Writer Lee Majhen-Todd takes a trip to Michelin starred House of Tides for a spot of lunch where she found a dish she could have "bathed in".
Let me start by saying a few things about my food reviewing skills. I'm not a professional restaurant critic, not a food reviewer or even a wannabe chef aspiring to eat food for a living.
I am a person who likes to cook and really likes to eat, not just any food, but very good food. I think about a food review the same way I think about my book reviews for the Foodie Book Club.
Obviously, one of the many criteria for me has to be the taste of the food. Whether I like it or not, and to what degree I like it. I'm aware that what I may like others may not, which is why I occasionally ask the opinion of the lovely Mr G, my ever-patient husband and Chief Taster of all things experimented with at Lee & The Sweet Life, but mostly it’s my taste buds I rely on. For better or for worse.
What are my criteria for a good critique, well a few things have to apply? There is the "first enter the door feeling".
You walk through the door of a restaurant, and everyone seems relaxed, not running around trying to fight the crisis that may be happening behind the scenes.
Customers are looking relaxed too. With drinks in their hands and a low murmur of appreciation and excitement, they talk quietly about what's to come.
The reception from the front of house staff is what defines a great restaurant. They are well trained, appreciated, valued, and this is always reflected in the way they first greet their customers and then make them feel welcome throughout the visit.
What I'm looking for is for them to help me feel as if the money I've just spent for the privilege of sitting down for three hours is worth it. This was definitely the case at House of Tides.
As soon as Mr G and I stepped through the door for our Saturday afternoon treat, we were greeted with a relaxed welcome with just enough vigour to know that customer service was vital. This carried on all through our time there, making me feel like a welcome visitor to someone's home where nothing was too much trouble.
House of Tides is set in a listed building overlooking the River Tyne in Newcastle. Right on the quayside, it has a great view of the Tyne Bridge and the other bridges Newcastle is proud of. Have you heard of the winkey bridge? Not its real name, but because it resembles an eye when it raises and lowers, it winks, obviously.
With just 50 covers Kenny Atkinson has made sure that the atmosphere inside the upstairs restaurant is as relaxed as it is downstairs in the rustic bar area. With open beams and a floor that I'm still claiming tilted slightly, it's set out to be open, light and a pleasure to tuck into the tasting menu served.
And what of that?
It wasn't the best of starts for me. The Baba Ganoush amuse-bouche looked amazing, as I expected, but I felt it lacked seasoning, making it a little bland. The redeeming factor for me with this dish were the crackers that were ever so slightly spiced. I know that both of these things were to be eaten together, but I would have liked them to be able to stand alone on their merits.
Once upstairs sitting in that great tilting room, the food began its incline to greatness.
For the next course, a trio of treats of Parmesan Churro, Cod's Roe and Beef Tartare to entice my taste buds.
Is honesty the best policy? Asking that question now is probably too late, but here goes. One of my favourite things of all time is a tartare. I love it so much that it's on my chapter list for my first Croatian /British crossover cookbook.
Again I was let down by the seasoning. Showcasing high-quality meat for me, means helping it become all that it can be, this didn't shine, and I was disappointed.
The Churro was a delight to nibble on, slightly soft in the middle and a great lingering flavour that went a small way to make up for the tartare.
The cod roe was sandwiched in between a slightly savoury meringue, and it really wasn't too my taste. While loving and encouraging the experimentation of flavours, for me, this was something I wouldn't want to try again.
While the next course of Mussels, Curry & Potato was a dish I could have bathed in.
Mussels so moist that to have them in my mouth felt like a necessity, and gentle spice of curry made the whole dish into something harmonious. This dish made the previous courses dim, and Mr G and I looked at each other as though we had just discovered the key to unlock the crown jewels.
Now let me wax lyrical about the Monkfish, Leek, Kohlrabi and Dill. If I hadn't already used the phrase "Something I could have bathed in" I might be using it for this dish.
Mr G is the fish lover in our foodie duo. This doesn't mean I don't like and appreciate fish, I do. It was just such a pleasure to see his eyes haze over as this morsel of meaty fish settled in his mouth. It had been left to cook in a water bath, giving it a delicate soft centre just perfect for the gentle sauce and the drizzle of intense dill oil.
I imagine that you're now thinking that from here the only way is up, up, up. You'd be correct, but just not yet.
First, we were served the Artichoke, Pine Nuts & Truffle dish. Now truffle, I think, is a little like Marmite. I admit I'm not a lover of the truffle, not because of their taste, I am just not overwhelmed by them.
From previous experiences, it can sometimes be a secret code for "I'm not sure what else to do with this dish". I felt this dish as a whole could have worked equally well without the truffle.
The next dish was the lamb. For me and the lovely Mr G, this was one of the standout dishes. And you could tell by the quiet moans of pleasure coming from the rest of the tables, that we weren't the only ones who thought so. We all know how lamb should be cooked and this Cumbrian Lamb was flawlessness. It was in perfect company settled next to the turnip and spinach. Tender, juicy, and perfect seasoning.
By the time we had meandered through these delights, we were both ready for the sweet stuff, and what was next was described as Coconut; Raspberry & Thai Basil. And it was the perfect pre-pre ending to a fantastic meal.
Last, but I could never describe it as least, was the Plum, Pecan & Vanilla.
The vanilla as a smooth, creamy vanilla ice-cream speckled with vanilla seeds.
The wafer-thin pastry made me realise that I should have begun my culinary journey much earlier in life. If I had, I might have been able to make pastry as delicate as that was. The plum was rich, and the pecans made this tart indulgent, it was a marriage made in the best register office that wasn't going to be divorced any day soon.
Mr G also managed to find a perfect artisan beer that matched his entire meal - the Export India Porter from The Kernel Brewery, London.
Would I return? In a heartbeat. Kenny Atkinson is gifted and imaginative with such a talented team at House Of Tides that eating there again isn't going to be just luck, it's something that I'm going to do as soon as the taster menu changes.
When eating at restaurants of this calibre, critiquing the food does feel like something many of us aren't qualified to do. The honest truth is, that to be given any of these dishes feels like a privilege. With food this good, the only thing to do is to nit-pick, and that's what I've had to do, pick at all of those tiny areas that just weren't for my palette, but that is a personal preference.
Find out yourself and let me know what you think. Believe me when I say if you go to House of Tides, you won't regret it.
Chatting Food Contributor: Lee Majhen-Todd
Born in Wallsend, Newcastle to a Geordie mother and Croatian father, I have lived all over the world including Belgium and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Based now in Wolsingham, County Durham with the ever-patient Mr G (My chief taster and Husband), I’ve only recently sold Fondant & Apron Strings where I used to design and make show-stopping cakes.
Creator of the Foodie Book Club, freelance writer, friendly recipe developer, I have a variety of experience in writing content for both regional media and food companies. With a pinch of blogging, a dash of feature and article writing, mixed with my wealth of industry knowledge, I have all of the ingredients needed to create the perfect food writer.
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