Newest Review: ... better, to the menu and also the staff. The bar is quite unique in its decor its an eccletic mix of furniture and unlike it's neighbour Mr... more
All that Glisters is Not Gold
As You Like It (Newcastle upon Tyne)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
As You Like It (Newcastle upon Tyne)
Advantages: Some really good food; jug of iced water was free; interesting wine choices
Disadvantages: Overpriced for some dishes; posey staff and posey customers; naff decor
Since signing up to Groupon our restaurant visiting seem to have escalated. We've revisited old favourites, and been to some we've been promising to try for ages. "As You Like It" falls into the second group; I've partly avoided it because people whose culinary judgment I wouldn't really trust have lavished praise on it but I thought that with a voucher for a £20 discount from my food bill (your drinks cannot be discounted) it might be worth a try to see if it lived up to the hype.
AYLI (this abbreviation is used by the restaurant) is more than just a restaurant. It's also a bar, a club and, during the day it promotes itself as a bit if an upmarket coffee shop. It calls itself a "gastro pub" but I think it's way too big to fall into that category of eatery.You can eat in the bar but you must order from a bar food menu; a couple who hadn't booked asked if they could order from the restaurant menu but eat in the bar and were told this wasn't possible. Essentially this is a poseurs paradise. When we visited there were plenty of people who didn't fit the stereotypical image of an AYLI customer and I suspect this was down to the fact that there were only a couple of days left to redeem the Groupon. Usually the clientele is young, mindlessly hip and with fairly deep pockets. I know that some of the Newcastle United players frequent Mr. Lynch, a pub almost opposite the restaurant, and I wouldn't be surprised if they come to AYLI too.
Imagine the result when you try to create a cross between a dilapidated French chateau and a cosy English inn, and present it in a 1970s concrete office block building. It doesn't sound pleasant and the reality isn't much better. The table next to ours had some kind of "frame" around it - a four poster dining table if you like, vaguely North African and totally out of place. The overall look is shabby chic which is hilarious really when you contrast it with the staff who have all clearly been chosen for their looks than for their knowledge of food, ability to communicate with a variety of customers (Am I wrong in thinking it's naff to present pensioners with their food saying "How's it goin' guys?" or perhaps it's me that's the fuddy duddy?) and awareness of when people do and don't want attention from the service staff. There's one staff member whose job it is to greet diners at the front door and show them to their table upstairs; I felt safe in the knowledge that she was wired up to someone (the kitchen, the bar, MI5?) with an earpiece - Aneka Rice meets maitre d' I'm not sure how many tables there are (no more than thirty I'd guess) but with nine waiting staff visible at 6.30 on a Tuesday night I'd say that they were way overstaffed.
Aneka Rice showed us to our table and asked if we'd be having wine: how should I know? I hadn't seen the menu. If I chose the AYLI burger I might order a beer or a coke, other dishes might warrant wine; until I've seen the menu I don't know what I'll be drinking. She explained how the wine list works (it lists wine usually but let's not appear too clever): there are a couple of wines that can be had by the glass. Then the wines are divided into reds, whites, etc and within each type they are presented in pairs. The first is, we were told, a wine that we might have tried before, the second is a less well known alternative, but one that has similar characteristics to the first. I found this quite patronising, just give a list and let people choose. The one we eventually chose, a white ...from Argentina, was one we knew and it was from the "Be daring" (I kid you not) list. £16.50 was a fair restaurant price for this perfectly palatable crisp, aromatic wine.
From advertising I've seen I had the impression that AYLI uses locally sourced meats and other ingredients in its menus but the only example I could find was a mention of Elsdon, a delicious cheese from Northumbria. If the meat was organic and/or from a local farm, it certainly wasn't mentioned;I don't like to see too much fancy flowery description on a menu but this one needs a bit more detail if AYLI wants to demonstrate a commitment to using good, locally sourced ingredients. (I'd have also thought that given the current economic situation a "we'll scratch your back if you scratch ours" approach to naming suppliers for which they mention in their advertising the restaurants they supply to, would advantageous to all concerned). The fish choices were uninspiring - Newcastle Brown Ale Battered Cod with chips, or a oriental influenced dish with salmon: it would have been nice if a little imagination had been employed, perhaps using some of these more sustainable fish we're forever being told to try.
