I must disagree with various of the other reviewers of Barn Again Bistro, & in the strongest terms. Firstly, I live close to Barn Again Bistro, in the Leazes/Spital Tongues area of Newcastle, & the area of the city in which the restaurant is situated cannot be described as grotty. This impression may perhaps be reached by those who approach the venue via the rather grotty Newgate Street/Gallowgate area, home to various cheap pubs for a mainly middle aged football crowd clientele, & dominated by the planner's nightmare of the back of a horrendous shopping centre, with attendant ugly multi story car parks. This thoroughfare bears absolutely no relation to the character & history of the long established Leazes Village area situated behind it, with the venerable sandstone neo-classical Leazes Terrace, & beautiful old houses around St. Thomas' Crescent, leading up to lovely old Leazes Park & open (sometimes home to cattle!) moor of Castle Leazes, opposite the Victorian splendour of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which faces onto the oldest & most beautiful part of Newcastle University. Other cool, quality venues to be found in Leazes Village include the absolutely excellent Italian restaurant La Toscana (recommended, & just up the same road- Leazes Park Rd. - as Barn Again), &, for a chilled out, unique drink, The Trent House Bar (a little further up same street again). Barn Again Bistro fits in with the unique, stylish & hidden nature of this little-known enclave of Newcastle city centre, which is so central but so different from much of the 60s planning nightmare that was imposed on such a historic place. The frontage of the restaurant, especially when lit up of an evening, looks cosy & welcoming, a bit like a kitschy (yes, deliberately so- it looks cool!) bohemian/thespian drawing room, inviting you inside, lit by a variety of lamps placed around the bar/reception. On the occasion of our last visit, which was on my birthday, we were greeted in a friendl
y but n ot overbearing manner, & chose to sit at our table without pausing for a pre-meal drink in the bar area. We were divested of our coats by a waiter, & were seated at our table in a room reached via a glass windowed corridor, overlooking a courtyard. This room, looking out onto the courtyard, was, again, cosy & kitschy, filled with many tiny twinkly lights & little decorative touches that added atmosphere, style, & an impression that this is a unique, personal venue, that is a bit special, yet not overly formal. Service at our table was attentive, pleasant, but, again, not overbearing, as is too often the case. The menu (which is changed regularly, always a good sign thatthe chef is using the freshest seasonal ingredients, & is taking a personal interest in the variety & quality of their cooking & the diners' experience) was wide-ranging, & offered ample choice, within an innovative & novel approach to fusion cuisine- a refreshing change in Newcastle. Prices, considering the obvious care & thought put into the cooking, quality of ingredients used, time spent over creating the dishes, & effort taken over creating an atmospheric decor, were extremely good value, & compared favourably with restaurants of a similar standard that I have visited around the country. We were also impressed with the quality, value, & variety of the wine list, & we selected a couple of excellent bottles. A good wine list, reflecting a broad knowlege of wines from around the globe, & especially emerging regions, is all too rare in Newcastle. Service throughout the meal was excellent, subtle, & responsive yet unhurried- we visited in the busy pre-Christmas office party season, & sat at our table, & enjoyed post-meal drinks, for well over two hours, while the restaurant was very busy. I have nothing but praise for the quality of flavour, ingredients & presentation of our food. Myself & my companions were highly impressed. I enjoyed an asian fusion m
ain course o f duck, with noodles, another diner enjoyed a main of Indonesian influenced curry. All were marked by the excellence of the ingredients. All together, myself & my dining companions enjoyed an excellent, relaxed evening of good food & wine, enhanced by excellent service, atmosphere, & venue. The waiting staff coped excellently with a full restaurant, some diners, maybe splurging out on wine on company expenses, were being extremely demanding, & sometimes rude to them, perhaps due to their once a year outing for Christmas proving somewhat beyond their limits. We happily left a well-deserved tip, & have booked to return later in the month, to enjoy the next change in menu. I would strongly urge anyone considering a visit to do so- we enjoyed a very pleasant evening, &, also please remember that some of the other reviews are from last year (when we also visited & had a very pleasant time).
