Dabbawal, Jesmond

When I noticed on twitter Dabbawal were advertising a ‘Free Lunch’ for the first 40 people to book I was straight off the mark. Not only has Dabbawal been on the top of my list for a very long time but the concept of Indian style street food was something I was desperate to try. My friend and I arrived at the Jesmond branch on a Saturday lunch time and were relieved to find Dabbawal offer free parking for their customers as the parking in Jesmond is notoriously tricky!

The funky venue is kitted out with bright colours, skylights and an inviting atmosphere.

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We were shown to our seats and handed a glass of sparkling rose wine with a raspberry garnish – lovely start.

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By this point we were very excited. We were presented with a set menu put together especially for the occasion and prepared ourselves for the appetiser; lentil & curry leaf soup. The soup was served in a cute teacup and smelt divine. The soup was light and creamy but had the underlining grainy texture of lentils which gave the soup depth. The soup shone with the intense taste of curry leaf but wasn’t spicy or overpowering – I could have ate a full pan of it!

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Next on the menu was gathia, a popular street food dish, almost like crisps but made from flour instead of potato, they reminded me of bombay mix but so much better. The gathia was crunchy and covered in a mixture of spices with red onion, cucumber and coriander tossed in. It was very addictive I just kept adding more and more to my plate, so satisfying!

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The main course was a grill plate, a combination of punjabi, haryali and malai chicken tikka, served with a mozzarella & coriander naan. The first thing I noticed about the dish was the bright mix of courors that seemed to compliment the surroundings! Chicken, if you have read my blogs before is usually something I avoid as it is almost always served overcooked and dry which frustrates me but I would order this again in a heartbeat. All three types of chicken were juicy and tender, I think if I had to choose, the haryali chicken was my favorite (the green one I believe, I could be wrong). The naan was a masterpiece, very soft and light and the creamy mint dipping sauce made the whole dish so refreshing!

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Finally dessert; tian of caramelised plantain and string hopper, honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never had plantain before. The plantain (a type of banana) had a lot more bite that I expected, it wasn’t mushy like a banana, it held its form, the caramel sauce was so indulgent and rich giving the dish a really decadent taste. String hopper is a rice noodle and was lovely sprinkled on top. This was a real Indian desert, something I have never seen on a menu before but one I’ll certainly be keeping watch for in the future, it finished of a truly beautiful lunchtime treat.

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Dabbawal really lived up to it’s concept of offering real Indian street food, everything I tried was new to me and more importantly everything was authentic and mouthwateringly delicious! The staff were amazing and with a restaurant in Newcastle, just off Grey Street, Dabbawal is definitely somewhere I will be eating again soon!

Mrs Pumphreys Curious Leaves Tea Shoppe, Newcastle

I just love a good cuppa tea, so when I found out Pumphreys coffee shop was branching out and creating Mrs Pumphreys Curious Leaves Tea Shoppe I couldn’t have been more excited.

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I love Pumphreys and everything it stands for when it comes to the world of tea and coffee. You won’t get a bad cup of anything, there is too much passion about what goes in to each drink. Curious Leaves is situated in Alley 1 of the maze that is Grainger Market (entrance nearest Cafe Royal).

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When I arrived on the busy Saturday morning I was greeted with 1920s music and the smiliest staff. The shop itself has a lovely seating area and bar stools for those who love a good chat with their cuppa, myself being a chatty person chose the bar stool. Like the name I was curious as to what was on offer. The food supplied from French oven is served all day, a selection of cakes and sandwiches which are excellently priced but with lunch already booked I was only interested in the tea.

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With jars scattering the shelves it does take a while to choose your poison.

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I went for Sleeping Beauty Green Tea, a green tea with blackberry and raspberry flavour with rose buds and heather pieces – heavenly, it was served in the cutest glass tea pot with matching glass tea cup and saucer.

