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Newcastle’s Finest?

We stayed at Newcastle’s premiere hotel last week (NE2 2EY), and prior to crashing out in one of the gorgeous rooms (about the prettiest we’ve seen), we had to indulge in the city’s highest scoring restaurant in this year’s Good Food Guide.

Of course the old grade II mansion’s surroundings are undeniably beautiful, and upon arrival there is a lovely lounge to have a pre-meal drink in (sit by the fireplace). Drinks come with nibbles of marinated olives, pickled garlic, Tyrell’s crisps, and cornichons. We are always so appreciative of things like this – it doesn’t cost the restaurant a lot but is such a nice touch that helps set apart the good from the great.

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A couple of glasses of house wine (£3, 125ml) gave us a chance to browse over the menus – a la carte (mains ~£15-30), tasting menu (£45(v)/£55), and tonight’s pick, the quite reasonably priced house menu, with two courses for £25 or three for £28.

As we are sat at our table we are given a jug of water and choice of breads (sun-dried tomato, white or rye) and choice of unsalted or seaweed butters. Note to 90% of restaurants – this should be a given, not an extortionate extra.

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The bread comes warm, and the salty seaweed butter is delicious – so much so we eat it all. Goodbye January diet… Soon after amusé-bouches arrives, which is a cod stuffed pepper that isn’t too rich and really gets the taste buds fired up. On another occasion we’ve had an orange and carrot soup which was really surprising and perfect as an amusé. It’s good to see a changing menu as a lot of tasting menus can quickly become stagnant.

From a choice of four starters on the house menu, we choose warm pear and blue cheese tart with apple pickle and chicory, and confit salmon, creme fraiche and pickled vegetables which both arrive quickly and look pretty on the plate. The tart pastry is a blend of sweet and savoury that hits the spot, though the cheese flavour doesn’t come through strongly enough for me, Ms. Newcastle Eats finds it quite cheesy. Just about wet enough – I thought this would have been improved with a balsamic glaze.

The confit salmon is well seasoned and tastes of the sea. It almost literally melts in the mouth and has a clean and crisp finish, almost akin to a Japanese dish – a theme backed up by the pickled veg which keeps this a really fresh dish. JDH are also running a “catch of the day” dish supplied by Latimer’s Seafood which we saw a few of – looking delicious.

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All the mains sounded tempting – the most tempting though was roast cod fillet, oxtail raviolo, crispy salsify, confit shallot – the cod itself is cooked absolutely spot-on, albeit with disappointingly soggy skin. At first I thought the amount of gravy would overpower the delicate cod, but the strong oxtail flavour is a fantastic match for fish. The firm pasta is bulky full of super-meaty shredded oxtail which is fast becoming my favourite cut of beef. The salsify and and sweet shallots work together to balance the dish and it never comes across as a scattering of ingredients, they mesh together beautifully.

Confit pork belly, roast onions with celeriac and apple puree. Another favourite of ours that is often all too poorly executed; the pork belly is incredibly soft and oozing with juices, though we both commented that the crackling could have been a touch crispier. Pork and apple is obviously a classic combination, but together with celeriac mash – heavenly. This perhaps could have done with another firm vegetable to stop it coming over as just pork and accompanying sauces, but regardless, these are two fantastic mains.

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Service from all is slick, friendly and unobtrusive. An in-house sommelier describes each wine when pouring – helpful for the less knowledgeable. A wine we’ve had here before is Alsace Pinot Gris (£6, 125ml) which is absolutely gorgeous and extremely drinkable. The full wine list is extensive, and runs to some ten plus pages with good reds and whites from the world over that would surely satisfy all tastes.

After a short break, pre-dessert is also served – so three courses quickly becomes six/seven! This time it’s a gorgeous hit of sweet cream topped with a pepper and raspberry coulis, and sugar straws. Just sweet enough to bring us on to…

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…dessert, where we stray from the house menu, because the apple tarte tatin, warm apple espuma and calvados ice cream (£9.50) is just way too tempting. Ms. Newcastle Eats goes for the milk chocolate salted caramel and banana sphere (£9.50). Both are rich and indulgent and serving the sphere is a little dramatic moment in it’s own – the server pours on hot chocolate sauce, melting the sphere to reveal the ice cream and banana bread within – nice. It’s showy, very rich, and very chocolatey. The tarte tat in also hits all all the right notes, yielding fruits, sweet and sticky caramel, sugar work, and a tangy apple brandy ice cream are all best friends.

This much food pushes us past the desire for coffees, but we have had them on a previous visit, (£4), served with petits fours. Another little touch that not enough kitchens are employing in our region.

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The following morning we have breakfast in the Jesmond Dene facing conservatory, and even the pouring rain can’t put the dampers on our stay here  – this must be the only local restaurant including champagne with your morning meal, as well as cooked to order breakfasts including full english, (amazing) eggs Benedict, Craster kippers and others alongside an extensive self-service buffet. One of our favourite touches is a whole honeycomb slice to carve your own little sweet treat from. Fresh pastries are also good, and we consume far too many…

The restaurant at Jesmond Dene House might be priced at the top end, but this is reflected in the quality of the food, and care and a deft touch in both presentation and preparation of the ingredients. Whether visiting for afternoon tea (our review of that should be coming soon), or the full-on foodie experience of a tasting menu, JDH delivers a quality that is all too absent in our city and should not be missed out on. A must for food lovers in the region.

Service charge: 10% (discretionary)

Awards: 3 AA rosette

Visited on 23 Jan 2012 8PM.

OpenTable: Yes

Gourmet Society/Offers: No

Scores on the Doors: 5

Contact: www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk

All information correct as of 1/2/2012.

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