Newcastle has a new tapas restaurant that has already proven popular with city center punters – so we thought we’d better head down to see if the menu was up to scratch.
Café Andaluz took over from Carluccio’s in the Newcastle city center in October last year, becoming the first of the small Glasgow-born chain’s branches in England. I must confess that chain tapas places fill me with a certain cynical suspicion, a concern I might be pushed to spend a fortune on a huge selection of tiny dishes that hardly feel like value for money.
But I’m pleased to report that Gray Street’s new addition exceeded my expectations, serving up a spectacular Southern Spanish spread in a stunning setting.
Readmore: Seven fantastic things to do in the North East this weekend
We ordered liberally from an extensive menu. I think our friendly waitress might have raised an eyebrow at the number of selections we made – if only we could have explained it was all in the name of a thorough review, as opposed to greed.
A Mallorca salad of butterbeans, tomatoes and sweet potato was light and summery, zingy with mint and coriander and the sweet little bursts of pomegranate seeds. The sweet potato was described as roasted on the menu so I’d perhaps have expected it a little less bite to the larger cubes, but this was nonetheless a lovely, unusual dish.
Battered lemon and paprika cod quickly convinced me I wasn’t being ripped off with five generous pieces of fresh, meaty fish. These were filled with flavor inside the light batter, warm spice marrying with tangy citrus, ready for dipping into good, sharp mayo.
The baked goats’ cheese topped with homemade orange and chili marmalade was a revelation and goes down as one of the best things I’ve eaten so far this year. So often goats’ cheese is paired with sickly-sweet jams and chutneys but here the oozing, soft cheese was perfectly offset by bitter marmalade for a simply incredible combination.
Again the portions are generous, you get a whole thick round of cheese piled high with marmalade. I was glad I’d ordered bread to scoop it up with, although my eyes watered a little at the price – £3.90 for a basket of felt rather steep, even if it bread was good quality.
I was slightly less excited by the butifarra negra (Catalan black pudding), although perhaps it merely suffered by comparison of being another large savory disk topped with jam that wasn’t quite as stunning as the cheese. Here rich, earthy black pudding is topped with a very sweet apple puree. The pudding was good, but a hefty slice became a little bland without much else going on, while I couldn’t detect much of the onion or spices promised on the menu in the apple.
Lamb tagine was a solid example of the form, sweet, apricot-laced sauce fragrant with cardamom surrounding soft lamb. Patatas bravas were again good, if not exceptional, soft and crisp roast potatoes in a rich tomato sauce.
Serano ham and cheese croquettes were crisp and fantastically flavourful, full of smoky ham taste and indulgently gooey with the cheese.
Gambas pil pil – big, succulent king prawns with garlic, chilli, parsley and plenty of olive oil – were spicy, slightly smoky, and made me glad I’d ordered plenty of bread to mop up the excellent sauce.
With portions much bigger than you get at many tapas places, we really didn’t need to order as much as we did. Nonetheless, we felt we had to sample a couple of the desserts, purely for research purposes.
A raspberry cheesecake with white chocolate sauce divided opinion. I loved the subtle, fragrant raspberry flavour, but found the texture of the cheesecake itself a little claggy – however, my companion declared it ‘ideal’ (he’s a fan of a set cheesecake, whereas I’m more of a baked cheesecake gal, which may explain the discrepancy).
Meanwhile, a lemon posset was so sharp and tangy it made me positively giggle with delight. Sweet, light and refreshing, it was the perfect way to end a meal.
This feast didn’t come in cheap – we spent £85 (including a gratuity added to the bill) on a meal for two and two drinks, although we certainly could have ordered much less, and the lunch and early evening offer of any three caps for £16.95 would have made it a bit more affordable.
But was it worth it? In this reviewer’s opinion, absolutely.
The portions are generous, the ingredients clearly good quality. Some of the dishes are unusual and genuinely exciting, while the classics are well-executed.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the gorgeous interior. This is a wonderful place to enjoy an evening out, it’s a beautiful building which has been decorated in the warm tones and colorful tiles that could easily make you think you’re on holiday in Andalucia.
If you’re looking to treat yourself to an indulgent meal out in the city centre, you could certainly do a lot worse than swing by Café Andaluz.