We enter Blackfriars and are seated immediately at a small table by the door, with an unrestricted view of the space in all its oak-panelled splendour yet intimate enough to fuel exchange of banter of whatever quality you see fit. I was surprised by the location – the 13th century friary itself is juxtaposed between The Gate and Westgate Road, becoming noticeably much quieter than its surroundings.
Artisanal bread is and butter hastily brought by a smiling waitress, and our alcoholic pursuits of choice ordered: a delightful Grigio I sincerely regret not getting the name of, although perhaps had I done you would find me chasing down my cornflakes with it so it probably is for the best.
I am a simple man with simple tastes, and as such am inspired to try simple dishes for the evening – the tomato & basil soup to start, to be followed by the North Sea fish and chips with tomato sauce and mushy peas. After all, the basics have to be right before venturing into undue complexity, although I’m not entirely sure I would accept that from someone who will happily consume own-brand beans from a saucepan.
The soup was as you would expect, nicely tangy with a dash of herb oil giving a slight spicy edge, adding character to a dish that can otherwise come across as bland in lesser venues. I enjoyed it sufficiently that I didn’t even do the characteristic ‘look around to see if anyone is judging me for dipping bread in my soup’ routine. Social conditioning is a joy, isn’t it. No later than we set our bowls down they were promptly whisked away and our places prepared for course two.
Again, Blackfriars do remarkably well with classic and straightforward dishes – my fish is sumptuous and flaky, the batter a deliciously savoury affair, while the chunky-profiled chips are crispy to the point of perfection (dare I say it, even better than Wetherspoons?). You can tell their quality from retention of the skins and even browning, and I even notice another patron glance longingly at them from afar, although by this point I have developed a motherly protectiveness of my solanaceous delights and reflexively resume consumption. Periodic attention from the waiting staff was extremely professional and they genuinely felt on hand to assist rather than badgering or intrusive – top marks in this regard.
As delectable as the main had been, my heart sank as we approached desserts – I was craving a particular combination, that of masterfully paired fruit and chocolate, and was not expecting a restaurant with divine inspirations to offer such sinful delights. Yet there it was – like a candle in the darkness of my unsated sweet tooth, a chocolate brownie complemented by a cherry sorbet and served with poached cherries.
The soft fluffy texture of the cake contrasted beautifully with the icy smoothness of the sorbet, with the cherries themselves perfectly ripe. Many restaurants tend to let their main dishes carry the day and relegate the dessert to an afterthought, but Blackfriars commits no such crime. To be honest I’d happily come back again for the sole purpose of reviewing the puddings. Blackfriars? Please?
Friars Street, Newcastle, NE1 4XN