Friday, 23 October 2009

Six of the best - Six Restaurant, The Baltic, Newcastle

Heading up North can be an emotional experience for the Northerner. More then once I turned around only to find her getting all misty-eyed over concoctions such as 'parmos', half and halfs, chips and curry sauce and other delicacies unique to the North East. However as she is more then ready to shout about, the NE of England has its fair share of beauty, culture and refinement, all of which I feel is encapsulated in the Baltic Flour Mills building in Gateshead, now better known as an art gallery, and home to the wonderful Six Restaurant.

Someone once described this as being a Geordie version of the Oxo Tower, but the man was clearly an idiot, as the place is far superior to the Conran joint by the Thames. For a start, the views of the mighty Tyne bridge, with the sun setting in the distance are something to behold. And the food, in terms of service, quality and price, far exceeds anything that Mr Conran is serving down south.

We were there for a Sunday lunch, and after taking drinks and, in that quaintly Northern way, reading the menu in the bar, we were taken to our seats plum in the centre of the restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows allow for great rivers views; the furniture is modern without being over designed; and there is plenty of space despite catering for what looked like 50 covers. No need to worry about waiting staff or fellow diners backing onto your table. The clientele are Newcastle's finest (not an oxymoron) dressed to the nines, shouting to the ceiilngs and drinking with the abandon that makes me so fond of the North. The service is attentive without being fussy. And the food is good. Very good.

The Northerner had local crab to start while I indulged in some mussels with white wine sauce and garlic. We then did the relatively unusual (for us anyway) and ordered the same main - roast beef with all the trimmings. The beef was rare and well seasoned; the gravy was thick and full of flavours and the Yorkshire puddings were the size of Newcastle stadium. And very tasty. Desserts of chocolate brownie and a peach melba were delicious, and as with everything else, of a generous proportions. But here's the real surprise - starters and desserts cost £4 each. Mains for a tenner. We spent more on our bottle of wine (a lovely New Zealand Pinot Noir) then the combined courses - which is as it should be but never, ever seems to happen down south.

So definitely better then the Oxo Tower, and clearly good reason to ignore the idiot who said it. Who, by the way, was me. Say no more.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Groove is in the heart - Pure Groove, Smithfields Market

Hybrid shopping experiences have been the rage for a while now. Retailers with coffee shops, tea rooms and occasionally bars. Coffee shops with hairdressers. Pubs with vintage clothes shops. You name it, they've tried it, usually to good effect. Although I draw the line at estate agents cum cafes. However the classic combination of music store and bar is nearly as old as I am, yet still so winningly effective. And none more so in good old London town then Pure Groove in Smithfields Markets. The Northerner and I dropped in on Friday night when the venue was hosting a DJ session by the Lost Boys (I think that's what they were called) and the place was humming. Pure Groove markets itself as an every-changing venue that includes record shop, art gallery and cafe / bar, but on Friday night it was a well worked combination of them all with a little bit of pre-club thrown it. The clientele are the Smithfield creative set of graphic designers, and film and advertising types, and (on this night anyway) very male. But all in a laidback funky way, as opposed to football loving lads.
The drinks are your standard offering of semi-exotic lagers (read that as Asahi and Corona) and spirits, mixed and served with the enthusiasm and panache of a student bar. And I mean that in a good way.
We knocked by several drinks and watched the crowd shift from animated conversation to bobbing about grooving and dancing as the beats and the beers kicked in.
This is the best Smithfield bar I've been into in a while now, and complements the equally strong Old Red Cow pub down the road. I like this bar a lot and will definitely go back again. If you like the funkier side of things I recommend that you give it a whirl.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Sterling Pub, The Gherkin Building

The Gherkin is one of the most iconic buildings in our capital and a wonderful and relatively recent, addition to the London skyline. Or so you would think, although it proved a tad confusing for Heavy D when I suggested we meet for drinks at the downstairs bar - The Sterling. Where is the Gherkin? he asked. Well, try the large, gherkin shaped building which you can and every other person in the square mile can see from your office. Honestly.
Anyway, having overcome Heavy's navigational challenges, me and Young Elvis rocked down the to the Sterling for a cheeky after work drink to celebrate his recent offer of a job in Hong Kong. I'd never been before. Don't worry, said Elvis, it's great in summer. Except of course this is London in October so the benefits of the outside space, as pictured, are not immediately obvious.
So inside we went ,where the 90% male, suited clientele were settling into that Friday session of lager and thinking about ladies. The latter of which they were clearly in the wrong place for. Heavy finally arrived, having managed to find a colleague who was actually bigger then him, and immediately began remarking on the lack of women. It is a city bar I quipped, what do you expect. Nevertheless what the Sterling is, or was, lacking is not so much women, but something far more important to a bar. An atmosphere. The place itself is all clean lines and modern furniture, but as in a newly refitted All Bar One, rather then Phillipe Starck. The drinks are your standard mix of lagers, spirits and wine by the pint. After a couple of hours of this party madness, and with the Don (who I was meant to be meeting) apparently stuck in the Wharf, I bade my farewells.
The Sterling has a lot going for it - location, great service, and in summer it's probably a sun trap. However unless you're someone who genuinely enjoys being surrounded by suited and booted men from the middle to lower echelons of banking and finance, I'd steer it a wide berth. Maybe there was a lot more to Heavy being unable to find it then I give him credit for.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Old school with old friends - The George, London Bridge

Apparently bitter and ales are very good for colds. This is according to the Rock Star, who although not a medical man, is the son of one and a highly seasoned drinker so in many ways perfectly qualified to comment. I bore that in mind as the Northerner and I, cold ridden and a tad hungover, headed to the tourist trap that is the George in Borough High Street near London Bridge, and amongst other things, prides itself in its collection of bitters et al.
We were there to meet Little Boots (not the pop star, but my friend who has the smallest feet I've ever seen on an adult) and her hubby the Greek God who were over from Australia for a work trip. I hadn't been to the George before but everyone I know seems to have and talks it up big time. And now that I've been there I'm not sure why that is the case.
The George has all the trappings of Ye Olde English pub. A 17th century coach house that is full of nooks and crannies, the place does have character. Traditional (not gastro) pub grub, a beer garden and an impressive range of beers seems to keep the punters happy. They even serve wine in those small bottles that I thought you only got on planes.
Yet it pales in comparison with the delightful pubs of Borough Market - the Rake et al - and it lacks the views of its fellow tourist traps overlooking the Thames.
That's not to say that we didn't have a good time. Little Boots and the Greek God seemed intent on drinking their way through their jetlag - and doing a good job of it might I add. But given that the George is hardly likely to suffer through any criticism by me, I'll mark it down as one for experience. Old school in every sense of the word.