Despite being a North East native who repatriated over 18 months ago, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies I’ve yet to explore, so it’s particularly nice when I’m invited to test out a place that’s out of the Toon. One such place I was lucky enough to visit recently is Haveli, a fine dining Indian restaurant located in Ponteland, Northumberland.

If I’m going out for a meal to a restaurant I’ll be pretty excited for a few days beforehand, fuelled by the usual menu perusing. In the case of Haveli I was perhaps a little more so than usual thanks to the photographs of food on their site. By the time we arrived for our meal early on a Friday evening, anticipation levels were running quite high. The venue itself is very classy, with lots of round tables perfect for groups of friends chatting and eating and a beautiful bar facing the room where the staff prepare cocktails. Here’s a peek:The decor at Haveli, pontelandIt was a little darker and more ambient when we arrived and though it was moderately busy as we were seated it was very busy before we left, with people also popping in to get takeaways. Although the place was busy it never felt too crowded because the tables are nicely spaced out, which makes me feel much more relaxed when dining.

The menu at Haveli offers plenty of choice without being overwhelming but we still found it difficult to make our selections thanks to how appealing everything sounded. There were some great choices on the early evening menu, which gets you two courses for £18 or three for £21 but in the end we settled on some a la carte options, I chose the crab and cod fishcakes (£6.85) and across the table was a lamb kebab (£8.30). Before they arrived we were presented with some rather pretty poppadoms and a pickle tray, which looked like this;

poppodom flowerchutney pots, haveli, ponteland

 

 

 

 

 

I really liked the way the poppadoms were presented as a flower in the bowl – it made them a lot easier to eat as well as looking pretty. Of the sauces – tamarind, mint and mango chutney the mint was our favourite, we half suspected there was also some pea in it but the colour and flavour were perfect. The tamarind was perhaps a little too sweet for us but it didn’t stop us eating a good few spoonfuls!

fishcakes haveli

kebab, Haveli, PontelandThe sauces that came with both of the meals were delicious too. Anything that comes with extra sauces is always a winner in my book!

 

For our mains, I chose Nihari Gosht (£14.50) otherwise known as braised Northumbrian lamb in an onion gravy, also on the eating agenda was a chicken curry with black pepper, though I can’t seem to find it on the menu both were delicious. What really impressed about both of the main courses was the depth of flavour in the sauces, which had really taken the flavour of the meats as well as the spices. Portions were generous too and we struggled with our sides of rice (£3) and garlic naan (£3.50).

chicken curry beefy curry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the struggle to reach the bottom of our bowls, there was no way I wasn’t taking the opportunity to eat the gin sorbet I’d spotted on the desserts menu. It was the accompaniment to a passionfruit masala chai cheesecake and although it took a little longer to reach the table than the previous courses, it was well worth the wait. If I was being picky I would have liked a crunchier biscuit base, but the flavours and the sorbet were delicious. The second dessert was a mango and cardamom brulee, which unfortunately had been taken that little bit too far. We did mention this to our server who was quick to notice that we hadn’t cleared the plate and the staff were very apologetic. In different circumstances we would have been disappointed but when staff do notice that you’ve not finished something and make a point to enquire why, you feel a lot more at ease and it’s great when feedback is received well.

espresso martini,heveli

As the atmosphere was now quite buzzing, we decided to order a cocktail while we waited for our taxi, I chose my favourite espresso martini. When it came it ticked all the boxes and it was the perfect finish to our meal.

We loved Haveli even though a few minor things weren’t perfect and this was largely because the customer service was excellent and the rest of the food was some of the best we have eaten this year. I look forward to testing their takeaway service too.

 

 

 

*I was invited to dine at the invitation of the restaurant but did pay for drinks and service.

Perusing the blog of late you could be easily forgiven for thinking I’ve been swanning around drinking lots of nice things and eating in the sunshine. The thing is, I have been doing that quite a bit but I’ve also been working hard too.