We skipped starters (of which the most interesting on offer were the boards for sharing - the one with the Bayonne ham looked very tasty and at £12,95 it certainly should) and headed straight for the mains. I picked the slow roast pork while Himself ordered the lamb. From the descriptions we assumed that neither dish required side orders and we declined when asked by the waitress who took our order. We were right too because the meals, although they did not look like big portions, were actually quite filling and the presentation was quite deceptive. Only a very greedy person would want side orders with the meals we chose and, what's more, when you pay £16 for a main course somewhere like this (so not top end, but still quite pricy) you don't expect to have to add extras.
My pork was served with fondant potato, a black pudding dumpling, a small pile - barely even a tangle - of (I think) baby spinach leaf and peas and the faintest smear of apple puree. The pork was, indeed, slow cooked and it just fell to pieces when I touched it with the knife and fork. It was moist and tender but it was very salty (and from a salt lover like myself) and more like cured gammon than roast pork. The dumpling was interesting; the black pudding had been crumbled or chopped and mixed into the suet mixture and after cooking, the dumpling was cut into oblong slices. I like black pudding and I thought this was an tasty and unusual element to the dish but it was also quite filling and, given that there was also the fondant potato - this looked brilliant and was executed almost perfectly but let down at the very end by being not quite cooked all the way through, the plate didn't need two forms of carbohydrate. The gravy was a lovely rich wine reduction and there was just the right amount of it but the smear of apple puree was not only mean but positioned so that it almost disappeared behind the pork and might have been missed altogether had it not been for my dining partner who could see it from his position on the opposite side of the table and asked what the orange gunk was. I managed to sample the puree with the pork and while it was OK, it wasn't really enough to be able to comment more thoroughly.
Over on the other side of the table Himself was very happy with the colour of his roast lamb. He was asked whether he wanted it pink or just over (clearly this chef does not include 'well done' in the range of cooking option and quite right too!) and asked for it to be pink: it was perfectly done and almost melted in the mouth. It was served with caponata, a dish I usually describe as an Italian ratatouille based on peppers, (two) chickpea chips and hummus (though this was only according to the menu - what appeared on the plate was not very hummus-like). Himself asked whether caponata is meant to be served cold, as his was barely lukewarm, as far as I know it's served hot (but I'm happy to be corrected). The chickpea chips were a great idea: they appeared to be made from mashed chickpeas, or some kind of mixture formed from chickpea flour, moulded into chip shapes and coated with a light covering of polenta which had turned golden brown when fried. He liked these very much but thought one more would have been good. As for the hummus, that wasn't immediately obvious on first looking at the plate and some investigation suggested it might have been the yellowy drizzle around the plate, more of an oily garlicky dressing than a gloopy creamy hummus.
For dessert we shared a nicely presented panna cotta dressed with summer berries; it was lean on the berries but the panna cotta was one of the best I've eaten, beautifully creamy and with a perfect texture. As well as a the liquid from the berries there was a honey syrup which was very sweet and might have been nice with a different dessert but just added a cloying and unneeded extra layer of sweetness to this dish. I'd say that given the AYLI prices generally, this dessert was worth the £5.50 it was priced at.
The food we had was mostly very good with just a few bloopers here and there; I'd like to know more about the origin of the meat and if it's not local then it really should be at this type of restaurant. The menu is not that inspiring and certainly isn't for fish eaters and vegetarians - especially if a dull option of penne in a mushroom sauce (even if it does contain sunblush tomatoes) is anything to go by (and with an £11.95 price tag they should be ashamed).
The service was so so and I was disappointed by the emphasis on appearance over communication. The waiting staff were polite but too laid back, in my opinion. Perhaps if they spent more time being helpful and interested they wouldn't spend so much time posturing and trying to look cool. I felt a bit like a grandmother being taught to suck eggs when the wine list was explained to me, but I'm wiling to bet that none of those youngsters could offer any more on the wines than I could have lerned from the wine list.
Perhaps in different surroundings I'd have liked it more but I can't help thinking this place is for posey people and staffed by posey people. It's too pricy for a gastropub and nowhere near as classy as other Newcastle restaurants in this price bracket. As a result i'm reluctant to recommend it with any great enthusiasm. I'd like to see a makeover with some genuine and knowledgable staff and perhaps I'll rethink.
Summary: Decent food in dodgy surroundings