Having picked my way back through the carnage of a Newcastle Saturday night, I think we can safely say the Toon quite likes a drink. Come to that, I don’t think it’s massively opposed to a fight, projectile vomiting, an al fresco shag or public urination either. The evening began as it meant to continue with various stag nights circling one another in my hotel bar while two separate hen parties eyed each other suspiciously to see who had the best boa and deely bopper combination – one was the obvious winner, but may well have been docked points for being a second marriage. I don’t wish to appear overly judgemental (although I am,) but one of the things I especially love about The Stand is the no stags and hens policy, because, frankly, I’ve seen them bugger up far too may comedy nights over the years*. This rule is of particular benefit in Newcastle in April when it appears the entire North East is gearing up to get married and has come into town to celebrate.
There is, of course, so much more to the city than what it gets up to on a Saturday night. I mentioned the galleries and architecture when I reviewed Marco Polo last year, but on this occasion I also enjoyed walking through the city centre and being able to see into, not to mention hear, a full St James’ Park, or Cockney Dickhead Direct or whatever Mike Ashley is now calling it in his ongoing attempts to personally widen the North/South divide. This was on our way back from The Biscuit Factory – an art gallery come restaurant where I had just had lunch with the delightful Tom Allen and Eddie French – a newer comic I’d not worked with before, but who does a mean impression of Jamie Oliver as played by the lead singer of Rocket From The Crypt.
The Biscuit Factory is located a little further from the city centre than we realized, although to be fair that was more to do with the slightly circuitous route we took rather than actual geography. The restaurant itself is called David Kennedy’s Food Social, after the chef, and comes with the strapline ‘This is art meets haute cuisine’, which I have to confess filled me with a little trepidation, especially when I saw some of the art. The room itself was not overly busy, but most tables were filled as they did seem to be scattered in a slightly haphazard manner around the room.
The place had been recommended by my friend, former short film co-star and now Newcastle-based comic, Dave Hadingham, and as we were shown to a table and looked at the menus, the omens seemed pretty good, even if one painting in particular was making me wince. The set menu was excellent value at £10 for two courses and £12.95 for three, which Tom and Eddie both opted for. I ordered from the à la carte because I’m me, although we then had to wait a while to inform anyone of this. Service was cheerful and informative when it arrived, but we did feel that the general vibe was quite…relaxed, which can of course be a very good thing, but then so is a little bit of haste in taking orders and keeping a general eye on your tables, especially when there aren’t that many of them.
My home made black pudding with greens, poached egg and wholegrain mustard sauce was a big, big slab that Eddie suggested could be used as a patch for recent vegetarians suffering withdrawal symptoms. The pudding was good, but as a whole, the dish was a little underseasoned, and the mustard gave it a slight sweetness that robbed the dish of the real punch it should have had. A spring pea soup was a beautifully vivid green (maybe it should have been hung on the wall) and was nicely lifted with the addition of goat’s curds, but the real star was Tom’s marjoram cream with croutons, peppers and deep fried (courgette?) flowers – essentially a lightly herbed pannacotta, which was a fresh, novel and very good looking plate of food.
For mains, I went for poached Loch Duart salmon with fir potatoes and broccoli. This dish is simplicity itself, but luckily it was much more than the sum of it’s parts, held together beautifully with a herb butter, even if the portion of fish was a little parsimonious for a dish that cost £2.50 more than the three courses either side of me. Tom and Eddie both went for the crispy pork and black pudding with slow cooked Belford egg which was another winner – the meat encased in bread crumbs and deep fried to give it a fantastic texture that made much better use of the black pudding than my starter.
I held off on dessert, but a lemon curd ice cream was appropriately zingy, even if the addition of a couple of little meringues left it a little over-sweetened. A banana and vanilla cheesecake, all piled up in a glass, was delicious – creamy and biscuity with a little powdered lime zest on top to give it an added kick. With coffees and a glass of white from a very approachable wine list, the bill came to £74.25 including service, which strikes me as a perfectly reasonable price for three hungry comedians to pay. We then toddled next door to the gallery to find some art we didn’t hate (there was some, luckily) before heading back into town to do battle with the evening.
As a post script, the good people of The Stand had suggested on Twitter that I ate at The Bistro there, but even I’m not stupid enough to review my employers. What I will say is that an anchovy and bacon wrapped chicken Caesar salad on Thursday night was one of the best I’ve ever had, and when Tommy Sheppard (the owner) insists you try the Yakitori burger, you kind of have to.
This burger is beginning to take on legendary status in the comedy world, and so I made sure I tried it before Saturday’s show. Wow. Apparently the beef is marinated in soy and spring onion, and then finished with a chilli mayonnaise and pickled ginger, but I don’t really want to know, I just want another one. It’s so rich it almost tastes like venison, which is ironic, considering that’s the nearest you’re going to get to a stag in the whole building, if not across the rest of the city.
* This ‘Stag’s To Do List’, confiscated at a gig recently, came to light just as I was writing this. See what I mean? (With thanks to Liam Mullone.)