About Route, Newcastle
The tagline to Newcastle’s newest casual bistro (check out our guide to the best places to eat and drink in Newcastle here) is “plates, wines, libations”, setting out clear intentions for Route, sister restaurant to North Shields’ award-winning gastropub Staith House. What it lacks in natural light it makes up for in intimate, industrial charm with its exposed ceilings, wooden tables, copper candle holders, Pinterest-worthy trailing ivy, hanging statement light bulbs, blackboards and olive-green banquettes.
Plates, at the hand of chef and MasterChef: The Professionals finalist John Calton, are designed to be unfussy, seasonal and to share. The menu changes every couple of weeks, with an emphasis on clean flavours – think sautéed lamb offal, peas, girolles, mint and baby gem, alongside smoked and seared local mackerel with cucumber, gooseberries and mustard.
The ethos behind the wine list is to supply great wines at good prices and there are certainly plenty to choose from by the glass and bottle, spanning the old and new world, natural and skin-contact – with few creeping above the £50 mark.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats.
The punter restaurant reviewer
Junior NHS doctor Matthew Bowker lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and eats out at least once a week. His favourite food is seafood and his best eating-out experience was at L’Enclume in Cartmel. But he’s rather partial to chips and curry sauce, too.
Our pro’s Route, Newcastle restaurant review…
The staff at Route, a modern bistro minutes from the River Tyne, might not have registered the booking I’d made weeks before but luckily (for me) there were plenty of empty seats to choose from. *I was recognised by the end of the meal.
Food comes when it’s ready and the service is easygoing. The staff know the intricacies of every dish and every wine, and they’re more than happy to recommend.
We choose Ciello, a Sicilian orange wine, which comes served in a tumbler (with a thoughtful second glass of ice, in case it wasn’t cold enough). It smells like honey but with a clean funk that works well with the succession of plates to come. We start with breaded and deep-fried duck hearts on a bed of crushed minty peas, with a slick of black, pickled walnut ketchup. It’s pleasant but doesn’t wow. Stuffed tomato, that comes next, steals that crown.
Deep-fried duck hearts on crushed minty peas
It smells incredible as it lands on the table. Collapsing under the weight of caramelised, chewy, melted cheddar curds, and fragrant from the vine, oregano and basil, inside we discover tender rabbit pepped up with gentle spice from soft black pudding. A tangy, sweet and sour sauce with the disembowelled tomato flesh ties it all together.
Crisp sea trout fritters (discover our best fritter recipes here) packed with sweet peas and soft potato come with a fiery aïoli that causes too much commotion on the plate alongside some well-seasoned heritage tomatoes. Then comes North Sea squid. It’s frozen first to help tenderise, we’re told – and tender it is. The best dish yet, with a tangy (and incredibly delicious) green olive paste, there’s more aïoli (this time it works) with crisp shards of garlic, capers and waxy Pippa potatoes soaking up all that flavour. Next we order a comically large plate of cod that’s so tender it barely holds together on the fork. Cubes of smoked eel, brown shrimp, pickled and roasted fennel, super-smooth celeriac purée, capers and oyster leaf make up yet another seriously standout dish.
Chocolate fondant would have been better without chewy honeycomb but it’s forgivable thanks to its moreishly molten heart and accompanying scoop of cherry sorbet, which is refreshingly tart.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is easy eating, modern, casual cookery at its near-best, with a cracking wine list to boot.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £83.40
Our punter’s Route, Newcastle restaurant review…
Just off Newcastle’s quayside is where you’ll find Route. The room is chic and the team struck the perfect balance by being attentive but not at all overbearing. However, the decision to play gangster rap, quite a bit louder than necessary, seemed out of sync with the setting and décor.
We started with delicious Davenport Limney organic sparkling wine. Credit must be given to Route for an impressive wine list, with staples alongside left-field options. Salmon croquettes, to start, had a satisfying crunch – with a soft, colourful interior. Unfortunately, the flavours were bland and didn’t live up to their excellent presentation and texture. This became a recurring theme throughout the meal, with a few notable exceptions.
One such was the gazpacho. We loved the refreshing marriage of sweet, fragrant tomatoes and ripe avocado chunks. It was clear that Route uses ingredients of the highest quality. Treacle bread was another exception: two enormous wedges of blackened bread dripping in butter. We both noted that, without this, we would have been rather hungry by the end.
I was excited to try the citrus-cured sea trout with Shields crab and pickled fennel. Like many of the offerings on the menu, the idea of this is creative and full of promise. It didn’t deliver – flavours were muted and in dire need of seasoning.
Seared mackerel was a little better – flaky fish and crispy skin with just enough char to bring out the beautiful, natural flavours but again lacking seasoning. Courgette tart with olives and onions was full of flavour but inexplicably drenched in oil, leading to a sodden base.
Cauliflower fritters with curried mayonnaise had a crispy, light texture but tasted of little. We certainly could not taste the earthiness of cauliflower (check out our best cauliflower recipes here) or anything resembling curry.
We would have left Route disappointed were it not for the outstanding dessert offering – the chocolate and cherry tart with homemade sorbet. Rich chocolate (discover our best chocolate recipes here) and tart cherry balanced perfectly: we could have happily eaten three more portions.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Route is doing many things well but just needs a nudge in the right direction. If it can bring the same, vibrant flavours we experienced from dessert into its savoury dishes, it’ll be on to a winner.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £86