Dining in a room once frequented by Dickens isn’t the norm. But this new culinary concept is all about taking fine dining out of the confines of a restaurant and into unusual locations.
The Experimental Diner launch was held at Alderman Fenwick’s House in Newcastle. Never heard of it? No, neither had I, but what a hidden historical gem.
Built in the latter part of the 17th century, this towering town house has witnessed the changing face of Newcastle through the centuries and undergone its own transformations, from private residence to a coaching inn and a political club.
Today, it’s usually closed to the public and houses a series of offices but, thanks to pain-staking restoration by the Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust, it still retains that air of period grandeur, which saw it once host the great Charles Dickens in its time as the Queen’s Head Inn and as a place where Winston Churchill gave a speech to The Liberals during its chapter as a gentleman’s club.
Ahead of its time for Newcastle, it was even built with a roof terrace - though this was used for practical reasons so merchants could see the ships coming up the Tyne, rather than for drinking in the sun - and we were able to go up on the roof to get a bird’s eye view of Pilgrim Street.
Back down the creaky oak staircase and for the launch of the new eating experience, which in future months will see top chefs host pop ups at historical homes, castles and other unusual North East locations, we dined under the intricate ceiling roses of the entertainment room, which dates back to 1660.
Our entertainment for the night came in the form of Simon Whitehead and Hugo Embleton-Black, two charismatic sous chefs from the celebrated Peace & Loaf restaurant in Jesmond.
Though the cooking was done behind the scenes, the final flourishes and garnishes were done in a central island as the pair talked through their culinary creations.
They got the ball rolling with snacks including a squid ink take on the ubiquitous macaroon which was a moreish and smokey alternative to its sweet counterpart; a meaty morsel of ham hock and, my favourite, a whipped beef dripping to lather on the bread. Aside from proper chips, it’s an oft-forgotten ingredient but this creative use of dripping was so deliciously light it could single-handedly spark its renaissance.
First course was a spring-like skrei, delicate slivers of Norwegian cod given some oomph with zingy splashes of vodka and lemon gels with greens.
Next up, a surprise course of brioche with pear puree and a sprig of crispy chicken skin and Parmesan crisp, which was a bite-sized delight.
Mains came in the form of a beautifully-tender hanger beef, almost buttery in texture, on a moist, springy bed of pearl barley risotto. It was perfectly-executed and showcased the same flair which has seen Peace & Loaf rise to be named as one of the region’s best restaurants.
Pudding proved to be the pièce de résistance: a wheel of chocolate circling more chocolate in the form of a ganache, as well as a velvety parfait sprinkled with popping candy which provided a fizzy finale to this most excellent eating experience.
•Prices for Experimental Diner are roughly £70 for three courses with wine. See http://theexperimentaldiner.co.uk/ for future dates and locations.