“ Address: 44 Osborne Road / Jesmond / Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 2AL / Tel: 0191 281 9111 „
BY necessity this is a looooong review
Clam chowder; New England lobsters; Cajun chicken; jambalaya, chilli poppers; crawfish pie; gumbo; pumpkin pie; chilli tacos; pancakes with maple syrup. Three thousand miles coast to coast and a cuisine that's as varied as the states within its borders. When I read that Newcastle's Ru Bar and Restaurant had an "American inspired menu" I was excited and bought the Groupon that would entitle us to up to £40.90 of food (for which we paid about £19) - that is starters and mains for two people. We'd have to pay on top for our drinks and there were supplements on a couple of the dishes, but these were listed on the voucher. I telephoned the restaurant a day in advance and had no problem booking a table.
Where are RU?
The restaurant is in the well-heeled and leafy Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, on Osborne Road, a classier alternative to the Bigg Market in the city centre. Like most of the other bar restaurants on Osborne Road, Ru is part of a hotel, this one being the Kenilworth. Until fairly recently the restaurant had a Spanish theme and, I'm told, was pretty poor. I'm not sure whether this is an entirely new enterprise or simply a re-branding. It was a very wet and miserable evening when we visited. We'd had a ten minute walk from West Jesmond Metro station and we were pretty drenched.
A staff member who, it later transpired, was the manager, showed us to a table. At the front of the restaurant there's a bar and a low level seating area with leather chairs and sofas, while the rear of the main room and an annexe (there's a painted sign above the entrance to the annexe that announces "boudoir" - I found this laughable). Two women were sitting on a sofa near the entrance and we were seated further back near the kitchen door. There were no other customers when we arrived. I noticed there are clunky old style telephones on the tables - Ru may think they ar a quirky design statement - I'd have been tempted to see if they could hook you up with Dominoes to order a pizza.
The walls are painted a dark teal colour, with one wall clad in a rather quirky wall paper with images of monkeys among swirling vines; I liked it a lot. Later I was glad I'd liked it as there was not much else to enjoy. I thought with the teal walls and the dark furniture there was a bit of a New Orleans thing going on, but only very tenuously, I'm pretty sure it wasn't deliberate. By the way Ru - that massive TV on the wall looks cheap and doesn't improve your image - just the opposite.
Time for a bRUWe'd just sat down when the waitress came to take our drinks order. We asked if there was a drinks menu; there wasn't but the waitress said she could tell us what there was. As this was a silly proposition - where would you start - it is after all a BAR and restaurant, I asked what beers there were - there were three and none were American. When I asked why they didn't offer an American beer the waitress looked blank for a second and then told me in a cheery, brainwave type of way "Oh, we have Budwar". I asked whether she meant Budweiser or Budwar - "Definitely Budweiser" I was told. She came back a moment later to tell me it was Budwar but still American. Oh yes, from that part of the States called the Czech Republic! Now I remember....
The waitress told us that they only served half pints but brought up two 500ml bottles of beer; a half litre is not the same as a half pint. Did she make a mistake? Or did she think a half litre serving is woefully small and felt she needed to apologise for this miserly amount of beer? The only consolation was that at £3 each these beers were relatively cheap for this area for a half litre bottle of a premium brand.
The tRUth about the menu
Two Budwars later (by this point we had to order SOMETHING - couldn't be bothered to ascertain whether they had a decent Californian wine but I doubt it) we're trying to get to grips with the menu. The dominant menu choice is the burger: fair play, it's a classic American choice and there were plenty of different ways to have your burger, of which some sounded more palatable than others. The "Geordie" burger came with black pudding - I kind of like the idea but I can't imagine that in practice it would be very good. There was a "vodka" burger - this one came with a hot salsa that contained vodka for an extra kick. A note on the menu said that the meat for the burgers came from producers no more than thirty miles from the restaurant. I did mean to press them on this and enquire further but in the hullabaloo I forgot to.
There were a couple of steak options, piri piri chicken (Portuguese not American, of course) and North Shields cod, battered and served with chips. It was, If I'm honest, disappointingly un-American. Steaks and burgers are certainly appropriate but I wouldn't necessarily say that a restaurant offering those things had a distinctive American theme.
Back-tracking to the starters also raised some eyebrows. A note at the top of the section described this selection as great for sharing and, indeed, several of them were billed as "platters" including one rather un-American one that included olives, hummus, cheesy dips and pita bread. Nachos fitted the bill - I'd have been amazed if they couldn't have dreamt up that one.