Des O’Connor gurns out at you from some “What on earth possessed him?” album of his and you wonder what you are letting yourself in for. You glance around at the area and find yourself in a dimly lit road off one of the main Newcastle drinking thoroughfares right next to a Social Club and down the way from St. James’ Park and again you wonder what you are doing. Then you step through the door. Once inside, the instinct is to either panic or to try and explore. The bar area of this restaurant is something else. I looked around for a good minute or two and was absolutely amazed. The only thing I can liken it too is being sent to spend the summer with an insane Scottish uncle that you never knew you had, in an enormous house somewhere really inaccessible. Your uncle then proceeds to leave you to your own devices while he conducts needless and probably illegal experiments on aphids. Left to your own devices to explore, you find that your uncle collects oddities, is unsure whether he prefers classic Russian literature or annuals of The Topper or whether he prefers tinkering with brass instruments to playing Ker-plunk. In short you discover that he is eccentric stroke borderline insane. It was at the point at which my mind had discovered a wardrobe in one of my uncle’s bedrooms, capable of transporting me hither and thither at will, that we finally caught the attention of the waiting staff. The comparison to Narnian furnishings somehow seemed apt as I realised that we had been stood for fifteen minutes, in a bar area that you would describe as deserted, and yet it seemed as if we had only been there for seconds. I glanced around again as she took the orders for our drinks and we gave her our details. This place was as trendy as people had made out. The décor was funkily diverse with the seating area interspersed with dummies in cavalry uniforms and absolutely phenomenal sofas hewn from mahogany and embe
llished with insanely intricate carvings and dressed in leather finishes that would be described as classic British in colour. Looking around the place the walls too seemed strange one minute covered in pictures by Magritte the next by –unless I’m mistaken- “Dogs playing pool.” We moved over to the sofas and sat ourselves on some Empire Green. Drinks unfortunately never showed up. Instead we were treated to a master class of how not to conduct yourself if you are a restaurant manager and you realise you have double booked. The waitress he skilfully reduced to tears in front of us stormed off with two friends that we hadn’t noticed sitting at the other end of the bar. It was hard to tell who was more mortified, the friends or the poor waitress. Having, in his mind, dispatched his managerial duties the manager then waltzed off never to be seen again. We chased after him after what we thought were a few minutes but were probably more accurately described as fractions of an hour. He was nowhere to be seen and the waiting staff we did encounter seemed almost incapable of coherent thought. We set off for elsewhere never having been so. . . and vowing never to return. But time passed and once again we began to remember that it was soooo fashionable and soooo well thought of that we decided to give it one more chance. This time around Mr O’Connor barely had a chance to wink at us before we were in, escorted past the bar area and its buttock-meltingly friendly seats, waltzed through to the restaurant and plonked at our table. I barely had time to decide whether our waiter was the man that we had seen do the unhappy manager hot step on our previous visit. I might have had a better chance of identifying him had he spoken coherently. Instead he muttered something inaudible and directed us with his head to follow him. I wondered for a minute whether he had mistaken me for a deliveryman dropping off a refri
gerator. Nevertheless at least we were in the place and in the area for food. Now that was progress. So then came the menu and how. The menu was in fact a blackboard plucked from the wall and plonked on a seat next to us. The waitress then began to read the menu out to us, quite loudly and clearly from memory. We looked at each other and then we looked around and then we saw them; the other guests. They had all stopped what they were doing to watch us in this spectacle and suddenly I didn’t want to be there, suddenly I was acutely embarrassed and there is nothing worse. To make matters even more unpleasant it was clear that the other guests had suffered this similar pain earlier in the evening and were now convalescing by inflicting the same pain on us. Once again we looked at each other and tried to read and listen. On reflection, I can’t decide which of the two mediums was least effective. Was it the blackboard presented in a dimly lit area and covered with a barely legible scrawl? Or was it the monotonous voice of the waitress reeling off each meal as though she was describing, in exacting detail, a bus journey to her local supermarket to purchase an item that as it transpires was out of stock. Consequently my memory of the menu is uncharacteristically vague. The overall impression was that of having just played scrabble with Ken Hom or that awful female TV chef who was famous for about a week approximately three years ago and who specialised in oriental cooking and had a laugh that was at best demonic and at worst apocalyptic. I forget her name just for now. But I hope you get the drift. The type of cuisine at my visit is probably described as Pacific Rim or Fusion Food or a combination thereof; Pacific Fusion perhaps or Rim Food. There is of course nothing the matter with that, I’ve tried that type of food before and whilst sometimes it seems just off kilter there is usually something about it tha
