North East Times hits the newest hotel in town to see if Crowne Plaza Newcastle’s Hawthorns restaurant can stand out in a city centre crowded with chain hotels offering upmarket dining.
The area behind Newcastle Central Station has, for a while now, been the destination for foodies one weekend a month at The Boiler Shop Steamer, where you can gorge yourself on exciting street food from around the globe – as long you don’t mind eating standing up and with slightly stinging eyes from the smoky atmosphere.
But with the recent opening of the Crowne Plaza Newcastle -Stephenson Quarter, just a stone’s throw from The Boiler Shop, comes the promise of fine feasting in more congenial surroundings.
The hotel’s restaurant is Hawthorns, named after the square on which the venue resides.
Hawthorns is situated in the vast atrium of the stylish hotel which offers an industrial paradise of glass, steel, marble and wood, softened by an eclectic mix of mid-modern inspired furnishings in pleasingly cheery colours.
Unusually for a chain hotel, Crowne Plaza Newcastle’s restaurant and bar (GIN Bar) is independently branded and operated, which means the food and drink on offer is not just a carbon copy of other Crowne Plaza hotels.
The Hawthorns menu has been created by head chef Chris Wood, previous incumbent of the Apartment Group, Alnwick Castle and Eshott Hall, whom my two colleagues and I met when we visited the hotel last month.
Chris describes the menu as ‘Northern British cuisine’, with key ingredients sourced from Northumberland and North Yorkshire.
There is a combination of fine dining dishes, such as Ingram Valley lamb rump and herb-crusted salmon fillet, with heartier fare like Toon Ale-battered chips and twice cooked chips. There is also a menu of smaller plates and sandwiches to satisfy smaller appetites and those looking for a quick, good-quality bite between business appointments in the city.
After chatting with the affable and clearly passionate Chris, we decided that we should leave our choices of dishes to him. What followed was a fine gastronomic journey of the very best produce from around the region.
Highlights of the meal were the onion bhaji Scotch egg (a cheeky take on the Indian and English classics with a beautifully cooked egg and mild curry flavours) and the wonderfully tender North Yorkshire venison saddle – a dish made truly Geordie with the addition of Pan Haggerty and a moist and flavoursome ox cheek and smoked bacon suet pudding.
Dessert proved a real treat, too, with classic combinations such as chocolate, toffee and banana, and apple and blackberry on show.
As Chris told us, he doesn’t want to offer anything too adventurous or ‘off the wall’. Instead he has concentrated on classic flavour combinations.
Clearly, Chris knows how to handle those combinations. Given the culinary freedom often denied chefs in many chain hotels, his menu exudes culinary flare but is also mindful of the diverse clientele expected at Crowne Plaza Newcastle. And what may be lacking in innovation and challenging flavours, Hawthorns makes up for with tasty, well-presented dishes and exceptional service.
I expect to see this restaurant frequented by as many Tynesiders as guests to the hotel.
Seared North Sea scallops
Herb crushed heritage potatoes with Jerusalem artichoke velouté
Onion bhaji Scotch egg
Roti bread, coriander and chilli dressing
Pork pie (from Small Plates menu)
Turnbull’s pork pie, pulled ham and Doreen’s black pudding press, mortadella, onion jam and Geordie Bakers’ bread
Corn-fed chicken breast
Saffron fondant potato, squash puree, wild mushrooms, leeks and chervil sauce
North Yorkshire venison saddle
Ox cheek and smoked bacon suet pudding, Pan Haggerty, confit beetroot and onion purée
Toon Ale battered cod fillet
Twice-cooked skin-on chips, crushed peas, curry and gherkin mayo
Dark chocolate truffle pave
Salted caramel popcorn, banana and custard
Apple and blackberry gel and granola crumb
White chocolate and mascarpone mousse
Blood orange salad and bitter chocolate crack
Crowne Plaza Hotel – Stephenson Quarter
(0191) 562 3333