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The quirky shop has your eyes wandering but no one can miss the strange machine gracing the counter top. A tea mixing machine – apparently – it was once used by a pharmacist as a pill mixer ( not sure if mixing your pills is a good idea) but now it has a much better use in my opinion.

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There is a selection of tea bag grade teas and flavours to choose from and as it was my friends birthday coming up I knew exactly what to to make – Lemon and Earl Grey. It was advised I use about 20% lemon and 80% earl grey which I happily agreed to, once measured out the fun began. The machine rotated mixing the tea to the perfect result.

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I also purchased some tea bag bags, little draw string tea bags to put the tea in to so no tea straining is needed. My friend was over the moon with her gift and loved the novelty factor of how I had mixed the tea and the little drawstring tea bags, definitely a winning gift. The shop also stocks a large range of teapots, tea caddies, tea strainers, you name it they have it. I was like a kid in a sweet shop but just a tea lover in a tea shop! I purchased 100g of green tea to take away with me and cant wait for my next trip to Curious Leaves!

The Honest Lawyer Hotel, Durham

I have drove past The Honest Lawyer Hotel in Durham a thousand times and always wondered what it was like inside, so when I opened one of my Christmas presents to find an afternoon tea voucher for the said place I was very excited. I rang up and booked in for a frosty Saturday afternoon. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the modern decor, the bare brick walls and light interior. We were seated in the back of the Bailey’s restaurant and asked for our drink preferences.

 The service was quick but I had time to browse the menu which looked very appetising and also learn that the hotel aims to use local produce from within 20 miles. Our tea came first and we were given a pot each – excellent – nothing worse than running out of tea half way through afternoon tea.

photo 1-12 The food arrived shortly after and looked so delicious. The sandwiches were ham and pease pudding and egg mayonnaise (3 of each). I think it would have been nicer to have a third selection of sandwich, a salmon and cream cheese or similar. The sandwiches were pleasant, the ham was cut thick and the fillings were plentiful.

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The afternoon tea was stacked in a different way to which you wold usually expect with the cakes in the middle. Not accustomed to this order and being a creature of habit I went for the scones next.

The scones served were massive, light and still warm. I really despise dried fruit so I would have preferred a cheese scone, nevertheless I picked out the raisins like a small child and enjoyed the sweet scone. The cream in the little metal pan and the individual pots of jam were a lovely touch.photo 4-7

Finally we moved on to the cakes. I was ecstatic to find a chocolate eclair, my favourite dessert of all and always a promising choice, and of course it was delightful. The strawberry and coconut sponge was light and fluffy, not stodgy at all. The final cake I thought at first was a caramel slice and was quite disappointed when I picked it up to find it wasn’t, instead it was a contemporary take on tiramisu – it was delicious and ended up being my favourite cake of them all.

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Overall I was very impressed with the whole experience, the decor, the staff and the food. I will definitely be back!

Asiana, Sunderland

I was over the moon to be invited along to Asiana Fusion Restaurant, Sunderland for Chinese New Year. Asiana sits on the ground floor of the Echo 24 apartment building and is one of my absolute favourite restaurants in Sunderland. It’s where I chose to go for my graduation meal, where my sister chose to go before leaving for uni and where my friends and I frequently come for our ‘tea’. Why haven’t I blogged about it before I hear you ask… In all honesty, I had three visits waiting in the archive including a fantastic festive visit just before Christmas where the tables were adorned with beautiful decorations and crackers but I simply never got round to it. However, this was a review labelled with utmost importance. My work friends and I arrived at the busy restaurant about 6pm. The restaurant overlooks the river Wear offering fantastic panoramic views through the floor to ceiling windows. It is always such a beautiful place to visit but tonight they also had Chinese lanterns, lights and dragons everywhere.

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We were shown to our table and offered the wine menu. We ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio which was lovely and conveniently came out with our complimentary basket of prawn crackers.