t makes the visit worthwhile, perhaps an ingredient that you’ve never tried before or a way of cooking something that is new. Again on reflection the menu probably had all of these things; unfortunately I was so confused by it that I didn’t have a clue. The list had a range of meats and fish -though mainly chicken and tuna- served with hip garnishes of the marmalade type addled with spice or wasabi in nature. Then there were the ingredients that I didn’t know. I tried to ask the waitress what certain ingredients were and whether they were similar to this that or the other. Unfortunately as much as I tried to listen all I could hear was her drone “and would you believe it they were right out of scourers.” In the end we both opted for the same starter and main which is a real measure of our confusion. To start we had a crab salad with various oriental leaves ending in choi. For the main we opted for duck with noodles and a star anise and etc etc dressing. The wine list was thin on the ground with most of the safe numbers from the safe countries. It seemed strange somehow that for such an oriental menu they had failed to select any wines that would accompany the food. I looked in vain for a Gewurztraminer or a Riesling, perhaps even a Viognier, none however could be found. In their defence, though, the wines were pretty well priced with the house wine starting at about a tenner or so and increasing to twenty odd pounds. Once again in their defence the wine we had – a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from Australia- was a real thumper and did go surprisingly well with the star anise of our main. It was from a generic “________ grove or creek or whatever” vineyard which was great because I enjoyed it as much as the much touted Rosemount’s GSM version of the same blend but for well under half the price. But back to the food and here they did redeem themselves a touch.
Both courses were cooked well. No complaints there. The presentation was also fine; easy on the eye, uncluttered yet not too architectural. Indeed the first mouthful of each course dispelled all of the ill feeling that the service had previously generated. The starter remained so with the understated, almost stealth, sea-flavour of the crab perfectly balanced by the tang of the spring onions, the leaves and the hint of ginger in the dressing. The main course set off in the same vein. The duck was gorgeous and the noodles were fine and the sauce seemed just right, the star anise was there and seemingly just there in the right amounts. But then with mouthful number two another taste emerged, this time ginger, then there was lemongrass and then there was just about everything. Soon what had been just right and seemingly pulling the place from the brink of “least favourite restaurant”-ness had fallen away into an unpleasant confusion that somehow summed the place up. The food, whilst well done in its own right, lacked a certain type of balance or a certain element of finesse. Then the place itself seemed to show this too and somehow a review of 1950’s German Cabaret sat next to Buck-a-roo didn’t seem charming. The seating area began to appear cluttered with “work’s dos” spread-eagled around the place. Looking around the room it all seemed wrong very wrong. My senses began to blur, there was too much of everything, too many flavours too much to see too much to do. I liked the food but it just made too much noise and the place didn't help. But there again. . . Perhaps I was being a bit precious or perhaps I was jealous because as a child I never had Buck-a-roo. I still don’t know. Thankfully more super lush wine calmed me down, Hurrah. We skipped desert and coffee and paid the bill. This came to about £55 with fifteen for the wine a fiver for the starters and just over a tenner for
the mains. We paid up and wandered into the night pretty disappointed. Of course over the next few weeks or so I began to think that perhaps I had done the place an injustice. Perhaps I was letting previous experiences and the service cloud my judgement of the food; perhaps I should try and see the bigger picture. But then I got back to reality. What the place was, was a disappointment. In Newcastle the Barn Again Bistro is regarded as a bit hip and a breeding ground for innovative food and indeed I so want it to be. Unfortunately it just isn’t quite right, the décor is great but too much, the food is new and clever but a touch too so. Of course that isn’t saying I’ll never try it again, next time it could be great and indeed if you go there I hope that it is. This, thankfully, is quite likely because it’s the kind of place that changes its menus every now and then. Perhaps if you try it the menu may be a bit more balanced or the service somewhere near acceptable. If this is the case leave a comment and let me know. If not just enjoy the sofas.
