SUNDERLAND superchef and BBC Masterchef finalist Leon Dodd is living up to the hit show’s title as the latest signing at Living Room Newcastle.
I was invited along to the bar and restaurant on Grey Street to try the new summer menu, a fusion of fresh, fish dishes and heartier, meaty options.
But no visit to this ever-so-chic venue is complete without a couple of its signature cocktails.
Friend Laura and I took a pew in one of the bar’s leather booths and supped Sex In The City-style tipples while we browsed the menu.
My drink of choice was the divine Basil Grande. I’ve asked for this in bars in Sunderland to no avail: it’s a Living Room classic, and with its blend of Grand Marnier, Chambord, basil, pepper, strawberries, cranberry juice and black pepper, it’s a must-try.
After polishing off the cocktails which, though pricey (mine was £7.95), are worth every penny, we were shown through to the restaurant area.
Its situation in one of Newcastle’s grandest streets makes for some stunning Georgian features – think grand archways, mammoth windows to watch the world go by and high ceilings.
We were seated in one of the cosy, secluded corners – most romantic – had I been with a beau.
There’s some lip-smacking sounding dishes on the menu such as pork belly on a Bury black pudding, Bramley apple and parsley mash with a sage jus (£10.45) and seared guinea fowl breast on fondant potato with a chardonnay and tarragon cream (£12.95).
For those watching their waistlines, there’s also a good selection of fish dishes to choose from including: tandoori sea bass with a minted yoghurt and cucumber potato salad (£13.75) which sounds sumptuous.
In the end though we were swayed by one of the sharing options to start.
Both fans of picky bits, our deli board was the perfect choice as we nibbled our way through prosciutto crudo, salami milano, coppa, chorizo, bocconcini mozzarella, olives, roasted red peppers and chunky tomato houmous with foccacia, which comes in at £10.75.
For my main meal, I went with the Living Room burger.
You get a huge chunk of prime burger for your £9.75, topped with West County Cheddar and crisp pancetta and it proved to be one of the best burgers I’ve had in months – if not years.
Laura, meanwhile, also chose well with one of the vegetarian options – sweet potato and red pepper tagine with pumpkin seed and pomegranate couscous (£8.75).
Beautifully presented, it was a delicious fusion of flavours which managed to be both filling and light.
Our few rounds of cocktails bumped up the bill, but for those watching the pennies there’s a Perfectly Set for Summer Menu which includes many of the top dishes, with two courses from £9.45 or three courses for £11.25.
The man behind our delicious dishes has come a long way since he started his career at the Blue Bell pub, Fulwell, as a trainee chef.
Leon’s already proved he’s capable of cooking to Michelin star standards to make it to the final of Masterchef: The Professionals – but decided he wanted to stay living in the region instead of pursuing a career in the capital.
London’s loss though is most definitely the Living Room diners’ gain.