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Brasserie Black Door - worth the wait?
Black Door Brasserie (Newcastle)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Black Door Brasserie (Newcastle)
Advantages: Some good food
Disadvantages: Quailty inconsistent, poor presentation, poor service
As the instructions advised, we made our booking by telephone and the day before our visit the restaurant telephoned to re-confirm. We arrived at the restaurant and were invited to order an aperitif while we looked over the menu. We didn't actually open the menu until the drinks arrived and when we did, we found we had been given the standard menu so we told the staff member that we had booked for the promotional menu. He told us we had come to the wrong restaurant. He said we should be at the sister restaurant, the Brasserie, and that the company had informed the Times that they should change the information in the newspaper but they hadn't. When we pointed out that we had spoken directly to the restaurant when we made our reservation and that we had not, during the course of two telephone calls with staff, been advised that we should go to the Brasserie, he simply shrugged and offered to arrange a taxi to the Brasserie at the restaurants expense. Anxious not to spoil the evening any further we agreed.
When we arrived at the Brasserie the manager was expecting us, gave us glasses of fizz and invited us to have a seat in the bar while we looked at the menu. The information at the top of the menu said 'Three course special - £25". We questioned this of course; while it was not unreasonable it was more than the advertised promotion. The manager's rather rude response was the final straw for me and I decided we should leave and eat elsewhere.
A few days later the director of Black Door phoned to say he'd heard we'd been treated badly and that he wished to apologise and that he would be sending us some vouchers to spend at either of the restaurants at a time of our choice. We didn't have an opportunity to use them until last weekend, so was it worth waiting for?
We decided that it made more sense to take our £50 of vouchers to spend at the Brasserie as it is considerably cheaper there. We booked through Top Table (earning us 200 points) which we accessed through Pigsback (earning us the equivalent of 50 Pence in points).
Brasserie Black Door is situated in 'The Biscuit Factory', a contemporary art exhibition space housed in, not surprisingly, a former biscuit factory. Although the gallery was closed at the time of our visit, there are a number of artworks on display within the restaurant itself.
First impressions aren't good, even worse afterwards when you survey the exterior once more and wonder why somewhere so expensive doesn't care much about kerbside appeal. A modern facade has been added to a plain brick building and a concrete ramp leads up to the front door. Overgrown prickly bushes overhang the walkway.
Immediately inside the restaurant is a small seating area with leather sofas and very low tables and the bar. We were greeted immediately and were asked if we wanted to have a drink first or go straight to our table. As there appeared to be no sofas free we elected to go straight to our table. We were seated at the far side of the restaurant and we at first disappointed to find we were close to the toilets though this proved not to be an issue at all.
We were given the one sheet menu and were asked if we wanted to order drinks, presumably an aperitif; however because we thought that the first course would come quite quickly we decided to forego the aperitives and order our wine once we had chosen from the menu. The manager, who had shown us to our table, left us to decide but seconds later a young waiter came to ask if we wanted to order drinks, then another, and another. Perhaps they should divide the tables among the staff so that diners aren't continually pestered by staff who don't realise customers don't require pestering. Of course, having told all the staff what we were doing, it then took some time for anyone to come to take our order!
The menu offered a choice of nine starters and the same number of main courses. Dishes that jumped out from the starters included "North Shields Fish Soup" and "Potted Brown Shrimps, Lemon Confit and Sour Dough Croutons". Prices for starters ranged between a very reasonable £6.00 and £9.00. The mains were as varied with a selection of interesting meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, ranging from £13.00 to £20.00, and a rib of beef for two coming in at £44.00.
To start I chose "Dave Kennedy's black pudding, Sunny Hill farm free-range egg, spinach"(£8.00) while my partner chose "local crab, mayonnaise, cucumber juice and pea shoots" (£9.00) -pea shoots being this year's must have ingredient. For his main course he chose the "Mixed Grill of new season lamb, spring greens and fondant potato" (£17.50) and I opted for the "Pan-fried calves liver, champ, crispy bacon and onion rings" (£16.00).
