Review: The Experimental Diner, Newcastle Castle

Castle Keep, Newcastle Castle
Castle Keep, Newcastle Castle

Our medieval ancestors weren’t exactly famed for fine dining.

But mead and tearing into chicken legs with our bare hands was far from the menu we were treated to when Newcastle Castle threw open its doors to play host to a regal pop up restaurant.

North country beetroot starter

North country beetroot starter

Newcastle’s namesake provided a backdrop steeped in history for the latest instalment of the Experimental Diner, a new dining concept in which chefs from top restaurants craft dishes in unusual North East locations (with prices varying according to the setting).

We started at the bottom, in the former jail in fact, for a drinks reception, where the clanking chains of the site’s grisly history seemed far removed from the champagne the dinner guests quaffed while we waited for the table to be set.

The latter was planned for the roof of the Castle Keep, but the good old British summertime weather soon put paid to those plans, with a heavy downpour forcing the tables to be moved indoors to the Great Hall.

Though it’s a room which dates back to 1172, it still retains much of its grandiose charm and is in remarkably good nick, thanks in part to a £1.67million refurbishment by the Old Newcastle Project which saw new life breathed into the Keep and neighbouring Black Gate in 2015.

The Great Hall at the Castle Keep

The Great Hall at the Castle Keep

Much like it would have done in the fortress’ early days, dinner took on a ceremonial air in the spectacular castle surroundings, with chefs from Dobson & Parnell restaurant in Newcastle’s Quayside holding court.

Chef patron Troy Terrington talked us through the four-courses from a central stove area which was brought in for the occasion.

First up, was North Country beetroot. The piquancy of the main ingredient was balanced with a beautifully-smooth goats cheese curd and walnut mousse which had been whipped to perfection. It was a light and refreshing palate cleanser ahead of a charred day boat mackerel second course, served with heritage tomatoes and horseradish. It was the catch of the day, literally, and was fresh off the boat in North Shields that morning.

To keep its fresh flavour, it was served with minimal faff with the top blow torched while the bottom verged on sashimi. It was a subtle contrast of textures which allowed the natural nuances of the dish to shine.

Mackerel dish

Mackerel dish

Mains came in the form of rare breed pork served with the best mashed potato I think I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten a lot of mashed potatoes). The addition of pickled lemon with buttermilk gave the mash a moreish acidity without being too sharp, and we couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

After a dessert of decadent dark chocolate served with fudge and cinder toffee for added crunch, which we polished off with gusto, we made our way up the winding ancient staircase to the castle roof where the sun had finally got its hat on.

As we enjoyed post-dinner drinks we marvelled at arguably one of the best views in Newcastle, from a bird’s eye view of Central Station as trains that looked like a model railway from our vantage point made their journey onwards, to a sweeping vista of the Tyne as it meandered its way out to sea. It’s a view so good it’s no wonder they named a whole city after this former fortress.

•The next Experimental Diner pop up North East restaurant will be announced soon.

View from the roof of Newcastle Castle

View from the roof of Newcastle Castle