One particular day from the last few months that definitely involved posh food, plonk and actually a few swans too, was the big Mattdenweirberg reunion fun day at Hever Castle, Kent. Mattdenweirberg is the collective nickname (and watsapp group) for some of the lovely friends I made in my old job. Weir (also known as Katherine) moved to Kent a few months ago, so pining for her and feeling brave we made the big trip down to Kent for a visit a few weeks ago. Feeling the pressure to entertain, Katherine took us on a whirlwind tour of the garden of England and Hever Castle played an important part, not least because it was the venue for possibly the best picnic of my life!

A little while ago I received an email asking if I’d like to sample a hamper and it was this hamper – stocked with champagne and luxury breakfast goodies no less, which formed the basis of our picnic. We started out with a breakfast hamper from hampergifts.co.uk, the basket itself was beautiful, so I’ll be reusing it come Christmas when I start my homemade present factory for family and friends! It usually costs £57.99, so we were feeling very lucky to be sampling it in such a fantastic setting. We chose a spot next to the lake to enjoy our brunch and the view was pretty special…the lake

I was a particular fan of all the lovely condiments in the hamper – from acacia honey and wholegrain mustard with spitfire ale through to the award-winning three fruit marmalade (the rest of which is destined for a sponge pudding) each one was of a really good quality and flavour and there were chunks and lumps in all the right places. We’d purchased a few little extras to go with the hamper – namely some olive bread, croissants, chorizo, brie and butter.

We settled down and popped the cork on the bubbly (which was a different brand to the usual featured in the hamper but actually my favourite champagne to date) and started spooning generous lumps of butter and strawberry jam onto the croissants. Generous partially through greed and the good portions the hamper (meant for two) contained and partly because we were armed only with a bread knife and it’s hard to spread things with a bread knife! Our second course (of many) was Edinburgh Preserves Wild Boar Pâté, which was rich and meaty and worked beautifully with the wholegrain mustard on our olive bread. Here’s how everything looked on the day!

Thanks to Beth (Den) for sharing her photos with me!

The hampergifts folks select a lot of award-winners for their baskets and it showed, we were impressed with the selection. The only things we weren’t so keen on where the cakes, which didn’t match up to the excellent quality of the rest of the goodies but it’s possible we were unlucky. I do send some of my clients hampers at Christmas time and think the British themed hampers they have might work their way into the present list as I like to support Great British Food where I can. Speaking of which, it’s British Food fortnight next week, are you doing anything special to celebrate? I’ll be paying extra visits to my favourite butchers and putting the leftover marmalade to use in a sponge pudding, because autumn is all about comfort food, right?

I can resist most things in life except homemade cake and a good cocktail (and cocktails that taste like cake). If I’m honest, this summer has been spent enjoying far too many of the latter thanks to my befriending of a mixologist who’s pretty much made it onto my speed dial list (this is big news since I don’t call people ever). Don’t judge, if someone offered to make you espresso martinis and gin drinks that taste like palma violets on demand, your cocktail consumption would overtake your water intake too.

It was said friend I called upon when Waitrose Cellar got in touch and asked if I’d like to work on generating a cocktail with a twist, something to sip on summer evenings. I’ve been drinking heaps of gin since national gin day, so I chose a blended Scotch whiskey to work with and started playing around with some ideas. Actually, that’s a lie, what I really did was sample the whisky when it arrived and buy a bunch of things I thought might complement its rich vanilla and chocolate tones and then pass the whole kaboosh to the professional with the instruction that I wanted even more vanilla in it.

We actually tested the drinks out at the annual Berg barbecue held at my parents and since every surface  in the kitchen was covered with related stuff, I didn’t get to photograph the ingredients and equipment. I did get some nice-ish shots of the outcome though (thanks to a borrowed camera). In the end, we played it simple with a whisky sours with a touch of vanilla and ginger.  This proved the perfect beverage to enjoy on a balmy summer evening.

