Rarely do students have the opportunity to tuck into a three course meal in the oldest dining room in the UK. Blackfriars confidently lays that claim, dating back to 1239 when a group of friars of the Spanish Dominican Order opted to settled in Newcastle. They got their name from their black and white cloaks, which inspired the Newcastle United colour scheme.
Since then, the historic establishment hosted King Henry III, but the residents were forced to leave when King Henry VIII decreed that all monasteries were to be closed. However, the buildings were granted to the local guilds in 1960, with generations of bakers, butchers and the like preserved the site.
Restauranteurs Sam and Andy Hook embraced the unique setting to open the restaurant itself in 2001, which is where we find ourselves. Approaching the cloisters area of the building, like much of Newcastle, you get a sense of the history, and it has been perfectly adapted to the needs of the modern day.
Inside, the setting is welcoming and rustic, though we had a quick realisation that we were the first through the door at 5.45pm, having opened just 15 minutes before. We were treated to a complimentary glass of bubbly as we sat down, but were slightly conscious of speaking too loudly knowing that it was just us and the staff in the building.
As more people arrived, so did the starters. Three back-pudding fritters, accompanied by shallots and a poached egg, was a light but taste-filled way to start the meal. Being from Manchester, my standards of high, with black pudding production in Bury dating back to 1810. It lived up to my expectations and more, with the runny yolk and pickled shallots perfectly complimenting the crisp fritters, and the dash of ‘broon sauce’ was powerful but not overbearing.
On the other side of the table, a North Sea fishcake was served. It arrived in the centre of the plate in a bed of salad, orbited by a stroke of home-made tartare sauce and a hefty wedge of lemon. The breading of the fishcake was suitably brittle, with satisfaction being taken from breaking the casing, and from the flakiness of the fillet.
Following the fishcake and fritters were the mains: The pan-roasted breast of chicken and the crispy pork belly. The chicken was cooked to perfection, with the light ricotta complimenting the tough and salty bacon. Though the gnocchi that accompanied the dish was fresh, it did lack flavour, and the texture wasn’t pleasurable in the mouth.
The pork dish was full of flavour, with the pork belly’s natural saltiness being matched by the barbecued onions. In terms of texture, the crispiness of the belly’s outer layer was satisfying when combined with the creamy mash potato, though the meat itself was perhaps too chewy.
For dessert, the options sounded so appealing that it was the hardest choice to make on the night. I settled for a sticky toffee pudding, which is a personal favourite at any establishment. As all sticky toffee puddings should, it was served with a very sweet caramel sauce and refreshing ice cream. The ice cream, which always trumps cream, had hints of banana, together with the sauce created that uniquely British banoffee flavour.
The second dessert was a lemon cheesecake with yoghurt ice cream. It’s difficult to go wrong with a lemon-flavoured dessert, and the taste was zesty and refreshing, as it should be. However, the cheesecake was too jelly-like, not being as light and smooth as would be expected of the dish.
Across the three courses, the taste was outstanding, though the food was occasionally let down by some unsatisfying textures. As a whole across the meal, the quantities weren’t too small, though I didn’t leave the restaurant on a full stomach.
The service in the establishment was both swift and pleasant, and we were catered for throughout our meal. As a student, I did feel slightly out of place, wearing jeans surrounded by fully suited and booted customers. However, if you (or your parents) are willing to splash out and dress up nice for a graduation meal in a beautiful location, then there are few better places.