A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Newcastle
Its reputation as the party capital of the North East is well deserved, but besides being a brilliant place for a raucous night out ‘on the toon’, Newcastle is home to a flourishing independent food scene. Small-batch producers, craft beer galore and a fleet of fancy new openings are putting the former industrial city on the map for much more than just Ant and Dec and Brown Ale. It takes less than three hours to get there by train, so wrap up warm, pack your appetite and head north for a food-filled – and wallet-friendly – weekend.
Breakfast and brunch
A minute’s walk from Central Station, Pink Lane Coffee is a handy place to get your caffeine fix after the journey. They take their java seriously here, offering a choice of slow bar drip-filtered brews (to be sipped black to take in their delicate aromas) and espresso-based drinks made with single-origin beans – roasted in-house – and Northumbrian Pedigree Milk.
Quay Ingredient, near the snazzy Quayside area, is a popular choice with hungry students, families and bleary-eyed partygoers, thanks to its excellent slap-up breakfasts. Go all-out Geordie with Craster kippers and poached eggs, or a bacon sandwich served in a stottie cake (the region’s bread of choice: a soft, floury round white bun the size of your head. Honestly.).
Image credit: Sean Elliott
Still hungry? Next door, Violet’s is a cute café with views of the Tyne Bridge. Their pretty pancakes, topped with edible flowers, are ideal Instagram fodder, but it’s not a case of style over substance. The café is run by Abbie, the wife of Michelin-starred local chef Kenny Atkinson, and her food is a cut above. Try the ‘Geordie waffle’, with braised ham hock and pease pudding, and don’t miss the beautiful homemade cakes: think frangipane-topped lemony tarts or bourbon-studded brownies.
Lunch and beer
Wander along The Quayside (this area was once the hub of Newcastle’s thriving coal industry; now, it’s been regenerated and boasts a concert hall and an art gallery in a refurbished flour mill). The Bridge Tavern is a brewpub owned by the grandfathers of Newcastle’s craft ale scene, Wylam Brewery. Set over three floors, including an outdoor terrace with waterside views, you come for the craft beer – some from the on-site micro brewery, the rest from carefully curated suppliers – and stay for the delicious food. From Lindisfarne oysters and pig’s head croquettes to beef and barley pie, expect stomach-lining pub classics done right.
Once you’ve got a taste for Wylam’s wares, visit their main brewery in Exhibition Park. Housed in a former Victorian Palace of Arts, the cavernous space is a fun spot to while away the afternoon sampling their small-batch brews (try the Jakehead IPA). Soak up the booze with seasonal sharing plates, and look out for regular street food events and live music.
In Jesmond, a suburb close to the city centre, Peace & Loaf is the place for fine dining, minus the stuffiness. Chef and local lad Dave Coulson combines precise cooking with a touch of playful Northern charm, in dishes such as artichoke soup with marmite and Tunworth cheese, halibut with chicken pie and boozy sorbets with popping candy.
For a treat, book ahead to try Kenny Atkinson’s excellent tasting menu at House of Tides. Awarded the city’s only Michelin star for the third year running, the restaurant is housed in a 16th-century merchant’s trading house overlooking the River Tyne. The food is stellar (caramelised onion and cream cheese gougéres, served on arrival, are the stuff dreams are made of, while Lindisfarne oysters with a soothing cucumber granita would turn even the most committed seafood-sceptic), and the vibe is friendly and more relaxed than you’d expect from a Michelin-starred joint.
Fancy something more casual? Cal’s Own, in Jesmond, serves authentic Neapolitan pizzas from a dome-shaped wood-fired oven, using San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella from Campania, served on a slow-proved sourdough base.
Veggies, vegans and carnivores alike will love The Sky Apple Café, a local’s favourite neighbourhood restaurant with a globe-spanning, meat-free menu. Graze on crispy cauliflower and stilton beignets, then try the deep, dense purple beetroot curry or cockle-warming mushroom and udon broth. There’s no alcohol license, so don’t forget to bring a bottle.
Gin fans should check out the eye-popping collection stacked high behind the bar at Pleased To Meet You, a glitzy spot in the city centre. Craft gins from near and far are paired with a choice of tonics and fragrant garnishes, or sipped in an ice-cold martini. Next door, the twinkly restaurant is a good choice for quality, season-led bistro eating.
Next, wander to nearby Bierexx. The huge square bar in the centre of this buzzy bar is decked out with 31 custom-made taps, serving a constantly-changing selection of cask and keg ales. Need something to soak up the booze? There’s tender Glenarm beef brisket or sticky, salt chamber-aged rack of ribs, cooked in the on-site smoker until they melt in your mouth.
Breakfast and brunch
Virtuous eaters will love The Naked Deli, in Heaton (just outside the city centre). This pared-back café serves cold-pressed juices, saintly full English breakfasts (poached eggs, grilled bacon and roasted tomatoes) and acai bowls. Nearby, Stark’s Kitchen is a modish café with whitewashed walls and Scandi-style furniture. Modern brunch dishes speak of thoughtful cooking: think bircher muesli with bruleéd pear and almonds, and eggs with salted ricotta and basil.