The naked sours ingredients

 

Vanilla and ginger whisky sours

50ml whiskey
25ml egg white
Juice of half a lemon
15ml syrup from stem ginger (with a little of the ginger too if you like, but mash it first)
one drop of bitters
One vanilla pod, seeded

Add all the the ingredients to your cocktail shaker with three quarters cubed ice and one quarter crushed ice and garnish with your vanilla pod, lemon and add a cherry if you like. Here’s what ours looked like, as it took a little while to find anywhere to photograph it, the egg white had lost its froth a bit but it still tasted divine. 

whisky sours with a twistI was genuinely impressed with the quality of the own brand whisky, which was pleasant enough with ice before it turned into the beautiful beverage above. I was also incredibly grateful not to have a hangover the next day, which means unfortunately, I might have to have another whisky sours night soon.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

I’m not much of a gambling woman, though I do admittedly take some risks when it comes to the consumption of out of date foods from my fridge and cupboards (unami paste doesn’t really have a use by, right?). When I’m eating out I usually know where I’m going in advance and I’ll typically decide what I’m going to choose from the menu long before I’ve even entered the restaurant, leaving only the possibility of a particularly charming waiter/waitress and a magical sounding Chef’s special to sway me.

I therefore felt slightly uncomfortable when I arrived at Freya’s Restaurant in Aspers Casino a few weeks back, purely because I hadn’t had time to indulge my pre-restaurant ritual. I was invited to visit the restaurant to check out their new menu and was thankful to find a Friday evening where I was neither wedding or hen do bound and took a trip to the Toon. Though time constraints meant there was no time for my usual pre-visit menu analysis. My dining partner and I were greeted at the door by friendly and chatty door staff, putting us in a good mood for what was to be a great night.

pretty lights in Aspers Casino

Freya’s Restaurant is to the side of the main floor and is decorated very tastefully with tables that are nicely spaced apart (no elbow to elbow dancing with your fellow diners). We were seated at the back of the restaurant so I could have a good nosey at the full room (and all the lovely lights) and keep an eye on the service other diners were receiving. As it was early evening, the place was not completely packed but there were several parties in for what appeared to be birthday celebrations and a few couples on dates, mostly taking advantage of the good value prix fixe menu (three courses for £12.95, which you can see here).

When dining at the invitation of a venue I’m always extra cautious to observe service other guests are receiving and to note whether I might be getting special treatment because the staff know I’m in for a review. With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that the staff did not appear to know I was conducting a review until I asked a question towards the end of the meal and I’m pleased to say the service throughout was superb.

And the food? Well, the last time I dined in a casino restaurant it was at the now defunct Leeds Kitchen by James Martin restaurant at Aleas in Leeds. The food there was very good but for atmosphere and service on the night, Aspers comes out trumps.

Without my careful menu pre-selection I found myself wanting everything on the menu, so we decided to start with a tasting board (£9.95) – an unusual but pleasant mix of pea and mint soup, prawn tempura and shredded duck salad. The individual elements of this starter were all rather pleasant – it was a nice fresh minty soup, the prawn batter was extremely light and crisp and the duck and dressing of the salad impressed me particularly. I did think the plate could have been brought together a little more though, perhaps through an Asian touch to the soup.

For mains we went a bit red meat crazy (apologies for the photos, the lighting was very ambient!). I chose cumin spiced lamb rump with lemon cous cous and mint salsa (£14.50) and my date for the night, who is a little harder to impress as a more accomplished chef than I, chose a duo of duck with Yorkshire pudding (£13.95) and a side of mashed potato. We both asked for our meat to be served pink so I must admit we were a little disappointed when it arrived and wasn’t blushing at us.Still, for my part, I was very pleased with my selection. The lamb was still moist and tender and the cous cous cooked perfectly (not like the lazy mush I frequently cook at home).

