“ Cuisine: Cafe / Location: Hutton House, 1 Hutton Terrace, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1QT „
We were recently out for another family meal and thought this place would be a good idea as it's open on a Sunday and we really didn't want a pub lunch.
The restaurant is situated on the corner of a side road in Jesmond, and has free parking behind the restaurant. We went on a Sunday and because the road consists predominantly of offices, it was very quiet and there was plenty of free on road parking. It does look quite unprepossessing being in a row of large terraced houses and is accessed via a door at the side of the building.
Inside, the restaurant is light and airy with table tops being covered with red and green cloths, so very Italian looking rather than having a more general Meditteranean feel as I was expecting. There are plenty of pictures on the walls but other than this, is quite devoid of any other adornments. The bar area is small and diners are taken straight to tables rather than invited to linger at the bar; I saw no chairs or stools in the bar area so it wouldn't be very comfortable.
We were quickly taken to our table and brought a high chair for small grandson, and then given menus. In just the right amount of time to get ourselves settled, we were asked for our drinks order and then got down to the menu
There is a regular and day time menu available until 5pm, and featuring lighter snacks and meals. Food can also be ordered in advance and collected to eat at home. As well as the normal menus Happy Hour offers selected pizzas and pastas for £3.50. We decided to choose from the regular menu.
The menu features the usual categories of dishes: Appetisers, Starters, To Share; Pizza; Pasta; Risotto, Meat; Seafoods, Salads and side dishes. It veers very heavily towards Italian influenced dishes.
For starters we tend to like to get a selection of dishes to share and pick at while chatting, so chose a selection of Bruschetta at £2.25, bread and olives (£1.95), and garlic bread with tomato (£2.25). the Bruschetta was especially tasty, with lots of tomato and onion on top of large pieces of crusty bread and drizzled with some high quality olive oil. We had 6 starters in total and there was plenty for us, as they were all large portions.
One member of the group chose Chicken kiev (£8.95), which when it arrived was a large breaded chicken breast filled with garlic and herb butter served with chips (the option of salad was turned down). Another two chose Chicken milanese (£7.95) and again chips were the favoured accompaniment. Because chips had been chosen by two people sitting next to each other they came in a large bowl, containing more than enough chunky chips for two people. The chicken was nicely cooked and the breasts were of a high quality, with the portions being more than enough to satisfy teenagers! Ne criticism I would have is that the coating on the chicken kiev looked greasy, although no complaints from my son.
There was the usual selection of pizzas, so I chose the vegetarian option, (£4.50) as also did a vegetarian member of the party. The crusts were just as I like them, thin and crusty and they were laden down with lots of vegetables. It was advertised as being a pizza topped with seasonal vegetables, and whilst there were plenty of peppers and onions, I was surprised to see lots of carrots on the pizza. Tasty enough but I really could have done without the carrots.
My mum, who is a real fan of risotto, chose Chicken & mushroom risotto(£6.75) with white wine, cream & parmesan and wanted it without the cream which the staff were happy to provide. She is quite fussy about her risotto but when this dish arrived, she declared it as delicious, with the risotto being cooked to perfection.
Two of the party chose the pizza quarto stagioni,(£4.95) 1 without mushrooms which were of the same good quality as my own pizza.
Not being a big dessert eater I opted instead for a coffee while Little Miss had a sticky toffee pudding which was a very large portion (too big for her) and very toffee tasting. The downside to the desserts is that they were quite ordinary and obviously not cooked on the premises
There didn't seem to be a children's menu, and because we knew grandson wouldn't eat a full portion, he had a little bit of everything and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For 7 meals plus drinks including a bottle of wine, the meal came to about £70 which I thought represented good value
Address: Hutton House, 1 Hutton Tce., Jesmond. NE2 1QT
Telephone: 0191 2399586
A good place for a lunchtime meal. I would imagine a lot of the business is week time lunch as it is set amongst lots of offices and does a lunch time value menu. It's not particularly "special" and so probably not somewhere I would go for a night out.
