I’m not much of a gambling woman, though I do admittedly take some risks when it comes to the consumption of out of date foods from my fridge and cupboards (unami paste doesn’t really have a use by, right?).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.
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.
While 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.