The date’s experience of duo of duck was mixed – the duck breast though not pink was very tasty and was great with the sweet accompanying sauce, though the Yorkshire pudding was pretty over crunchy and the slow cooked leg could have been more moist. The side of mash was everything you’d want, demonstrating that Freya’s have got the essentials more than mastered – creamy, smooth and utterly butterly, I’m not ashamed to say I stole several spoons of the stuff.

sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream at Freya's restaurantWhile portions at Freya’s are not massive; food is prettily presented rather than piled on the plate, we were starting to feel quite full at this point. A myriad of starters plus a few glasses of Merlot and consuming every morsal of my mains with added mash meant I was feeling a little nervous about fitting in a dessert. In the end, we decided to share a sticky toffee pudding for £3 (which is fast becoming my go-to on menus) and I’m very glad we did.

After a very short wait we were presented with a perfectly round pud oozing with a dark toffee sauce and decorated with a physalis. Personally I enjoyed having a darker, richer sauce, which was not the butterscotch variation that often gets served. I would perhaps have liked to have seen more fruit in the pudding itself, but that really is a matter of personal taste and it was a well-executed dessert.

Next, we decided to try our luck on the roulette tables. I’ve only ever played roulette while on a stag do in Manchester when I was lucky enough to win about £150. I’m not all too clear on the rules but fuelled by Merlot and chips purchased with my date’s cash rather than mine, I was feeling rather flush and somehow managed to nudge us £55 up in the space of five minutes (thanks, number 18).

Fed, watered and with fuller wallets, we left Aspers and headed out into the rain to spend our winnings on as many different cocktails as we could find. I awoke in the morning with a slight Merlot+pina colada hangover but having had one of the best nights out this year so far. There are a few small points Freya’s could improve upon, but overall the atmosphere and experience shine through and the menu is well considered without lacking broad appeal. We will be back.

 

I’ve only been working freelance for a few weeks but I’m already enjoying the change in lifestyle it’s afforded me. At the beginning of the week I now work in Newcastle at my part-time comms/marketing job and the rest of the week and weekend is mine, mine, mine!

I fill these days of freedom with copywriting and feature writing and have already carved out a bit of niche writing about marketing and food topics. The flexibility of the freelance lifestlyle is already allowing me to catch up with friends more often and I’m finding that I’m starting to tick off restaurants and other foodie spots on my to-do list, which in turn means more runs and walks beside the beach are required!

One recent ‘to-do’ was ticked off on a catch-up with my friend Jane when we visited the Brownie Bar in Eldon Square. I first encountered the Brownie Bar at food festivals and have also taken advantage of their gift service in the past but until a few weeks ago I hadn’t visited their café spot in Newcastle. With a few jobs to do in town, I arranged to meet Jane for a completely novel mid-week catch up so that we could take advantage of the bargainous Groupon voucher I bought for £6, which entitled us to a warm brownie and ice cream with hot beverage each.

It was Thursday, I wasn’t at work, there was coffee and there was cake. I was a very happy Fay indeed. So happy, it almost didn’t matter that Jane was her standard 45 minutes late. I spent some of the time perusing the growing range of brownies and blondies available at the Brownie Bar. I have a feeling I might have pressed my nose up against the glass to look at the many varieties in all of their close up glory. In the past I’ve favoured the Brownie Bar millionaire brownie. However, on this particular day I was enticed by a banana and salted caramel blondie and moved over from the dark side. Jane chose a nutella and peanut butter brownie and we both selected a cappuccino to wash them down.

The staff at the bar were very friendly, answering questions about the brownies and serving our drinks super quick. As I’ve come to expect from the brand, the bakes themselves were delicious, mine with a beautiful undercurrent of banana and sticky toffee sauce. I chose a good dollop of chocolate ice cream to go with it and Jane opted for a vanilla. I would say the sauce in my blondie was more butterscotch/toffee than salted caramel but it was delicious. I attempted to taste Jane’s brownie but found it far too peanutty for my peanut hating taste buds – a good choice for peanut lovers though, undoubtedly.

Even without the Groupon (which netted us this little lot for £6) this treat wouldn’t have been very costly and it was really refreshing to be able to meet up with friends during daylight. I’m more than enjoying my taste of flexibility and freedom, here’s hoping my waistline can take the joy!

P.s I have one voucher left that needs used by the end of August, anyone fancy a coffee catch up?