METROCENTRE boardwalk dining is a little artificial.
Many of the restaurants in the centre’s yellow and red malls put tables outside the main restaurant to give the impression of eating outside continental cafe-style.
It’s not the same and you can’t soak up the rays while you dine, but – thankfully – it doesn’t affect the taste of your food.
On a pit stop from shopping, Ma Wheeler and I enjoyed lunch at Cafe Rouge.
It’s a huge chain, with more than 100 branches nationally, but there are only two in the North East so far: the other one is in Durham’s Silver Street.
Chains are not always indicative of style and fine dining, but Cafe Rouge’s ethos of Parisian-style eating is pleasant enough and its decor of retro French art and trinkets is different from the norm.
So much so, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across a unique little bistro.
As you would expect from a menu inspired by the cuisine of our French cousins, the breakfast menu is excellent, ranging from salmon benedict (poached eggs and smoked salmon on toasted brioche with lyonnaise potatoes and hollandaise sauce), to pain perdu (French toast topped with strawberries, blueberries and banana with French honey to drizzle).
Unfortunately, we arrived bang on noon which meant we just missed the breakfast option.
But the main menu had plenty to satisfy our rumbling tums.
To start, we ordered bread and dips which arrived as chunky pretzel-shaped bread, perfect for sharing, with lashings of hummus, garlic mayonnaise and a yoghurt dip which comes with a price tag of £5.95.
I love picky bits so we also ordered a bowl of mixed olives (£2.50).
Ma Wheeler made the best choice for a main meal, opting for the goats cheese tart with salad (£8.95). Deliciously rich, it tasted divine and put my more humble croque monsieur (£7.50) to shame.
I chose to have my toasted ham and melted gruyere cheese sandwich with salad, but you can have chips instead. Tasty as it was, I had a serious case of plate envy and wished I’d ordered mum’s dish instead.
For those after a more substantial bit to eat, there’s a really good range of classic French dishes such as coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and saucisse de Toulouse.
With drinks, our bill was £29. A little pricey, but worth it if you’re after a French culinary connection.