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We inspected the special ‘Chinese New Year’ menu and for starters I decided to go for the ‘chilled slices of shin beef with coriander and cucumber salad in a chilli and sesame dressing’. When it arrived I noticed instantly how big the portion was, the beef was plentiful. On tasting the dish memories of evenings spent in China came flooding back. I often eat Chinese food but this had that distinctive taste of sichuan pepper numb spice. Although the spice wasn’t overpowering it was there leaving that strange tingling feeling in my mouth. The beef was tender and sliced thinly, an exquisitely delicious Chinese starter.

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The second course was a sharing platter of satay chicken skewers, aromatic duck parcels, Peking ribs and crispy seaweed. Each addition to the platter was as good as the next, the ribs especially were gorgeous, really chunky and full of meat, the crispy seaweed was seasoned just right and the satay chicken and duck parcels came with peanut dip and hoisin sauce.

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We were just digging in to the platter when the Chinese dragon came round. The dragon started at the front of the restaurant and was followed by a parade of drums and cymbals that created a spine-tingling rumble throughout the venue. It took about 20 minutes for the dragon to manoeuvre its way toward us at the back of the restaurant, continuously building the suspense; here we realised we had one of the best seats in the house.

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Just in front of our table the dragon stopped to perform a dance were the dancers started to jump in the air. Eventually the dragon surged up to the ceiling to retrieve a dangling lettuce which it then ripped up and scatter amongst the crowd. If you were lucky enough to catch some lettuce, you were to have wealth that year.

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As the dragon continued on, our main meal was served. It was the perfect break between courses and the way the staff and kitchen managed to keep the flow of food in exact timing with all the entertainment was very impressive. Everyone on the table had ordered something different which was fantastic. All the food was served on hot plates in the middle of the table to keep it warm and all looked so appetising.

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I opted for the stir-fried seafood with asparagus in OX sauce served in a birds nest. When I read birds nest I expected my dish to come on a bed of crispy noodles but instead it came in a kind of crispy bowl which was lovely. The bowl was packed with squid, king prawns and scallops. The meal came with special fried rice which on its on was packed with meat and prawns. The seafood was cooked perfectly although the OX sauce was a bit bland for me, it is a spicy seafood sauce which originates from Hong Kong. It’s a sauce I don’t order very often and I don’t think it is something I would order again as it wasn’t spicy nor flavoursome.

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On the other hand I tried all the other dishes on the table which included the Cantonese roast duck in plum sauce, a dish which I have had many times before in Asiana and is always divine, sweet and sticky with a massive portion of duck. Also on the table was fried boneless chicken in a dry Szechuan seasoning, this was bursting with flavour, the batter was salty and spicy and the chicken was so tender. My favourite dish on the table had to be the diced beef with crushed black pepper and garlic, this was extremely moreish with lots of pepper and garlic. As we finished our meal around came magician Chris Cross, another fantastic addition to the night, his quick-witted jokes and perfectly rehearsed magic tricks had us laughing hysterically and amazed. Although we were full by this point we couldn’t resist dessert with all four of us choosing the tiramisu cake and what an excellent choice this was. The cake was beautifully presented, it was light and creamy with a lovely coffee undertone.

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We finished our evening with peach bellini’s, for £22 per head for the set menu, how could you go wrong? This was a special New Year Menu but really reflected what is available on the main menu. This still stands as one of my favourite restaurants and really did provide a fun filled and delicious evening.

Paradiso, Newcastle

Earlier this week my friend Sarah and I headed to Paradiso to sample their NE1 Restaurant Week menu. I honestly hadn’t heard much about the place so it was lovely to get an invite and have the chance to give it a try. After encountering a crash on the A19 which resulted in bumper to bumper traffic I made it in to Newcastle bang on time to find Dean Street car-park full and the streets packed with foodies out for restaurant week. We arrived about 15 minutes late but the staff were very welcoming and happily pointed out our little table in the very busy restaurant.