The staff are friendly and helpful and accommodate different wants, the food is decent and the atmosphere pleasant. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, and the restaurant was more than half full
Decent enough for a lunchtime meal
Thanks for reading
Recently a fellow review writer commented on one of my restaurant reviews that I sound like I am a hard person to please. If that means that I am disappointed by what is average, or let down by what is mediocre, then I suppose I am. When I go to a restaurant the food has to be better than what I could make myself; I enjoy cooking, for myself and my partner, and for others, so the mere convenience of having someone else cook the food does not automatically score points with me; the food has to be really tasty and well presented, it should use quality ingredients and I should get the impression that the chef, the staff and owner care about the meals they are producing.
Some of the best meals I have eaten have been in shabby surroundings; simple traditional dishes served unfussily letting the food do the talking. One such memorable meal was eaten in a tiny café in the noisy and crowded medina in Tunis; from our table on a rickety balcony we could see the chefs sweating in the miniscule kitchen and this heightened our anticipation. When the wonderfully aromatic lamb stew was brought to the table, the waiter extracted a huge loaf from the pocket of his grubby white coat and tore off a hunk which he put down on the bare, cracked Formica table top. Put down a plate of tasty food and I am easy to please.
Café Med, in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, is not nearly as exciting as eating in Tunis's atmospheric market, but I still expect to be served tasty food cooked by someone who cares about what they're serving up. I didn't know much about the restaurant - just the name really - when I bought a Groupon voucher entitling me to three courses for two people up to the value of £30, for just £10. Our drinks and anything over the £30 would have to be paid for additionally at the restaurant. From the name and from a brief description of the restaurant and what it does, I expected the menu to comprise a selection of dishes from Spain, Italy, Greece, North Africa and Turkey (not strictly the Med but close enough and the cuisine fits the bill); I was interested to see what they'd included as those cuisines encompass a huge variety of dishes and distinctive ingredients.
I telephoned at lunchtime and reserved a table for early that same evening. I was asked if I was taking advantage of any promotions and said I had the Groupon voucher. As it happened there was only a handful of diners in the restaurant when we arrived, although it did get steadily busier and about three quarters of the tables were occupied by the time we left.
The restaurant is situated about ten minutes walk from Newcastle City Centre and a minute from Jesmond Metro station. Buses from the city centre going to the Freeman Hospital or to the coast, stop on Sandyford Road, just near the end of Hutton Terrace. There is limited parking in the streets around the restaurant. I was unimpressed by the flashing neon sign for Café Med; it gave the impression of a back street 'massage parlour' and seemed inappropriate for this establishment. The restaurant is housed in what appears to be a series of former residential properties knocked into one but the entrance is rather disappointingly stuck on the side of the building at the end of the terrace and it looks a bit downmarket. There is a benefit to this however, it allows the restaurant to have a very small vestibule, rather than having the front door open directly into the restaurant, saving space and avoiding the inconvenience of having icy blasts of coldness in winter each time the door opens.
The décor is very simple and, while it looks like everything has been done cheaply, it is quite cosy, especially with the lights turned down, and comfortable. On the downside, it was difficult to read the menu and to get a good look at our food, especially as it was growing dark outside. One thing I really did not like was the television set hanging above the counter, which showed the BBC news channel continuously - not what people really want when they go out for a relaxed meal, as if it wasn't downmarket enough to have a television playing anyway. At the tiny bar/counter we were given a menu each and informed that there was a £2 surcharge for steaks and for king prawn dishes. It was not made clear that this was only applicable to Groupon customers (although some tiny print on the coupon did say that there were some exceptions; they take this from you when you arrive, presumably so that disgruntled customers cannot refer back to it if they're unhappy), and it did make us wonder why you wouldn't just change the prices on the menu. We were told what was unavailable but not informed what the soup of the day was, nor were the specials pointed out to us on a chalkboard on the wall (fortunately we spotted these ourselves though they really should have been mentioned as we could choose from these according to the terms and conditions).