The RUles of Engagement
Himself asked me to check our voucher to see how much we could spend before we had to pay the surplus. It was looking good - our voucher was for food up to the value of £40.90 which meant we'd be unlikely to have pay extra. But hold on a moment - looking at the prices it was hard to see how you could come anywhere near to that. The most expensive burger was a "tower burger" priced at £10.50. If we both had that and shared the most expensive platter to start we'd still only have spent about £33. Even if we both had starters and both had steaks we'd still be nowhere near - plus the steaks had a surcharge.
As the realisation that the offer was not as good as it had originally appeared was starting to sink in, the waitress came to take our Groupon voucher. I started to ask her about the cost versus the amount of spend allowed but she interrupted and told me there were surcharges and quoted them; or should I say mis-qouted them as they didn't match what was on the voucher and I pointed this out. "Well something like that, I don't know exactly" she told me.
I asked to see the manager, a request which resulted in a fifteen minute wait; when he came to the table he drew up a chair and sat with us - regular readers of my restaurant reviews will know this is a no-no as far as I am concerned. It was an uphill struggle to get this guy to understand what we were trying to say; he wasn't listening or, at least, he didn't answer the questions I'd asked. It turned out there were more surcharges than the voucher stated - there was a surcharge of £2 for any dish that was listed on the menu at £10 or over. The Geordie burger was listed as £7.25 but attracted a £2 surcharge. Even the £10.50 Tower Burger (and at that price I'm thinking the tower in question should be the Sears at the very least) incurred a £2 charge.
"Don't think it's good for us" said the manager. "We're losing out here giving you this deal". Oh no, my friend (by the time we left I'd say we most certainly weren't friends) if you can't supply what you're offering without making a loss then you're in the wrong trade! f the restaurant lets you believe you can get up to £40.90 worth of food and then surcharges you on everything, they are hardly being fair. Your surcharge can't be paid out of your £40.90 - but you probably guessed that, otherwise why have a surcharge. Basically they can't afford to do what they've promised so by imposing surcharges at every verse end, they make sure they don't lose out.
I pointed out that two relatively expensive mains and one shared starter platter wouldn't take us near the £40.90. The manger told us that if we ordered two platters to start then it would. But the platters are advertised as "great for sharing". "No", he told us, "the platters are for one person". So why, I asked, does it say they are good for sharing? "Because some times a group of four women might come in and they don't want a full meal, just something to nibble, so they order the sharing platter". So if four can share it, why wouldn't two? "Because they are just little plates". Let me get this straight - because I'm not really grasping this - four women come in and share a tiny platter that's meant really for one person. "Yes, that's right". So you're telling me that your seafood platter, which costs - at £11.95 (and for which we'd have to pay a £2 surcharge) - more than most of the main courses on the menu is just a little plate of fried seafood. "Yes, that's right". Me: "I think you are having a laugh, but we're getting nowhere so I will reserve judgement and wait to be wowed by the food because at these prices it must be very special".
At one the point the chef walked past and I called him over "Are these platters on the starters listed meant to be for sharing?" "Chef: "Yes, they are for two people" Manager: "No he's wrong, they are for one person." So now the chef doesn't even know what's he's doing.
I ordered the "Blooming onion" to start - described as "Spicy fried onion with a rich mayo dip (great for sharing)" (£4.95) to be followed by the lamb burger with mint dressing (£7.25). Himself ordered "the great for sharing Ru platter for one" (this was the one that had the hummus, etc) and to follow it the piri piri chicken which, the menu informed us, came with fries and salad (£9.95).
By this point another couple had arrived so we were no longer dining alone, but the length of time it took for our starters to arrive was excessive to say the least, especially when you take into consideration the fact that on them was a cold (sharing) platter (for one) of olives and dips. The onion dish was a curious thing: how it could be great for sharing is beyond me. It was a whole onion that appeared to have been cooked in the microwave and not fried as described on the menu. Slits had been cut into the top, presumably to make it open out but it only did partially. Some type of vaguely spicy mixture had been brushed onto the slits before baking. Only the outer layer of the onion was cooked: the rest was completely raw. There was a little dish of garlic mayonnaise, not homemade by the look of it; quite why you'd serve this soggy onion with it, again, I could not imagine. I did try the combination but it didn't work; the mayonnaise slithered over the greasy surface of the onion in a most unpleasant way. This dish needed to be eaten with a knife and fork so it really wasn't a suitable dish for sharing. There was a sizeable pile of salad leaves dotted with tiny pieces of diced red and yellow pepper but the leaves were completely dry; I asked if there was a salad dressing and the waitress went to the kitchen to ask; when she returned she told me that there was oil and vinegar in the wooden condiments holder on the table. I hadn't noticed that at first as these items were on the opposite side of the condiments holder; on my side there was a big bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup and a couple of sad little sachets of mustard. I thought this was a bit cheap and tawdry. Sachets are for McDonalds and Wetherspoon's, I don't expect to find them in Jesmond and certainly not somewhere that serves £11.95 starters. While we're on the subject of condiments, malt vinegar is not what I want as a dressing, ideally; if this place is as upmarket as it thinks it is, they'll take my advice and provide white wine vinegar for dressing salads.