Despite growing up in Newcastle I hadn't been back for some time until a school reunion a few weeks ago which was held at the Barn Again Bistro. An unpreposessing exterior leads into a small seating/bar/cosy area at which you can while away the hours after your meal. The main restaurant extends back from this area and is unusually and quite elaborately decorated and is generally pleasantly surprising. Seating is reasonably plentiful - we had a group of around 14 seated on a long table without this being a problem whilst other tables were placed pleasantly around for other diners. The menu is quite haute-cusine with good variety and interesting vegeterian and even pseudo-macrobiotic options. Service was prompt although parts of the table were served at quite different times, and the impression of a slight lack of resources and organisation sprang to mind. The staff were helpful and friendly in their dealings. The heating seemed a little high and unfortunately the windows did not open so we suffered a little (hopefully this was not a ruse to increase drink consumption). The Food presentation was excellent, being comparable to many a high-class restaurant, although not exceptionally hot in some cases (this seems to be an ongoing problem looking at other reviews) although the food was tasty and good size portions which helped compensate for quite high prices. Coffee was regrettably unexceptional but pleasant enough. Overall a pleasant dining experience, interesting and well presented dishes and an interesting decor. Hopefully the service issues will be redressed in the near future giving this an improved score. I would certainly try it again.
So far I have only written opinions on restaurants that I have been impressed with in order to pass on my recommendations to dooyooers. Last week however I visited Barn Again, a bistro in the heart of Newcastle and it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
On arrival I was optimistic, the interior is like the secret haunt of a compulsive collector of bric-a brac. The walls are adorned with zany, talking point ephemera. Every nook and cranny boasts another quirky item and the menu matches them point for point. Unusual and interesting dishes like smoked chicken cakes with mango and chilli jam (£4.95), tuna fillet with salad and pineapple jam and marlin with caponata and green herb relish (£12.95) offer a global range with something to tempt every palate. So far, so good.
After being shown to our table, we were given an individual blackboard menu. From this we chose our starters and main courses. Five minutes after ordering are starters arrived. No sooner had the waitress taken away our dishes we were served with the second course. I prefer a little respite between courses. My husband's choice of Moroccan chicken with chilli served on a bed of mixed peppers and onions was disappointing. The chicken was only lukewarm and the peppers freezing cold. Back it went. I faired little better, the tuna was fine but the pineapple jam was exceptionally sweet and I had to leave it.
When the dessert menu came we asked for some breathing space before placing an order. We didn't get any. We don't normally do puddings but as it was a cold evening and not particularly warm in the restaurant, we both decided on hot fruit crumble. Another disappointment - another lukewarm course.
Finally the coffee: filter only as the Cappuccino machine wasn't working. Well at least it was hot. We were contemplating a second cup when a waitress came to us and informed us that our table was required for their 9.30pm booking. We had sat down at 8pm, ha
ving travelled 35 miles. It had taken only an hour and a half to serve three courses plus coffee. Was this MacDonalds in disguise?.
As you can imagine we were not amused. We promptly paid our bill. The only tip we left was that we wouldn't be back.