Arthouse cinema The Tyneside hosts a Sunday brunch club in their Bar Café from 10.30am – there’s newspapers, games and a free screening of a classic movie while you tuck into glossy eggs Benedict, cubano sandwiches and muffins with house-made sausages. It’s best to book ahead.
Shopping and snacking
Meander down to The Quayside to check out the Sunday market, which, as well as selling a boggling range of socks, pet toys and batteries, is where you’ll find the city’s best street food traders. Make a beeline for Papa Ganoush, where fluffy flatbreads are stuffed with falafel or sizzling chicken shawarma, then topped with labneh, zingy salad and pickles.
The Grainger Market is a covered 19th-century arcade in the city centre, where old and new traditions collide. Among the old-school butchers and greengrocers, stop for moreish potsticker dumplings and Chinese tea at Nan Bei. A short walk away on Grainger Street, browse Northumbrian treats to take home at Mmmm… Glug… deli, which sells everything from craft beers and local cheeses to hot sauce and spices.
The recently renovated food hall in Fenwick department store is a great place to lose a few hours, choosing from olive oil and charcuterie from further afield, plus a great range from local suppliers. The store gives concession space to independent North East businesses – try a strong and complex single-origin brew from Ouseburn Coffee Company.
While several of the big chains have moved in, Fat Hippo Underground is the only place self-respecting Geordies will be seen eating a burger. Hidden in a vaulted lair, the space is dark and moody – just as well, since these huge patties are made for eating messily. Just-pink minced beef comes slathered with spicy sauces (add a crisp onion ring for maximum indulgence). Alongside, there’s a carefully curated range of local craft beer, from Wylam to Allendale and Hadrian Brewery, and thick hand-cut chips.
Quilliam Brothers is a tea house close to Newcastle University that’s always bustling with students and families, tucking into steaming bowls of homemade soup or jacket potatoes. The selection of loose leaf tea is so extensive it warrants its own menu – try the fragrant Lady Grey. Extra-cheesy, chive-flecked scones and fudgy peanut butter brownies are a highlight from the homemade treats stacked up on the counter. Look out for art and pottery from North East-based craftspeople on display: it’s all for sale.
The Ouseburn Valley looks unassuming, with industrial warehouses and hiding under the curved arches of a railway bridge, but it’s here you’ll find some of the city’s most exciting food businesses. Cook House is a dinky shipping container with a kitchen garden at the back, where founder and local food blogger Anna Hedworth turns out gorgeous lunches: think sourdough egg tartine or crisp-skinned pork belly salad with homemade pickles. Look out for Anna’s evening supper clubs, too, though be warned they sell out fast. Close by, independent gallery The Biscuit Factory is a light-filled building with an informal café, plus a fancier sit-down restaurant, Artisan. Both put local, seasonal ingredients at the fore.
Ernest is a friendly all-day eatery that’s as popular for its hearty lunches (try the chorizo hash with golden-yolked poached eggs) as it is for the Friday and Saturday late-night openings, where resident DJs spin funk, soul and motown. It gets loud.
Stay in the Ouseburn Valley to sample some of Newcastle’s best pubs (locals have fondly dubbed a pub crawl here ‘The Ouse Cruise’). Start at The Cumberland Arms, a cosy tavern with views across the city. There’s a weekly-changing roster of cask and keg ales, plus a roaring fire and a good chance of someone whipping out a fiddle for a sing-song as the night draws in.
Next up, The Tyne Bar has the city’s best beer garden sitting beneath a graffitti-clad railway arch (which handily protects it from the rain). Choose from a choice of bottles spanning Magic Rock Brewing Co, Tiny Rebel and The Kernel, and look out for live music at weekends.
The Ship Inn is an old-school boozer that’s recently brought its food offering up to date with an entirely vegan menu of reimagined pub classics, plus cask ales and craft ciders.
The Broad Chare is a much-loved gastropub run by Newcastle’s big-cheese restaurateur, Terry Laybourne, with an oak-panelled bar and stripped wooden floors. Whether you opt for moreish bar snacks or filling mains, such as brawn and liver and onions, the cooking is solid. Terry’s more upmarket offering, Café 21, is a good option if you feel like donning your fanciest glad rags: expect modern bistro food in a pretty riverside setting.
The Patricia is an tiny neighbourhood restaurant in Jesmond that’s been garnering a great reputation since it opened (Marina O’Loughlin was a fan). Tried-and-tested flavour combinations (mussels, white wine and garli, girolles with pappardelle, and chicken with chard and salsa verde) come together in carefully cooked dishes that give the London big guns a run for their money. The Sunday lunch is also excellent here, and worth it for the billowing Yorkshire puddings alone.