Food, Glorious Food: A Weekend of Fine Dining in the North East

One of the best things about living in Whitley Bay is the amazing choice of venues around the town, there are so many wonderful places to visit and enjoy some really great food. 

One of our favourites is The Roxburgh, which is run by North Shields-born Gary Dall. Gary has acquired a whole raft of culinary experience through working as a chef all over the world. He has truly had a globe-trotting culinary career working as a tour chef with the likes of Sting, Amy Winehouse, Kasabian and Girls Aloud. 

In 2014 Gary found his way back to his native Tyne and Wear and decided to open The Roxburgh with a mission to create a timeless restaurant with a unique menu. 

At The Roxburgh, you can enjoy the more 'unfashionable' cuts of meat cooked in innovative and creative ways including crispy pig ears, bone marrow on toast and the legendary 'Bacon Bad'. Veggies and non-meat eaters fear not, there is always a special something on the menu for you. Lucy is a vegetarian and we always manage to find the most delicious alternative that sparks some ultimate food envy across the table! 

The Roxburgh is open for dining on Friday and Saturday evenings or for a mouth-watering Roast every Sunday. However, for this most recent trip, Gary had vacated his chef duties for the evening as ourselves and a fully booked Roxburgh were in for a very special 'Hjem Coming'. 

And so, on a Saturday night in wonderful Whitley Bay, we were treated to one of the most sublime of dining experiences. For the 'Hjem Comimg' Gary handed over the reins to chef Alexander Nietosvuori who started at the age of fifteen- yes fifteen- in Sweden at the two-starred Michelin restaurant Daniel Berlin Krog. From there he has worked in Copenhagen, Chile, Norway and London. Alexander is bringing his talents up North (lucky us) and is opening his very own restaurant with partner Ali called 'Hjem' in Wall near Hexham. We felt so privileged to be getting a preview of Hjem and to enjoy some fine Northumbrian produce with a Scandinavian twist. 

The Roxburgh has had a recent refurb which really adds to the warm atmosphere of the restaurant. The tables were all joined together in two rows and it was all part of the experience getting to know our fellow diners. Part of the excitement was that the eight-course menu was still under wraps but we all knew we were in for something special.

All was soon to be revealed as the man himself came out from the kitchen and revealed the menu for the evening.

Beef tartar was our opening dish which Paul looked at nervously. Ever since beef tartar was featured on Mr Bean, Paul has had a deep loathing if not fear of the dish. Paul's fears soon melted away when the mini delight was brought to the table. The beef was submerged in a sunflower seed tartlet and decorated with pickled pine, it was a treat for all the senses and has since managed to permanently remove Paul's tartar-gate. But what about Lucy, I hear you ask? Fear not, Alex had crafted Lucy's own personal menu of meat-free treats.

Service was just the right pace to keep the momentum going and next to delight our taste buds was a pancake with grilled and preserved garlic which sizzled on our tastebuds without being too overpowering. 

Our third course was one that literally rendered us speechless, duck egg with malted wheat and brown butter foam. The texture of this dish was unlike any other, it was so smooth that it comforted us and warmed us up. I think all of our fellow diners just wanted three more of them to finish off the night. 

Following the duck egg delight, Alex returned and introduced what we would be enjoying for our fish and meat courses (and in Lucy's case vegetarian courses) and the desert to finish. It was just so lovely to think that we were enjoying this amazing experience in our home town, we felt very proud. 

Our fish course was a taste sensation of lightly baked cod, submerged in a mussel sauce, finished with a drizzle of nettle oil. Without sounding overly cliché, it melted in the mouth and was just the right amount to truly appreciate the flavours. To follow we had cauliflower with sea purslane which we learned was a rare herb found exclusively in coastal regions. Obviously, it's easy for us to say how simple the combination of flavours are- especially when you're being fed by the very best- but actually experiencing something so simple tasting that good truly takes your breath away. 

To follow this we were served our next course of lamb and a veggie alternative for Lucy. We switched from white to red and sank our teeth into the next miniature feast.

Desert time and Alex wowed us again by perfectly introducing horseradish into a sorbet. It had the most amazing kick to it without tasting too much like horseradish! And to finish our feast we were given a delightful jam cookie. It really made a perfect full stop on our outstanding meal. 

Alex came out to great and much-justified applause. He is so talented and like many of the greats in their chosen field, very modest and unassuming. All we can say is that Northumberland is about to have an absolute gem of a restaurant opening soon and would hugely recommend you make a visit to Hjem and enjoy the work of a true artist. 

Thank you to Gary and all at The Roxburgh for hosting such a memorable and fabulous evening. Whitley Bay is a pretty fantastic place to live. 

One of the great advantages of having shops at the coast and in the city is the extensive range of options when it comes to eating out. Since we usually spend weekends working in the shop it's very rare for us to enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures, the humble Sunday Lunch.

So, for a rare Sunday afternoon off we alighted the metro and walked down Byker bank towards our destination for Sunday lunch, Cook House. It is a place that we have both visited many times, however, this was our first trip to its new location on Foundry Lane.

Anna Hedworth opened up the original Cook House just over four years ago inside a couple of old shipping containers on Ouse Street just next to the Victoria Tunnel entrance. Now she has moved to a larger two levelled premises which really suits the Cook House vibe. We were both very excited as already said it had been an age since we had enjoyed a good Sunday lunch.  The menu for Sunday lunch really offers a varied treat from lamb shoulder to pork belly and if you are in a group of four or more the rather wonderful temptation of a whole stuffed roast chicken to share. Lucy was more than catered for with the vegetarian choices and selected tempura winter vegetables to start, green lentil and tomato daal for the main and we’ll leave the all-important dessert until later... For Paul, sorely tempted as was to pull the table next to the group who had just ordered the roast chicken to share opted for the Block & Bottle charcuterie with pickles and sourdough as his starter and for the main played a bit of a curveball and went for the salt beef hash with a fried egg.

House white to accompany Lucy and the red for Paul. Before the arrival of Lucy's tempura, she set the benchmark high and, of course, Cook House did more than meet it. Paul was, quite literally, in food heaven when the yolk of the fried egg melted into the hash, true comfort food.  We were both fascinated to see the roast chicken arrive at the next table and the group- in a very democratic fashion- selected the carver and was duly handed the knife. 

Time to select deserts and Lucy had to choose between the dark chocolate and almond cake or the spiced poached pear. Of course, the chocolate cake won. And no surprise from Paul as he opted for his usual, the cheese selection which came with pickled celery and sourdough. Leaving happy and with the spring sunshine blazing we headed up the steps to enjoy a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Cumberland Arms. 

Neither The Roxburgh nor the Cook House were aware that we were going to be writing a blog about our experience at their establishments and we paid for everything ourselves. As you can probably guess we wouldn't hesitate to recommend either restaurant. And we can't wait to see what Alex cooks up in Northumberland.

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