REVIEW: Changing Tides, Marsden Grotto, South Tyneside

Marsden Grotto

Marsden Grotto

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Owners seem to get stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to making a success of this coastal landmark.

While the unrivalled views of Marsden Rock and its bay are a constant source of attraction at Marsden Grotto, the site has changed hands more times over the years than you can even count on a hand.

Ham and three cheese crouton

Ham and three cheese crouton

The new restaurant at this historic inn, however, may well have the recipe for success.

While the unique ground floor bar still operates as one of the few cave bars in Europe – it’s got the spooky subterranean back walls and slight chill in the air to prove it – the first floor has become home to Changing Tides restaurant.

It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten in the Grotto, with the experience not good enough to lure me back for a return meal. So I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much the site has changed.

While the entrance to the Grotto may not be the most welcoming – it has to be accessed via a shaky lift or an equally uninviting set of winding stairs – the restaurant itself has been given a swish new identity and one that feels separate to the louder bar downstairs.

Scallops starter

Scallops starter

It’s thanks to a makeover which makes the most of those stunning views, with booths and tables hugging the panoramic windows where diners can sink into plush studded chairs that wouldn’t look out of place in a fine dining spot.

Echoing the scenes outside, the colour scheme is all cool blues and cream with further nods to the coastal location of the site in the reclaimed driftwood features and seafaring rope festooned on the walls.

It’s a natural step to go for a seafood-dominated menu, but there’s also plenty of other options for those who eschew fish. If the fish doesn’t reel you in, the cheap-as-chips price probably will at two courses for £7.95 and three courses for £9.95 on a set menu, with a la carte options also available.

Just to hammer home the fact that this is a new dining experience, the chefs get the show on the road with a complimentary tapas of the day, which on our visit was some moreish sweet potato and parsnip crisps. It was a perfectly light way to whet our appetites for what was to come.

Swordfish mains

Swordfish mains

To start we shared between us a ham hock and three cheese crouton and the seared smokey scallops (£7.95) from the a la carte menu.

The crouton, from the specials menu, was presented well in a pool of pea and spring onion soup which was so delicious it almost stole the show from the chunky crouton and its satisfying crunch.

Half way through, we swapped and I got stuck into the scallops. Again, much thought had gone into the accompanying sauce, in this case a beautifully smooth pea puree which was given some zing with the addition of lemon.

Crisp curls of bacon also added another layer of texture and flavour to lift the subtle nuance of the silky scallop.

Sticking with the seafood theme, I chose the grilled swordfish (£10.95), which was beautifully executed on a bed of spinach in a lemon grass velouté and topped with sautéed king prawns.

The atmosphere felt a bit special without being fussy, helped by the friendly waiting staff who are obviously keen to showcase the new venue.

What’s even better is that there’s no phone signal in the restaurant – so you actually have to talk to each other over your meal.