We were shown to a table in a dark corner and, for the second time recently in a restaurant, the waiter hovered right on my shoulder as I struggled to take off my coat, stash my bags out of the way and squeeze into my seat. This mini ordeal immediately wound me up and probably had the effect of making me more critical than I might otherwise have been. We were told that the drinks menu was on a sheet of paper that had been folded and stapled to make a three sided tube (if such a thing exists); this looked cheap and nasty and there were food stains on it. We ordered a bottle of the house red which turned out to be a bottle of Canti, which I can buy by the bucket load in Tesco; I don't have any major objection to this wine but I would prefer to have something a bit different in a restaurant, even if it is just the house plonk (perhaps by decanting it into a carafe, I might have been persuaded that I was getting something other than a Tesco cheapie).
For all the talk of being a "Mediterranean" restaurant the menu was decidedly Italian with fairly extensive lists of pasta and pizza at the core of the offerings. The main courses were mainly chicken and steak dishes but there was a lamb kleftico (another dish which attracted a supplement) which stood out as being interesting and different. I wasn't sure why the whole sea bass priced at £10.95 did not attract a supplement given that it's an expensive fish, while king prawns did. A note above the main courses stated that all meals were served with a choice of chips, salad or vegetables unless otherwise stated. The starters were decidedly dated, a real trip down 1970s memory lane: there was chicken liver pate, garlic mushrooms, melon, prawn cocktail - only the egg mayonnaise was missing. We'd been told the mezze starter for two was not available which was a shame as we'd have probably shared one of these; there was, however, a world "sharer" plate that included spring rolls and samosas - and therefore not Mediterranean at all (I'll also wager that neither of those items are made from scratch on the premises).
I decided on the calamari to start and, for my main course, chicken souvlaki which, according to the menu would be served with Mediterranean vegetables. However, when I ordered I was given the choice, but still asked for the vegetables. Himself asked for the meatballs and mushrooms in a tomato sauce to start, followed by chicken piri piri. He was given a choice of accompaniment and chose the chips (which would have sounded better described in a Mediterranean restaurant as French fries, or just fries). The orders were taken and this would have been a good time to suggest bread or olives to nibble on but nothing was suggested.
The starters arrived a little too quickly but as the restaurant was still fairly quiet at this point we convinced ourselves that we were just lucky to have come in at the right time. I was disappointed by my tiny heap of battered squid rings; what made this look even stingier was the enormous pile of shredded iceberg lettuce and red onion on the plate beside it. Really, this dish should be mostly squid, with a salad garnish and by the time my main course came, chicken skewers lying atop another much bigger pile of salad (and unsolicited salad at that), I'd just about had my fill of lettuce and red onion. The squid was just edging towards rubberiness but the batter was delicate and crisp; I couldn't decide whether these were made from scratch or bought in but the small size of the rings led me to suspect they were made from scratch. The lemon mayonnaise that was served with the calamari was quite nice with a lovely balance of acidity and creaminess but it was clearly from a jar - the whiteness of the mayonnaise said as much. The meatballs and mushrooms dish looked quite appealing but on closer inspection it turned out that the meatballs and sauce were hiding a slice of bread. What was the reason for this piece of (now horribly soggy) bread? Still, the meatballs were OK, nothing to get excited about but they had a nice texture and the sauce was tangy. When the plates were taken we were asked had we enjoyed the starters; when I said that mine was OK the waitress did a double-take and looked at me in surprise, but didn't ask any more.
