With wine at its centre of its offering, John and Kimberley Calton’s second Newcastle restaurant is serving up exciting and sophisticated small plates, says Lisa Jenkins
At more than 100 years old, Side is one of the oldest streets in Newcastle. It was once the pathway from the town’s castle keep down to the Quayside, providing a route from the top to the bottom of the city – hence the name of John and Kimberley Calton’s new restaurant, which sits on the same street.
The decor of the 35-cover site is stripped back, scaffolding bars support a window table, and the walls are bare to the raw plaster and washed in a neutral hue. On a Thursday evening, when The Caterer visited, the restaurant was full and there was a real buzz in the room.
John describes the food as British tapas and accordingly, dishes are delivered to the table as and when they are ready. We introduced ourselves to the small plates concept with Monegasque anchovies with sherry vinegar (£4); citrus-cured sea trout, crab, pickled fennel and radish (£10), where the subtle flavours of the fish contrast with the crunchy pickles; and hung yogurt and dukkah (£4), in which fresh, acidic yogurt is scattered with seeds and nuts.
John and Kimberley along with chef and business partner James Laffan won The Caterer’s Newcomer Award Catey in 2016 for their first Newcastle restaurant, the Staith House. They opened Route in April 2018 and they have a ‘buy local’ policy wherever possible.
Their small plates concept is a new one for Newcastle, and the trio came across the idea for Route during visits to a restaurant in Berlin and similar influences in New York and London. John has put his Wine & Spirit Education Trust level three diploma to good use, producing a creative wine list that includes low-intervention, organic, bio-dynamic and orange wines, such as Château de la Terrière Regnie Nature 2016 (£36) and Intelligo Elementis Skin Contact Chenin 2015 (£55).
The team buy from a selection of tried and tested local suppliers, and ingredients must always be in season. Taste Tradition, a Northern-based butcher, supplies their meat, and cheese comes from Neal’s Yard Dairy. “Being a wine-focused bistro, cheese plays a very important part on our menu. We use Neal’s Yard because of the consistency in supplying the very best cheeses the British Isles has to offer,” says John.
The menu is small and manageable because it’s a small kitchen (although much bigger than the one at the Staith House) and Laffan says its important they don’t overstretch themselves, as the pace is much faster here.
John describes the pork and duck liver terrine with Sauternes and peach (£7.50) as “hearty and wholesome with a lot of finesse”, while the lightly seared North Sea mackerel with cucumber, chilli and gooseberries (£7) is a perfect demonstration of seasonal cooking.
One of the chef-patron’s favourite dishes is the sauté of lambs’ tongues with sweetbreads, kidneys, girolles, peas and fresh mint. “It’s a real cheffy dish,” says John. “I’m certain that every chef I know would love to eat it – it’s full of all the best bits of the animal and shows respect by using the pieces that are not always utilised. It’s seasonal with the peas and the girolles, but it almost harks back to an era of days gone by. I hope we’ve brought it back into fashion with a modern British twist.
“It’s finished off in a sweet, sticky glaze made from reduced chicken stock and Madeira, and sharpened with a splash of sherry vinegar and a huge burst of fresh mint. It represents me as a cook because I put my heart and soul into the things I’d personally love to eat.”
There is no tasting menu, as customers are encouraged to create their own selection of dishes from the variety of small to medium plates on offer.
There are plans to launch a series of wine-pairing dinners – and the time is right. This area of Newcastle has had a facelift and although you will still see the notorious hen and stag night crowds, the location under the bridge is hemmed in by bars and other popular eateries. It’s clever, cool, city centre dining; and with an average of 250 covers per week, it’s on track to being the next big thing on the Tyne.
35 Side, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3JE
0191 222 0973
From the menu
Lindisfarne oysters £2.25 each
Sea trout fritters, heritage tomatoes and aïoli £5
Crispy duck hearts, peas and walnut ketchup £4
Beetroot, melting St James sheeps’ cheese and watercress £8
Smoked and seared local mackerel, cucumber, gooseberries and mustard £7
North Sea squid, Pippa potatoes and green olive £10
Cured monkfish, nectarine, samphire and tomato essence £9
40-day aged rump of Mount Grace Farm beef, courgette, radish and Madeira £21.50
Cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy: Winslade, Hafod, Sinodun Hill and Stichelton £3 each