampled liberally from a fairly dazzling selection.
Standouts were the chicken hearts and lamb strips with the seafood selection also very strong. The chicken gizzards were an experience and the hot dog on a stick was not the last such item I would sample over the weekend.
I absolutely destroyed my shirt. Seriously, it was straight in the bin with this stock splattered item. But still, it was a fun experience. The bill for three of us was around £72.
We then headed to the splendour of Cosy Joe’s for an evening of Blue WKD and karaoke. Our performances were utterly phenomenal.
With many vocal calories expended, we needed a snack on the way home. We stopped at the Bigg Market Chippy. Parmos were considered but rejected in favour of donner pizza, wrapless kebab and a pair of jumbo sausages for me. The batter on the bangers was a bubbly delight and the chips were excellent.
Next day’s start was slow but we were soon examining the options at the market on the Quayside.
This offered an outstanding array of quality whatnots. We sampled from four different places.
First up I had a very good espresso from local roastery North Shore Coffee. My eye was then caught by falafel (£5) from Papa Ganoush.
The falafel was freshly cooked to order. While this was happening a rustic flatbread was packed with more fresh deliciousness with excellent hummus, pomegranate jewelled salad, and crisp leaves. Once the falafel were ready this was tightly wrapped for ease of eating.
This item undoubtedly takes an early lead in the #falafelquest stakes as it was an absolutely fantastic dish. The falafel had a verdant green inside and packed great depth of flavour. The accompaniments made for deeply satisfying mouthfuls.
With the city’s veggie credentials given this endorsement, it was not long before meatiness was also proven to be in glorious abundance.
I’d previously bought sausages from Geordie Bangers when they traded at Leith Market a few months ago. On their home turf they served the porky fiends direct from a grill plate on their stall.
Served simply on a stick (£1.50) these were crisply caramelized with a hotly meaty interior. They were so good that both Bob and Beer Man had two each.
The final stop on our Quayside stroll was at the amusingly named Steamer Lodge. Aside from some excellent Wylam and Almasty beers, John sampled one of their rostis. Topped with raclette, lamb and a duck egg this hit the spot in fine style.
After an afternoon of inept darts throwing, and having been joined by my old pal Ben, we headed for a diner dinner at Dat Bar. Burgers and pizza were the order of the day. I enjoyed my ‘perfect margherita’ and everyone else seemed pretty pleased with what they ate. The bill was £62.
Next morning was keenly sunny with highly treacherous pavements from the overnight frost. We headed for restorative ales at the Free Trade Inn before strolling on towards Byker for some unlikely vegan delights.
Junk It Up has recently opened on the main drag. It offers vegan junk food with fried fricken and meatless donner kebabs at the core of their menu.
To mark the start of Newcastle’s restaurant week they were featuring a vegan munchy box which served up their menu highlights for £10.
With Beer Man, Bob and I the last men standing, the look on the Beer Man’s face when I attempted to order us one munchy box each was priceless. We eventually settled upon one box, one BBQ kebab and one fricken cheese burger (£27.55 including some water and colas).
The friendly folks were quickly about preparing things. Items soon arrived looking pretty smart but without the knee-buckling sense of an overwhelming eat that some munchy boxes radiate.
It proved highly enjoyable fare with the texture of the soy-based fricken particularly pleasing. The donner is made from seitan which they produce in-house. Everything gave a sense of having been well thought-out and carefully executed.
Drinks at Alvino’s and Bacchus followed before a pleasingly filling burrito (£5.70) at Zapatista brought the curtain down on an excellent few days of eating and drinking.
So overall, there was much joyful larking about had on our trip to Newcastle. The falafel, sausage on a stick, and vegan munchy box in particular will live long in the memory. I look forward to many trips back over the coming months.