Banyan has well and truly taken root at the former Jamie’s Italian site in Newcastle’s revamped Monument Mall.
Taking over such a huge space from a household name chain – albeit a trouble-hit one – is a gamble, but Banyan has done much to stamp its own identity on the 5,000sq ft two-floor site with a £1.5million refurbishment. Competition is fierce amongst casual dining chains, especially in this corner of Newcastle, but just a few weeks after opening and there’s a buzz about Banyan.
The ninth of its kind to open in the North, Banyan is a bar and restaurant that’s designed for the Instagram age, with neon signs aplenty and ceilings festooned with floral canopies that are just begging to be committed to social media.
I can’t vouch for the men’s, but the ladies’ toilets are pretty as a picture with wild, trailing faux flowers and even more Millennial neon pink to make the iPhone cameras wink.
Back downstairs, there’s more of a casual feel that makes it perfect for a drinks pit-stop when shopping. Meanwhile, upstairs feels more special and, in the couple of times I’ve been since it opened, seems to have already established itself as a popular spot for date nights and group outings. Seating is varied too, from tables for two to large booths, meaning there’s plenty of space between diners at this large site.
But does Banyan has the substance to back up the style? The food offering is as you would expect from a chain restaurant juggling multiple covers: nothing too mind-blowing, but certainly better than your average pub grub.
It’s a people-pleaser of a menu with a bit of something to suit all palates, from stodgy classics such as steak and ale pie (£13.95) and bangers and mash (£12.50) to more hipster choices, such as a vegan beetroot burger (£11.95) and powerbowls, which start from £10.75. Food is served all day too, from breakfast and brunch through to evening meals and a Sunday lunch offering.
I chose from one of the healthier options and had the beetroot and goat’s cheese bruschetta to start (£6.95).
It’s a fresh dish to kick off a meal, with a colourful medley of both red and golden beetroot, as well as tomatoes and fragrant basil. The toasted sourdough hadn’t been drowned in oil, as is often the case with a starter like this, which allows the natural flavours to shine. However, it could have done with much more of the crumbly goat’s cheese for the price.
The cheese was more plentiful for my mains choice of revitalise bowl (which is one of their gluten-free options for those with food intolerances).
Served like a de-constructed salad, it was split into sections and offered plenty of chewy slabs of halloumi, as well as roast butternut squash, red and golden beets, avocado, tomato, roast peppers, quinoa and a superfood dressing. It was a refreshing lunch, loaded with a kaleidoscope of textures, which means you can eat out on the town, minus the guilt.
Drinks-wise, all the usual suspects are on the wine menu such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and more, starting at £5.10 for a small glass of white. Cocktail-lovers are more well catered for with an imaginative list of concoctions inspired by flavours from around the world, from Geisha Girl to Nordic Iced Tea,
Groups can also splash out on Banyan trees, featuring six drinks or either a choice of gin, pornstar martini or espresso martini.
Five other spots for group dining
•Tequila Tequila, Grange Terrace, Sunderland
One of the largest city centre restaurants in Sunderland, Tequila Tequila offers fun Mexican food – with added sombrero. An early bird menu runs from 5pm on Wednesday until Friday 5pm, where you can pick up two courses for £9.95 and three for £12.95.
•Revolution, Low Row, Sunderland
A chain that’s stood the test of time in Sunderland, Revolution is particularly good in summer when you can eat on its terrace. It’s ideal for sharing pizzas and burgers, which you can pick up 2-4-1 on Mondays.
•Chaophraya, Grey’s Quarter, Newcastle
For a special family meal try the private dining room at this Thai chain, which offers good quality food from the top of Eldon Square’s food quarter. Expect a colourful menu and stunning views.
•808 Bar & Kitchen, St Thomas Street, Sunderland
A colourful new addition to Sunderland, 808 offers pretty cherry blossoms, good tunes, and plenty of booths for a catch up with friends. Food such as sliders and hand-made pizzas are served daily until late.
•Pizza Punks, Grey Street, Newcastle
One of the most popular new pizza places in Newcastle, this one offers plenty of seating and a lively atmosphere. It’s particularly good for vegan choices, with options such as vegan haggis.