We started with a glass of Pinot Grigio which was light and refreshing while we pondered over the menu. I often find that the menu in a Mediterranean restaurant is domnated by Italian cuisine such as Pizza, Pasta and Potato Skins; however, I was delighted to find the selection spiced up with Lamb Kofta and Chicken Skewers among many more. We were both enticed by the same starters, namely the Marinated Grilled Chicken Skewers with Hummus, Coriander Flatbread and Tomato Pesto and the Fishcakes with Fennel, Sweet Chilli and Yoghurt so naturally we ordered both and shared. Each dish looked very appetising when they were presented to us. I tucked in to the Fishcake first, the crust was crunchy and delicious, not too thick or greasy, perfectly fried. Inside I was met with the creamiest, lightest filling! I sometimes find Fishcakes are a bit heavy or stodgy, filled with bread crumbs or potato but this consistency was just right and it was delicious, packed full of flavour. The Chicken Skewers were next, again these can sometimes be overcooked and dry but not in this case. The chicken was moist and juicy, with a well seasoned coating. The hummus was definitely home made, it was creamy and soft. The starters were pretty amazing, I could have eaten them again.

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It wasn’t long before the mains came out and we had both ordered the same, we just couldn’t help it – Spaghetti with fresh Mussels, Salmon and Squid in Garlic, with Chilli and Tomato Sauce. With a very healthy serving of seafood I was immediately pleased with my choice. The Salmon and Squid were both cooked just right allowing the perfect texture and taste. The sauce was tasty, not too spicy with lots of garlic and tomato. The al dente pasta finished it off and the meal was devoured with pleasure.

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By this point we were pretty full but agreed that some space could be found for a dessert. In the fear of being served with a slab of thick sponge I went for the Vanilla Cheesecake with Berry Compote and Shortbread but it wasn’t long before I realised I had made a mistake. Yes my Cheesecake was nice but it was outclassed by the Chocolate Cake served to SarahHer cake was more like a brownie luxuriously topped with Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Saying that, my Cheesecake was still very good and the Berry Compote on top was definitely the winner of the dish.

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Overall a fantastic meal and an excellent restaurant week pick!

The Botanist, Newcastle.

When the invitation to attend The Botanist’s media lunch hit my inbox I did a little scream of excitement. It’s always mega exciting being one of the first to catch a glimpse of a new place and this really didn’t fail to impress. On arrival myself and my colleague Sarah were greeted and given a little tour. As we walked through the door we were hit with the amazing tree that stands proudly in the middle of the venue. With the original glass dome roof still in place the tree transforms the place in to a magical garden. The bar built around the tree is so creative and very well stocked. photo 2-8We were shown up a spiral staircase that lead to an open corridor which looks down over the bar area. The corridor lead to an outdoor terrace, a partly sheltered, heated seating area which hugs the building and offers views right down Grey Street. Downstairs holds an open kitchen and ample seating for diners. A beautiful private dining room resembling a mad hatter tea party is available for small parties – this place has it all. It was explained to us that food was a big drive for The Botanist which was something I wasn’t expecting, I presumed cocktails would be the main focus, although we were assured The Botanist was still all about the cocktails. We were handed a menu and the indecisiveness began. We chose our cocktails, I went for a Blackberry and Rosemary Fizz (blackberry purée, rosemary, Brokers gin, Hayman’s Sloe gin, apple juice, lemon juice and sugar) and Sarah chose The Botanist (Green Mark vodka, Havana 3 rum, elder flower liqueur, red amaranth, mint, jasmine syrup and lime juice topped with lemonade) both were divine! I loved how unique and creative they were!

photo 3-3With such a diverse menu I really struggled to choose just one thing, I wanted to try everything, the Lamb Tagine sounded lovely but I decided to go for the steak, I just love steak! I ordered my 9oz rib-eye steak with garlic butter to be cooked medium rare and it came slightly on the medium side, next time I would probably order it to be rare. Either way it was lovely and the chips were seasoned perfectly. Sarah ordered the Thai Green Curry and she really enjoyed it. I was slightly disappointed by the presentation of my meal, steak being one of the most expensive meals on the menu I expected something a bit better than a plastic plate. The board used to present the curry would have been perfect with maybe a little frying basket for the chips, I feel it would have made a massive difference to the presentation.

