You shouldn’t always believe the hype - unless the hype is that surrounding Träkol.
I’d seen the many social media posts from this most Instagrammable of Scandi-inspired spots in a shipping container village, read the glowing reviews from national food critics who’d ventured to Gateshead, chuckled at the owner’s clever response to a complaining customer that went viral, but this was my first time tasting the food that’s got everyone talking.
I’d tried and failed to get a booking online over Christmas but on a rare Monday afternoon off work, I struck gold and we were one of only two tables eating at the restaurant, which unlike the rest of the street food village is open seven days a week.
We took our seats in the stripped back surroundings with its parquet flooring, feature graffiti wall and chunky, rustic tables which overlook the belly of the Tyne Bridge and lapped up the undivided attention of the knowledgeable staff.
Its concept of ‘nose to tail’ and ‘fiercely seasonal’ dining is very on trend, however, it’s not just paying lip service to the culinary zeitgeist.
You can taste the TLC that’s gone into the dishes, and it’s an attention to detail you can see through the glass wall into the kitchen where huge hunks of British meat dangled from meat hooks over a crackling open fire and whole, tender octopus was pulled from the pan.
On the menu there’s a choice of feasting dishes fit for Vikings to share, such as a whopping 1kg T Bone of beef with wild mushrooms, smoked marrow bone and fries; more delicate mains such as whole grilled lemon sole with grilled vegetables and miso butter and a carefully-curated selection of small plates.
Wanting to try out as much as possible, we chose the latter.
Snacks to share came as soy pickled egg with creamed cheese and a togarashi (£3.50). Forget your pub pickled eggs, these had a moreish smokiness and were given a kick of pepper with the togarashi.
The humble pork scratching was also elevated with a huge mound of crispy pigs tails with mission spice for £3.50. This is posh scratchings to really get stuck into, packed with lip-licking meat on the bone.
If you order one snack, however, it has to be the deep fried Reuben fritter with French’s Mustard and pickles (£3.50) which took our tastebuds on a trip to New York without leaving our seats (they didn’t last long enough to be photographed).
Small plates-wise we waded through the menu with choices from the small plates, raw/ cured section and oysters and ordered as much as our waistband would permit.
The delicate flavour of the flamed surf clams was lifted with a punchy Kimchi broth (£8.50), which we mopped up with sourdough until the plate was clean.
Lindisfarne oysters were competitively priced at £2.50 and were served either raw with green nam Jim dressing or baked with Montgomery’s cheddar. The latter shouldn’t work, but like everything here, it did.
Cured tuna was a satisfying alternative to the more common salmon with a greater depth of flavour.
The monkfish (£8) too was beautifully executed: the silky fish contrasting perfectly with the slight crunch of pistachio and zing of fermented rhubarb.
Kaleidoscope of flavours combined, this was one of the best, and most memorable, meals I’ve had in the North East.
It’s not only the food that impresses. Träkol, which is part of By The River Brew Co, offers one of the most creative drinks list you’ll find in the Toon, and certainly in Gateshead.
Well-kept beers from the on site micro-brewery are served in 2/3 and 1/3 of a pint so can sample more from its 20 keg lines, which feature imaginative craft beers with names like Salty Kiss and Four Layer Cake.
Wines by the glass are more limited but those that feature are a great quality and we enjoyed a really classy Da Luca Pinot Grigio which starts at £4.60 for a small glass.
Träkol may be in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge, but it far outshines many of the offerings on the other side.
Five other independents to try
•Mexico70, High Street West, Sunderland
Whenever anyone ask where to eat in Sunderland I always suggest this place. It offers high quality tacos in informal surroundings. Expect an excellent play list from the music-loving owners and some of the best guacamole around.
•Cole Coffee & Deli, St George’s Terrace, Roker, Sunderland
Blink and you’ll miss this small cafe in a converted gable end house, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Open seven days a week, it offers home-made snacks and sandwiches such as Parmesan and rosemary scones. Look out for its speciality wine nights.
•Clean Bean, North Terrace, Seaham
A globe-trotting couple brought the melting pot of flavours they encountered on their travels back to Seaham to open their own clean eating restaurant. Make sure to try the turmeric latte.
•Blacks Corner, East Boldon, South Tyneside
This wine bar, deli and bistro is on first name terms with all of its farmers and producers and celebrates the best of British. Its focus is charcuterie and cheeses, as well as amazing flatbreads.
•Fausto Coffee, Marine Walk, Roker, Sunderland
Named after champion cyclist Fausto Coppi (see what they did there), this seafront cafe offers high-protein snacks for cyclists and more. It has a fun Neapolitan ice cream colour scheme is almost as striking as its views over Roker Pier.