Once our order had been taken we were brought a dish of delicious marinated olives and a basket of slightly crusty bread rolls. Our wine arrived at the same time - we had chosen a rich and spicy Don Cristobal Malbec from Argentina priced at £22.00. Prices start at £14.00 and go up to an eye-watering £75.00 which I thought was excessive for this type of restaurant, especially given that the most expensive champagne was priced at £60.00.
Eventually our starters arrived, some fifty-five minutes after we had arrived at the restaurant. It gave us more than enough time to survey the interior decor - a mixture of exposed brick walls and white plaster walls with massive brightly coloured abstract canvasses dotted here and there, not offensive but not exceptional either.
Both starters were served in massive white bowls; actually the circumference of the dishes was massive but the hollow where the food sat was rather small which had the effect of making the portion look quite stingy. The depth of the hollow combined with the small diameter meant if was really difficult to cut up one's food. The flavour and texture of my black pudding was excellent and the spices worked well with the creamy yolk of the perfectly poached egg. Unfortunately the miserly serving of spinach hidden under the black pudding was over wilted and resembled a tiny portion of vividly coloured snot. The sweet crab meat had been mixed with too much mayonnaise and too much red chilli. At the peak of the crab season I think that this was overkill, it shouldn't be necessary to do much to local crab because it really speaks for itself. It was shaped into a fishcake and sat in a pool of too much cucumber juice which was also flavoured with too much fresh chilli.
As is fashionable these days the mixed grill of lamb was served on a piece of finished wood, like a rustic chopping board. My partner, who is rather conservative in such matters, didn't appreciate this, not least because the meat juices trickled over the edge of the board when he cut the meat. There was a good selection of beautifully cooked cuts of lamb such as ribs, kidney and shoulder. The fondant potato came as a roughly two inch in diameter by half an inch high disc of smooth creamy potato - it looked especially small against the amount of meat.
My dish consisted of two generous pieces of succulently tender calves liver and a nicely presented portion of champ that looked small on the plate but proved to be exactly the right amount. It could, however, have benefitted from more seasoning.
After the plates were taken away we asked to see the dessert menu; although I really fancied a dessert nothing really appealed. There was Eton Mess - a good seasonal dish with the raspberries used in it but I am not a lover of fresh cream. There was "Chocolate tart with chocolate milkshake which sounded too sickly to me - I overheard the waitress tell another diner that the milkshake was a small portion in a shot glass. I was surprised that it was a duo of desserts rather than a trio which seems to be the in-thing in fine dining these days. I think the inclusion of a third dessert could have broken up the sweetness of all that chocolate. In the end I asked about the "Hot strawberry sandwich, ripple ice cream and balsamic syrup" (£7.50). The waiter returned from the kitchen to say that while it did usually come with nuts in it the chef said these could be omitted as the dish was constructed from scratch. Alas when the dish came there were nuts in it but fortunately I had tried the tiniest morsel when I realised this. Himself had fancied the "Doddington Dairy Cheeseboard, oatcakes, rhubarb chutney and walnut bread" but couldn't bring himself to pay the £9.00 price tag.
Overall I found Brasserie Black Door disappointing. While the staff were certainly friendly they weren't - with the exception if the staff member who appeared to be in charge - very professional and in this type of establishment I would expect staff to be more 'polished'.
While the menu offered an interesting choice of starters and main courses there were minor problems with several of our orders and the presentation was disappointing. I thought the selection of desserts was poor and it looked like the chef there isn't as interested in the desserts as the other courses because selection lacked the imagination and excitement of the other courses.
My final concern was the price. Over the last year we have eaten out in the UK less often than before, usually opting for cheaper restaurants when we have eaten out. This might be why we found the prices here quite high. Admittedly food costs have escalated recently but I still found one or two of the dishes slightly overpriced.
I don't expect to return to Brasserie Black Door soon. To justify these prices I would expect better service and fewer flaws in the execution of the dishes.
The Biscuit Factory
16 Stoddart Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel - 0191 260 5411
Summary: Could and should do much better
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