The (great for sharing) platter (for one) (£8.95) was, as we suspected it might be, certainly more than enough for one. Six half pieces of pita bread (so three whole pitas), with a dish of green and black olives, a pile of salad leaves, and dishes of "cheese whizz", a bland hummus and a blue cheese dip (but from the consistency I'd be more inclined to say dressing). The olives were feeble: pitted olives straight out of a jar or can. They were small and pathetic; there were plenty of them but I'd have preferred to see fewer olives, but have tasty marinated ones, or else unpitted and big juicy, fleshy kalamatas. This screamed cheap and nasty. Why would you serve cheese whizz (that brightly coloured orange dip so beloved of Americans) on what's essentially a Mediterranean platter? This dish was such a mismatch of ideas and it really didn't work
The plates were whipped away pretty fast with a cursory "Was that OK for you?" I did make the point that most of the onion I'd been served was raw and the waitress said she'd let the kitchen know but I said she shouldn't bother as I didn't expect a reasonable response. To be fair, I shouldn't have been so grumpy with her, it wasn't her fault but I was really beginning to Ru this choice of restaurant.
The mains came out as soon as the starters had been cleared away. I was starting to feel a bit queasy after that onion (I left the raw bit) so when I lifted the top off my burger I was not cheered to see how many thick slices of raw red onion were lurking there. I'll concede that the burger looked impressive - it was very tall, mainly because of the many onion rings (on top of as well as below the meat), but also because of the two large pieces of little gem lettuce. It wasn't the sort of burger you could easily pick up, partly because of the height, but also because it contained so many wet ingredients: it was swimming in mint sauce, drowning in ketchup and topped off with a squirt of runny mayonnaise. I removed the lettuce but there was already a mound of the same undressed leaves there's been on the starters. This wasn't so much a garnish as a garden; it would make sense to do a variation on the salad if you're going to present starters and mains with it otherwise it gets very dull. The plate was too small, I had to put the lettuce on the table if I was going to use my knife and fork on the burger and that was the only way I could tackle it. There was so much gunk that the bottom half of the bun was completely soggy. The meat was very delicious and very nicely cooked but would have been nicer had it not been so heavily covered with the mint sauce.
The piri piri chicken went down much better though purists would point out that as it was marinaded then cooked, it wasn't very authentic (the sauce should be served WITH the chicken). The piri piri could have been a bit hotter but tasted fine nonetheless and the large homemade (I hope) chips were very tasty (it's a shame that none were served with the burger). Again there was a mound of salad. Both plates had been splashed with a balsamic dressing, whether by accident or by way of decoration or what was meant to be a salad dressing is unclear; one thing is for sure, you still couldn't say the salad had been dressed.
When the plates were collected we asked immediately for the bill so I can't enlighten you as to what desserts were deemed "American inspired"; given the rest of menu I dread to think. I guess we were lucky to get the two mint chocolates that came with the bill; I'd have left them out if I'd been the waitress serving us.
How was it for RU?
Now I've had more time to mull it over I'm still convinced our complaints were justified. My advice to Ru is that you shouldn't offer something if it leaves you out of pocket, personally I think that was a lame excuse but even if it's true it's bad business. I do feel conned by this offer and I will make a point in the future of not buying a Groupon offer anywhere unless I know for sure I'll be getting a good deal. With Ru being in Jesmond I'd expected better but I believe this place is all about looks and there's no substance to what they do. The menu is confused, the choices bizarre given the theme they try to push and the décor doesn't go with the supposed menu theme either. If you want to charge these prices the food needs to be excellent and you need to give the impression of style and class; that doesn't work if you have a chalkboard on the wall advertising a "full English breakfast" when it should be offering some tempting specials like crab cakes or Cajun blackened salmon - dishes that sound tempting and fit in with the menu theme.
I read on their website that the restaurant is called Ru after Ruthenium, element 44 in the periodic table, and the restaurant is at 44 Osborne Road. If I hadn't read that I might have assumed it was Ru for Rubbish. I also read on another website that they brought in the services of a PR company for their re-branding. They should probably be called Ru(bbish) too because they've failed to create a convincing brand with a defined image both in terms of the restaurant environment and the menu.
Other places I've bought Groupons for recently have been absolutely packed with other Groupon diners; this is the only one that's been virtually empty. It's pretty obvious why that is. Disinterested management, muddled, the patchy quality of the food and a lack of focus on direction: tRUly disappointing.