June 4, 2019
There have been a lot of changes at Newcastle city centre-based Blackfriars, which is housed in a friary’s former refectory – believed to be the oldest dining room in the UK. The restaurant, which has been owned by Andy and Sam Hook for the past 18 years, has recently been refurbished to incorporate more booth seating, an open-plan kitchen and a new bar area that provides the perfect spot for an aperitif. The cookery school, which was once a small workshop next to the Banquet Hall, has now moved to above the restaurant and is an impressive purpose-built space that hosts around 400 classes a year, including regular classes and exclusive events. A new tasting room is proving a popular destination for wine, beer, whisky, gin and rum tasting – ideal for corporate entertaining – or, for something a little more business-focused, a meeting room (accommodating six to 64 delegates) can be hired free of charge when lunch or dinner is purchased. This is in addition to a programme of special culinary events, which recently included a Harry Potter-themed dinner.
But while some things have changed at Blackfriars – which was voted Taste of the North East in the North East Tourism Awards at the end of 2018 – some things have stayed reassuringly the same. Most notably, head chef Chris Wardale, who has been at the restaurant for the past decade.
My two colleagues and I visited the refreshed Blackfriars one day last month and found its alternations have done nothing to diminish the venue’s charm; the stone walls, rustic timber furnishings and ecclesiastical stained glass make this one of Newcastle’s most unique dining destinations.
At lunchtimes, diners have the choice between the set menu (two courses for £15 or £18 for three) or the a la carte menu, which provides a good choice of beautifully crafted dishes featuring the likes of hand-dived scallops, herb crusted Skrei cod and cured duck ham.
While I usually stick to a soft drink when doing these reviews, my party and I decided to indulge in a glass of wine on this occasion and our waitress helped us choose complementary tipples to our dining selections.
All of our dishes (mine from the set menu and my two colleagues from the a la carte) were beautifully presented – something I have come to expect from Blackfriars.
The stand out dishes were the wonderfully flavoursome ravioli of ox cheek, fillet steak and crispy marrow and the simple but effective poached salmon with that was smothered in a perfectly balanced béarnaise sauce.
My colleagues and I chose to finish our meals with the dark chocolate and espresso pudding, the lemon meringue tart and the rhubarb soufflé crumble – all of which were excellent.
It’s easy to see why, in this age of fleeting eateries, Blackfriars has stood the test of time. Its winning combination of excellent food, distinctive charm and original events is a credit to its owners.
Friars Street, Newcastle
0191 261 5945