Three years ago a pair of friends, and soon to be business partners, headed to the bright lights and heady aroma of London’s Borough Market to volunteer on one of its famous food stalls.
With no experience whatsoever, all they brought with them was a shared passion for quality food and a vision to open their own restaurant in their home village of East Boldon.
Fast forward to 2019 and Jonny Dryden and Chris Lowden now own one of the area’s sleekest and most unique bistros, specialising in native cheeses, charcuterie and wines with a real story to tell. Taking over a derelict business centre and transforming it into Blacks Corner – a colloquial name which dates back to 1918 when the site was built by villager George Black – was a gamble, but it’s one that’s paid off with their venture fast becoming a local favourite.
After more than a year in business, Jonny and Chris were able to show off the fruits of their labour to one of the Borough Market stall holders who took a risk on the pair back in 2016 when Cannon & Cannon joined them for a charcuterie and fine wine showcase evening.
The London-based retailer is a regular supplier to Blacks Corner, which is one of the only places in the region you can try its free range, wild or rare breed cured meats, and visitors to the showcase night were able to learn more about the provenance of moreish meats such as a surprisingly beautiful blood wine and chocolate salami from Wales, an aromatic wild fennel salami, Kent, and a silky Cornish Coppa.
The conversation wasn’t a one off. The owners are on first name terms with each of their select farmers and producers, and each night front of house staff talk through diners’ choices with them so they know the journey from farm to plate. Blacks Corner’s other speciality, cheese, was also the talk of the night with samples of some of its menu favourites such as a creamy Cotherstone from Barnard Castle.
Wines too should capture a time and place and wine merchant Jamie Quaile, who curates the wine list at Blacks Corner, was on hand to talk us through some super small production wines, some of which are available behind the bar.
It was a chance to wet our whistle with some really unusual varieties such as glass of Zweigelt from the Judith Beck winery in Austria. My ears pricked up as soon as I heard it was biodynamic, meaning it’s chemical free and doesn’t give you a hangover, allegedly. Though I can confirm if you drink enough of this easy-to-drink mixture of dark fruits and spices your head will be a little fuzzy in the morning.
The theme of the night was trying wines with as little intervention as possible and you could really taste the earthiness of hand-picked varieties such as in the Cascina Zerbetta from the Barbera del Monferatto winery in the Piedmont region of Italy which had a great depth, adding to the intoxicating culinary storytelling you just don’t get at a restaurant on any other street corner.
Five Other Independents To Try
•Cole Cafe & Deli, St George’s Terrace, Roker, Sunderland
Look out for speciality, hosted wine nights at this small, but perfectly formed, cafe and deli which is housed in a former period home. As well as wines, there’s canapés, charcuterie, salads and cheeses.
•The Lamp Room, North Terrace, Seaham
Expect high-quality tapas at this cafe and restaurant with cracking views over the Tommy statue. It’s one in a string of independents on this thriving stretch along Seaham’s seafront.
•Latimer’s, Whitburn Bents Road, Sunderland
A pricey, but charming, cafe and deli specialising in the best of local seafood. On a sunny day, its terrace is a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine, a seafood platter and some Lindisfarne oysters. If you have room, there’s also some great home-made cakes on offer.
•Kiln, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle
Watch pottery being made through a glass wall at this trendy, pottery cafe. Service is a little slow and very casual, but the food, wines and craft beers are excellent.
•Good Apple Cafe, Derwent Street, Sunderland
In a city centre dominated by chains, Good Apple Cafe is one in a handful of quality independents. It’s built up a firm following thanks to its vegan and vegetarian menu options.