The next course arrived too quickly for my liking. Neither dish required a really long cooking time so it's likely that the cooking was started earlier than necessary. I was confused from the outset; three chicken souvlaki sat criss crossed on top of a vast mound of shredded iceberg, large pieces of cucumber sliced lengthways and half rings of red onion. At first I though the salad wasn't dressed but the section under the kebabs, in the middle of the plate was drowned in oil; if this was meant to be a dressing it was a poor one - under-seasoned, if at all, and all oil, with no acidity from vinegar or lemon juice, and being a Mediterranean restaurant there really should have been some herbs in there too. There appeared to be no colour to the pieces of chicken; there was a cursory sprinkling of something indistinguishable but none of the delicious charring you'd expect to see on souvlaki. Likewise, the green peppers and pieces of courgette - some of the pieces of courgette were round, some were half rounds and this looked terrible - were hardly cooked when they should have been nicely softened and the courgettes in particular should have taken on a lovely charred flavour. The wooden skewers hadn't been soaked so the chicken clung tenaciously to them and I had to ask Himself to de-skewer them as my slightly arthritic fingers could not meet the challenge. But, having seen on the menu that this dish came with Mediterranean vegetables, was it lying on such a huge mound of salad? Actually, the vegetables - two pieces of broccoli, two pieces of cauliflower and a few batons of carrot (that latter had been drowned in butter) - arrived moments later, along with a bowl of very dark chips which were to accompany the piri piri chicken. If you'd have been served them in a fish and chip shop you'd have said it was time to change the oil. I was worried by the chicken; I couldn't see it very well and I was concerned that it might not be properly cooked. One of the waiting staff asked if everything was OK and I explained that as the chicken had no colour I was concerned it might not be cooked thoroughly. She gave the impression that she was going to ask someone about this but after several minutes she could be seen chatting with her colleagues at the counter and nobody had come over. It was not until I caught the eye of one of them who appeared to be more senior that he came over. I explained that I preferred slightly more light to be able to see my meal and know I was eating properly cooked chicken; he assured me it was cooked properly and when I asked about the colour, he told me that they have been serving chicken like that since October and nobody had complained, however, if I wanted they would give me an alternative. As Himself was voraciously tucking into his piri piri chicken and the restaurant was becoming quite busy I decided against and said I'd keep the meal but that I found it quite disappointing.
The piri piri chicken was slightly better but nowhere near great. The chicken was OK but not very flavoursome and it would have been better to have marinated the chicken and served it with the sauce, rather than just cooking it and throwing the sauce over the top as we suspected was the case. The presentation was quite lazy, the sauce just poured over the chicken breast; it would have looked nicer had the breast been sliced and the sauce poured over the fanned out pieces. The sauce was distinctly average and lacked that fiery kick that piri piri is meant to have; perhaps if they don't want to serve it too hot, they could ask how hot you'd like your sauce and cook it accordingly; again, I suspect that the reason they don't is that they rely heavily on ready made things.
The plates were cleared rather too promptly and we were asked if we'd like a dessert. The desserts were also listed on the grubby paper thing on the table. Tiramisu from the menu and the sticky toffee pudding from the specials board were not available in the Groupon offer and would have to be paid for at full price if we wanted them. Of what was left only the banana split and the ice cream were suitable for someone (me) with a nut allergy. All of the puddings are bought in which is a real let down. It's really boring when you are allergic to nuts to almost always have the ice cream for dessert, it's especially annoying when that's because the restaurant is using bought in desserts that can't be guaranteed nut free. My strawberry ice cream was dull, cheap strawberry ice cream - not even a nice ice cream with fruit in it - and it was served up like a school dinner ice cream in a boring ceramic bowl with a squirt of aerosol cream and a drizzle of 'monkey's blood'. Himself asked what kind the cheesecake was; he was told, in a hesitant manner, blackcurrant with some 'strawberries on top'; for that red strawberry cheesecake, nasty cheap, full of artificial flavourings strawberry cheesecake slopped onto the plate with a squirt of cream at each corner. I'd be ashamed to serve that up at home so Cafe Med should be doubly ashamed to serve such rubbish at £3.50 for a miniscule, sloppy slice.
Coffees were offered but declined; we went home and put the coffee machine on. We'd been pretty sure that Cafe Med would try to charge us for something we hadn't had but we were presented with a bill for £8.50 only, the price of the wine. Despite being difficult customers we were still bade a friendly thanks and goodbye (inwardly I'll bet we were being cursed).
I'm loathe to write off Cafe Med completely; our meals may have been mediocre at best but I suspect that, priced at £3.50 during the nightly happy hour, the pasta and pizza options are probably spot on. I'll even suggest that outside of the promotional time this section of the menu is reasonable value. If they were better executed I'd even say that the mains would be excellent value. The trouble is that the menu is dated, and the food is bland, carelessly cooked and presented unimaginatively. I was surprised how busy the place was and how many customers seemed to be regulars. There's no chance of me ever joining their number.