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Although we were stuffed the friendly waiter encouraged us to give the deserts a try, it would be rude not to. We both decided to try the fruit kebabs, I went for the Banana and Coconut Kebab with toffee sauce and vanilla ice-cream. They were so quirky, like nothing I have had before and so delicious!photo 4-3

Overall we had a great afternoon and The Botanist is beautiful. It’s a must see, especially to try the gorgeous cocktails.

Aldi festive feast at Jesmond Dene Hotel

Although from the title you could presume this is a review about Jesmond Dene Hotel, you may be surprised to find that this is in fact a review more about the ‘budget’ supermarket chain, Aldi.

I was coming to the end of a very usual day at work when I received a phone call from ‘Anna’ a PR representative for Aldi. She was inviting me along to the ‘Aldi festive feast’ that evening! As none of my work colleagues could make it at such short notice I invited my mam as my plus one! I was a little unsure what to expect as I hadn’t been given any information but I was looking forward to the unexpected treat.

We arrived at the very beautiful Jesmond Dene Hotel and were immediately greeted with a glass of prosecco. photo 1We waited in the bar area until we were invited to take our seats in the grand hall. As we entered we were blown away, neither of us had been in this part of Jesmond Dene Hotel and neither of us could believe how absolutely gorgeous it was! The room was scattered with round tables each dressed for two with fresh flowers and candelabras. The magnificent fireplace was decorated with Christmas treasures and Christmas trees dotted the room! The buzz of excitement echoed as everyone took to there seats and began to read the set menus.photo 2

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The lovely staff came and served red and white wine and as we were settling down Jean-Christophe Novelli came in to great us all. My mam also being a massive foodie and lover of cooking was starstuck and we both listened intently. He explained that all the food was made using Aldi products from the butter on our bread to the milk in our coffee! He told us him and his team had prepared the food and we were in for a fantastic night.photo 4 Bread was brought round first which was lovely and soft and not long after came the starter, Meli Melo -minute sun-dried vine tomato with king crab and caviar. We were initially surprised as we never knew crab was available in Aldi, (living on the coast we are lucky to have fresh crab readily available) but it was fantastic to learn that Aldi was stocking crab for the Christmas period. The starter was my favourite course of the night, it was so light with many different textures and tastes!

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The staff looped the room constantly refilling everyone’s glasses with wine and water, we never ran dry for a second. The main course came next and it looked like a mini work of art. Turkey wellington with garlic, parsnip and sweet turnip mash and stuffed cabbage. The turkey was beautiful, so moist and tender. The ingredients were fresh and varied and Jean-Christophe had done a fantastic job at showcasing what Aldi had to offer.photo 1 (1)
Dessert was a ‘Specially selected’ 12 month matured Christmas pudding with Cornish clotted cream. Unfortunately I don’t like Christmas pudding, dried fruit is just something I can’t get away with but I did try it and can honestly say it was very nice, packed full of fruit and nuts! The ice cream on the side was delicious so I was happy enough.photo 2 (1)
By this point we were stuffed but out came coffee, sweet mince pies and a cheese board. My mam and I love cheese and love coffee so this was the perfect end to a beautiful meal. photo 3 (1)Jean-Christophe came round to speak to everyone and he was so polite and interested in each person, he posed for pictures and spoke so enthusiastically about Aldi.

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We were then handed a receipt which toted up everything that had been served to each person including the bread, the prosecco on arrival even the coffee and overall the total was £20.35 Per person for the whole Christmas dinner. Proof on paper that preparing such a fantastic meal on Christmas Day doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

We left with smiles on our faces and a goodie bag of mince pies and Prosecco. We had such a fantastic night at Aldi festive feast!