REVIEW: Harissa, Sandyford, Newcastle

Harrisa Kitchen in Starbeck Avenue, Newcastle.

Harrisa Kitchen in Starbeck Avenue, Newcastle.

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Small plates, little food, big price.

My first experience of this term was pretty terrible.

Small plates of steamed broccoli, crispy aubergine and Merguez sausages.

Small plates of steamed broccoli, crispy aubergine and Merguez sausages.

It was, of course, in London.

Thankfully in the North East, we do things differently and Harissa Kitchen’s menu has set the bar high.

Weeks on, it’s these dishes I think about when I’m hungry, and they were worth the extra effort to reach its residential location.

I first caught wind of this social enterprise through Twitter via its ‘lovely sister organisation’ Food Nation, which benefits from its profits.

Falafel kebab at Harissa Kitchen.

Falafel kebab at Harissa Kitchen.

I’ve been eyeing up a couple of cookery courses, which are worth a look if you fancy bettering your kitchen basics.

In the interest of reviewing this Mediterranean venue, we tried to fit in plenty dishes and got it just about right with this tapas-style approach.

As our starter I picked spiced roasted nuts and the house pickles, both £2.50 (or 2.5 as it’s written following that odd menu trend), along with smokey aubergine and whipped labneh cheese dips, each £3.80.

The cashews and almonds, coated in sticky honey, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika, had a kick without being overpowering.

Part of the decor of the new Mediterranean restaurant Harissa Kitchen.

Part of the decor of the new Mediterranean restaurant Harissa Kitchen.

The tart pickled beetroot, which also coloured cauliflower a vibrant purple, carrot, cucumber, turnip and punchy chilli, also proved a hit.

It’s the first time I’ve tried labneh, a sour, creamy strained yoghurt cheese, and I loved it, with the pomegranate seeds sprinkled on the aubergine also a good contrast.

For mains, my friend picked the falafel kebab with chargrilled courgette, salad and tahini, served on an open flatbread (£7.50.)

It was given a glowing review taste-wise, but proved difficult to eat as the salad was so finely chopped.

Starters of roasted spiced nuts and house pickles.

Starters of roasted spiced nuts and house pickles.

Other options include monkfish and prawn (£11.50), lamb, pistachio and cardamom kofte, spicy chicken or roast shoulder of pork (£8.80.)

I stuck with those small plates, with a recommendation of three to four as a main or one with a kebab.

The Mergeuez sausages (£5) had a lovely, spicy kick, and with the crispy aubergine (£4.50) bite-sized pieces in a light batter and drizzled with date molasses, although I didn’t think crumbled sheep’s cheese added much to it.

The steamed long-stem broccoli was a little over-cooked, although the sesame seeds added a good bite.

My dessert of warmed orange and saffron polenta cake was nice and just sweet enough, but lacked any taste of the promised lemon, chili or fresh herbs.

Perhaps I should have picked the honey, tahini, pistachio parfait or more of that labneh with honey - maybe next time.

Orange and saffron polenta cake.

Orange and saffron polenta cake.

If I can offer any suggested improvements, its handy Open Table booking system doesn’t allow for comments or dietary requirements.

I know so many people with allergies, intolerances or are vegetarian or vegan, it’s rare to go anywhere without having to interrogate the menu at length.

These grumbles are only little and I’d still return in a flash.

The service was excellent and I especially liked being served water without asking and the fresh flowers.

Its website, harissakitchen.co.uk also gives a rundown of the menus, which is handy for people like me who like to obsess over what they’ll be having days in advance.