“ Address: 21 Queen Street / Newcastle upon Tyne / NE1 3UG „
Pan Haggerty is a traditional Northumberland dish consisting essentially of onions, potato and cheese though you might find versions containing meat. It's also a smart restaurant on Newcastle's Queen Street, just off the Quayside. I'd mentioned to a colleague that I'd wanted to eat there for a while and she'd obviously been paying attention because she and the rest of the team chipped in a bought me a voucher for the restaurant for my fortieth birthday.
Queen Street is an odd location because it's a little oasis of fine dining within the hustle and bustle of one of the city's main drinking areas so if you're thinking of having a pre- or post-prandial drink, choose the pub carefully. This isn't a formal dining room, I'd say that top end gastro pub is a better description. The decor is done in muted tones of brown with polished floorboards and wooden blinds, and, with its central bar that separates the two dining rooms, there's something of a smart New York bistro about the place. There are no cloths and cutlery is simple but stylish while glassware was pleasingly heavy; there's a sense of quality without excessive formality.
We had booked by telephone but also received a confirmation by email. One side of the restaurant was moderately busy on the Saturday lunchtime we visited but the three waiting staff (which included one very hands on manager) were up to the job and were attentive without being overbearing. Waiting times were fine, if anything I'd have preferred a little longer between courses.
I had seen an advertisement for a special deal in the local edition of Metro but the menus we were presented with bore no relation to this, either in content or price; I only noticed this in retrospect, I was too busy trying to make my choice at the time so I can't claim to be too perturbed. There was an a la carte menu which, to be honest, I only briefly looked over because I'd already found several dishes that appealed from the set lunch menu. There were about five choices each for starter, main and dessert with meat, fish and vegetarian options covered. With the set menu there is the option of going for one, two or three courses; although I ordered my starter and main at the same time, I knew for sure that, unless the portions for the other courses were massive, I'd be having a dessert. The cost for three courses was £17.95.
Additionally there were some 'British classics' options at the bottom of the page which attracted a supplement. I would rather have seen these included in a separate menu as I feel that if a price is set, it should be set; only if you order side dishes should the price increase, otherwise how can the price be fixed? I wonder whether Pan Haggerty has moved away from what I believed its original remit was - modern British food with a focus on local ingredients: to list a few supplementary British dishes rather than making them the main focus suggests that there has been a shift and I did feel that names of local suppliers were a bit thin on the ground. I enjoy feeling just a little smug and self-congratulatory when I choose locally sourced products so I'd have liked to have seen more.
Having discussed who would order what (after all why not get to try as much as possible?) we were ready to order. While we waited for our starters we were brought some warm bread; I'm not sure what kind it was but it had a loose texture as if it had been made with oil (a bit like ciabatta dough) and it had the most wonderful crust. I did add a scrape of butter but really it wasn't necessary, this warm bread was already very buttery!
For my starter I had ordered the black pudding beignets with a spicy tomato ketchup. I had imagined pieces of black pudding in a light batter but what I got was three fried balls of black pudding, the black pudding having been removed from its skin and mashed before being formed. They really were excellent, very peppery just as I like black pudding, though the outside could have been crispier for me. The spicy ketchup was delicious too though it did battle with the black pudding. On the side there was a nest of rocket leaves which I think was a tad too much because it added yet another peppery element to the dish which it didn't need.
Himself had the chickpea chips with an aubergine puree, a harrisa sauce and a cucumber raita. The chips (made from chick pea flour, formed into neat mini bricks) were piled neatly Jenga-style with the harrissa slicked across the plate in that way that has become ubiquitous in recent years but can look like an unpleasant accident depending on the colour. The chips had been cooked until they were a lovely golden colour. The chips themselves weren't packed with flavour but the harrissa sauce was excellent, slightly smoky with all the flavour of harrissa but tempered with (possibly) yoghurt. The aubergine puree was also good, nicely spiced and well balanced with the harrissa. I loved the raita which was fresh and zingy and a worthy addition to the plate; I had wondered whether another element was needed but this worked brilliantly.
My main course pork loin was cooked to perfection. The meat had been well seasoned and in the cooking it had acquired a delicious flavour from the griddle. It was draped over a tasty and moist mash that had a slightly orangey hue but tasted most definitely like mashed potato (it certainly didn't have the sweetness of a mash with carrot, swede or sweet potato). There were bits of pancetta, or some kind of smoked ham, in the mash and it had been seasoned to perfection. A garnish of pea shoots was, perhaps, a little passé but looked pretty all the same.
The sea bream dish was delicious but we both thought that the skin should have been crispy. It was a summery looking dish, fresh and light and colourful. The perfectly cooked fillet of sea bream was perched on slices of potato with a light broth or dressing poured over the top. The flavours were delicate but distinctive and nicely balanced. The bacon lardons weren't excessively salty so they didn't overpower the delicate flavour of the fish and they added a splash of colour. A token spinach leaf was over-wilted though it tasted fine.
We had forgotten to ask about vegetables and none were suggested and though we felt a little bit guilty for not thinking of our 'five a day', we did feel very full after our meal and didn't feel the meals had been lacking in any way.
Himself rarely has a dessert but the cheeseboard tempted him and kept him quiet while I gorged on a sinfully creamy rice pudding with a toffee sauce. The rice pudding was really more of a sweet risotto, made with (I think) arborio or carnaroli rice, plump nuggets of rice rather than a long grain. The toffee sauce was gorgeous even if it wasn't really needed (there was a bit too much of it as well).
The cheeseboard looked rather dull and we were talking when the final courses arrived so we didn't get a chance to ask what cheeses had been selected. One was definitely a hard goats cheese, another a mature cheddar and the third a camembert of some kind. As the chutney contained huge chunks of celery I couldn't bring myself to try it (one of the only foods I will not eat) though Himself declared it to be good. Three varieties of little oatcakes were served with the cheese. When the plates were taken we asked what the cheeses had been and the waiter knew straightaway (a Northumberland Camembert, Elsdon goats cheese and a cheddar from somewhere that escapes me now). It was a good selection and we appreciated the local choices though a blue cheese would have been a good inclusion and I did feel the camembert could have been a bit more ripe.
I do feel that Pan Haggerty has strayed from its original premise; there's lots of great local produce but I didn't feel it was highlighted much in the menus on offer at the time of our visit. Still, the food was good - original, delicious and well presented for the most part. Care had obviously been taken with seasoning and the food tasted as good as it looked.
Lunch for two with a bottle of excellent Sicilian pinot grigio came to a shade under £55 which seemed fair to me given the quality of the ingredients, the cooking and the portion sizes. I would not hesitate to recommend Pan Haggerty and I am pretty sure that I'll go back.