“ The Black Door / 32 Clayton Street West / Newcastle upon Tyne / NE1 5DZ. „
Morpeth's Black Door restaurant has good ambience. The food is an overpriced disappointment. Starters were small and basic (smoked salmon and roasted peppers). The waitress forgot to mention the specials board to us. The wooden platter served game and fish pies were inadequate main courses. The game pie, padded out with potato and carrot, was almost meat free and served with a puff pastry lid that was very similar to those available elsewhere in the town at half the price from microwave pub kitchens! The sweet courses were better presented but tiny and at the end of our late January Saturday evening meal the bar area had become yet another youngsters drinking spot making egress difficult. My recommendation is try Blackmore's in Alnwick instead-it is more comfortable, no more expensive and having eaten there twice in late January I can confirm the the food and choices are infinitely superior.
The sweeping façade of Newcastles Clayton Street has a good end and a bad end. The bad end hosts hideous furniture shops, big-is-best electrical showrooms for people with CCJs and nail parlours. It is a monstrosity of shop frontages raped into a Georgian terrace. The good end fares better. Relatively unsullied by commerce it has retained a grand simplicity in its classical black doors and large sash windows framed serenely in sandstone blocks. Its location too has an air of serenity, surprising given its hop-and-skip proximity to the central station and view over Newcastles most well know lane of ill repute.
Nestling discreetly within this calm, lays the black door restaurant. Anonymous almost, save for the combined glow of menu holders and welcoming lights, it merges gracefully into its surrounding. Opened a few years ago in a site previously host to an Italian café (Lucys) it couldnt be less like its predecessor. Previous experience of Lucys included a hideous tuna salad with the ingredients sourced from tin and bag, it did however have the plus points of being easily accessible and cheap very cheap.
The black door is the opposite. Rave reviews aplenty, it is no longer easy to get a short notice reservation, and it is certainly not cheap at three courses for £42. It is however far from hideous. Described as French the short and succinct menus belie the level of skill and quality involved in each dish. A recent roasted foie gras and duck egg starter was superb a full English fit for a French royal. Elsewhere unexpected treats turn up in unusual places including a delicate bhaji with a liquefied aliquot of foie gras in the centre. It isnt however all foie this and foie that a slow cooked dish of oxtail with beetroot and creamed vegetables was simultaneously manly and delicate, even if the presentation had its toes dipped into the bad side of poncoid.
Criticism of the place lies mainly in the eating area. Depending upon the table in question, the small floor plan can be a bit cramped, no more so than in the conservatory. This add-on to the building -with a glamorous aspect over a car park- requires diners to breathe-in whilst manoeuvring their carcasses onto their chairs. At my last visit an osteoporotic dowager huffed and puffed her hump into place, while the couple next to us were so close that only the electric radiator between the tables prevented us from being a party of 4.
Disappointing too are the loos. A considerable walk -often a pleasant excuse to stretch the legs- the march detracts from the air of sophistication the restaurant tries to pervade. Inside the loos you will also find the chiaroscuro of individually rolled and warm hand-towels plonked next to wash basins seemingly reclaimed from a primary school.
Of course an upside to this small scale is that bawdy corporate diners -ruddy-nosed consultants on a drugs-rep-freebie or law firm braggards- are few and far between. This makes a pleasant change for Newcastle especially when dining mid week, it is perhaps this very fact that makes the Black Door such a pleasant place to be.
The bar and reception area on the other hand works so much better. Capacious and welcoming, leather sofas and delicious olives, make it the restaurants real strong point. Here attentive waiting-staff take your orders from a small, (read un-garish) cocktail list supplemented with bottled real ales and lagers. Then the wine list just the right size and pretty varied but with a French slant. It ranges from the reasonable (House R/W ~£13) to the only reasonable-if-some-one-else-pays. The mark-up looks to be about 50-100% annoying but alas the norm. There are quite a few available by the glass, my wife recently let me finish a highly delicious, Viognier-tinged Ch. Ste Michelle Pinot Gris, after I had walloped off a bottle of Ridge Geyserville. The only concern with the bar and its operation was the sight of some fairly careless decanting of some unfairly pricey wine.
Orders taken youll enjoy a good few minutes relaxation before transfer to table with wine ready decanted. Then your fare, interspersed with amuse bouches, which are pleasant enough, but with the exception of one cauliflower froth and a mini Christmas pud- never quite thrilling. All too soon all is scoffed and dessert menus appear. With mango ravioli, or crisp chocolate cake with salted caramel, its very good reading indeed. But then the ludicrous punch line of a £6 supplement for a nice-but-not-that-nice cheese board.
Perhaps this last note sums the place up. On the whole everything is just right, but the odd things do wrangle. Be it cramped seats, a sloshing sommelier, disappointing loos or unnecessary gastro-sculpture, little details can mount up. Alas, so too can the bill, and at this end of the market faults and cost should not be compatible.
To close, and fearing the last paragraph may be read as a negative slant on the place. Im not saying I dont like the place, in fact far from it. I like it a lot, its my second favourite restaurant in the toon.. Unlike many dining establishments in the city -not least of which Secco and The Baltic top floor- The Black Door almost delivers on everything it and its price tag promises. In that sense it is something completely different to the Newcastle norm. Its just that when something is so nearly perfect, imperfections appear enlarged. If they could rein these few things in a very very good restaurant could be very very great.