“ Address: 27 Broad Chare / Newcastle upon Tyne / England / NE1 3DQ / Tel: 0191 232 1331 „
I haven't written a restaurant review in a few weeks now, which is unusual as they're usually my favourite reviews to write. It's not that I haven't been to restaurants recently, because I have, but I just haven't been anywhere that has been excellent or terrible enough to inspire me to write about them. I went to a Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh which was great but not that exciting, a Japanese restaurant in Glasgow which is usually excellent but disappointed me on my last visit, and a Mexican restaurant back in the capital which was indescribably average. I had to go back to my home turf to find somewhere fantastic enough to persuade me to put on my writing cap again.
Said restaurant is none other than Caffe Vivo, located on the Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne. I went home for a few days over Easter and to celebrate my parents decided to take me to a restaurant which they had recently discovered and were obsessed with. My mother loves Italian food at the best of times, but she described their interesting and unique dishes as nothing short of perfect, and insisted that we go whether I liked it or not. I did.
Caffe Vivo fits nicely into its Quayside surroundings, with its attractive front looking as nice and stylish as the rest of the area. The inside is no different, with a smart yet relaxed feel which is welcoming and comfortable. We had booked a table as the restaurant can often get busy on Thursday nights, but when we arrived at 8 o'clock only half of the tables were full. This was nice as it didn't feel too empty or overcrowded, but I would still book the next time I go just in case it's busier than expected. We were sat at a table and were handed two menus: the a la carte menu, and the fixed price menu with a few extra dishes on for a lower price.
At the top of the menu there was an aperitivo recommended, and since we liked the sound of it (I don't remember exactly what was in it except for blood orange juice) my mam and I both had one and my dad had a beer. We were given a basket of bread to share with some oil and vinegar to dip it into, and it was all delicious and fresh tasting. The choice of both starters and mains was fairly varied and excellent, with many traditional Italian foods as well as some more unusual ones on offer. The bizarrest thing on the menu was the parmesan custard with anchovy toast, which is real custard made with parmesan cheese instead of sugar to make it cheesy and savoury instead of sweet. My dad had had it the last time he'd went and raved about it so my mam chose it without hesitation. I took a while to decide between my usual favourite, calamari, and mushroom fritters served with buffallo mozzarella, though really I could have had anything on the menu as it all sounded excellent. I would normally go for calamari without hesitation, as I would count squid as one of my favourites if not my absolute favourite food, but after having some in the Japanese restaurant I mentioned earlier which disappointed me, I was worried that it too would be a let down. After discovering that it was grilled rather than battered, however, I really couldn't resist it. My dad went for potato and garlic soup from the fixed price menu, as soups with garlic as one of the key ingredients are a rarity but one that he finds delicious.
It didn't take too long for the starters to arrive, and I was very impressed with them before I'd even tasted anything. My squid was indeed grilled, and came on a bed of rocket with chilli and lemon giving the dish more taste as well as giving it a bit of moisture. I have to say that I have eaten some excellent squid in my time as I eat it almost constantly every time I go to Spain, so I didn't have ridiculously high hopes, but Caffe Vivo's calamari greatly exceeded my expectations. It was exquisite. It was cooked to perfection, and the chilli, lemon and rocket that came with it complemented it perfectly. It was by far the best squid that I have had outside of Spain, and was even better than a lot of what I have had there. My mam and dad both tried it as well and agreed that it was amazing, and all three of us were impressed that it came with a few tentacles as well as not being boring rings. My mam's parmesan custard with anchovy toast was as delicious as it was unusual, with the cheesiness seeming to suit the custard perfectly, and it was a very nice starter. My dad's soup was gorgeous as well, but I have to say that my squid was the best of all.
After the starters, we had high hopes for our mains. The decision for what to eat next was as difficult as it had been for the starters, with everything on both menus looking very nice. There was a selection of pasta, risotto, meat and fish to choose from, and while I was very tempted by sea bass or risotto, in the end I went for chicken milanese with spaghetti pomodoro as the waitress said that it was very good. My mam went for veal and ricotta meatballs, and my dad had the haddock and leek risotto, again from the fixed price menu.
We again didn't have long to wait for the main course (though it took long enough to make me believe that it was freshly cooked), and it looked amazing when it arrived. My chicken milanese (a breaded squashed chicken fillet with breadcrumbs, rather like a schnitzel) was deliciously buttery, and the spaghetti pomodoro which accompanied it was as gorgeous as it was simple, and the two complemented eachother very well. I loved how simple my meal was, yet how interesting and tasty the flavours were. My mam's meatball dish looked very small at first, with three (albeit large) meatballs looking fairly lonely in the middle of a large plate. They came with a side of potatoes which made the meal more substantial, however, and despite the fact that they didn't look like a lot, my mam found it hard to finish them all. Both meatballs and potatoes were amazing and rich in flavour, and I would be very tempted to have them next time. My dad's risotto was very well cooked and creamy, and my dad described it as being like 'a creamy fishy rice pudding - but nice', which may sound bizarre but was gorgeous.
I really wanted a dessert and was tempted by the olive oil cake (mainly to see what it would be) or by the Italian cheeses, but the first two courses had filled me up to much to really be able to eat any more. Instead we each had a coffee, and I had one of the three grappas that they offered. It was unusual but a very nice end to an excellent meal.
In total the meal cost around £110, which may sound like a lot for three people, but isn't actually too bad when you bear in mind that we had two courses each, a bottle of wine, an extra large glass of wine, two aperitivos, a beer, a spirit and three coffees between us. I was glad that my parents were paying, but I wouldn't say that it was too much to spend on a treat.
If you'd like to see a full menu with prices to give you an idea of what else you could have at Caffe Vivo, you can find menus at http://www.caffevivo.co.uk/menus.htm. The a la carte menu has changed somewhat from what is advertised on the website, however, so you are best of just seeing what exactly they have when you get there. The website also has some interesting information such as how to get there as well as other restaurants which they own, if you are interested.
In conclusion, as you may have gathered, I absolutely adored Caffe Vivo and will definitely go again the next time that I am in Newcastle if I can. The food, the wine, the service and the ambience were all brilliant, and I can't think of anything that I would complain about. The waitresses were friendly without being overly chatty, and were very helpful when we queried a few things on the menu. I really couldn't recommend a Newcastle restaurant more, and would say that the quality of food was equal to that of Petit Paris in Edinburgh, which I reviewed and raved about a couple of months ago. So if you find yourself in Newcastle in the near future, I implore you to go to Caffe Vivo, if only to try the best squid in Britain.