A new fusion café opening soon in Tynemouth promises to take diners on a global taste tour in the most unexpected but joyously inventive way, as TASTE discovers
THE first time North East chef Sam Storey and Dilaila Galbraith met wasn’t the most auspicious of occasions.
Dilaila, on holiday from her home in Dubai, had been enticed into Sam’s well-known café, Belle and Herbs in Heaton, Newcastle, by a drinks board declaring they stocked and served any and every tea.
She asked for rose petal. Shamefacedly, Sam was forced to admit he neither sold nor had heard of the fragrant black tea which is popular across the Middle East.
The pair got talking and Dilaila promised to bring Sam back a few packets of the elusive tea leaves when she next returned to visit her mother in Tynemouth. By then, however, the multi-award-winning Belle and Herbs on Heaton Road had sadly closed.
Fast forward a few years and Dilaila was back living in the North East and had volunteered to run a Cuban paladares as part of the now annual Eat! NewcastleGateshead food festival.
Sam, who is on the Eat! steering committee, decided to drop by.
He walked in the door, spotted a packet of rose petal tea and in unison Dilaila and he looked at each other and exclaimed: “It’s you!”
They got chatting and found they shared a passion for unstructured cooking and fun and funky fusion food.
Now, many cups of rose petal tea later, the pair have come together as business partners and are set to open their own eaterie, the quirkily-named Dil and the Bear (Dil is short for Dilaila and ‘the bear’ is Sam’s 14-month-old son Eddie’s nickname) offering diners with an adventurous palate, or those seeking something different to the normal run-of-the- mill café fare, a unique twist on a host of global dishes.
Expect to find quirky homemade patisseries; daily changing seasonal soups like Cuban-inspired black bean unusually garnished with sour cream, avocado and coriander; smoked salt beef, radicchio and crispy shallot sour dough sandwiches; hot haloumi and roasted vegetable paninis and healthy light bites such as South American-style salmon ceviche with refreshing lime and passion fruit. The café will even offer a novel Chelsea Bun-style breakfast sandwich packed with homemade black pudding, bacon, an omelette and confit tomato sauce embellished with wild mushrooms for two or more people to tear and share.
The eclectic home-cooked menu reflects former interior designer Dilaila’s multi-cultural upbringing.
Cuban by birth, her Geordie father’s oil industry background meant the family were constantly on the move.
At the age of six in the mid-1970s she and her Cuban mother found themselves deposited in Seaton Sluice in Northumberland. Stints in Barbados, Spain, Venezuela, Dubai and even Switzerland followed with her now three siblings.
Dilaila’s enforced travels had a huge influence on her – and her mother’s – cooking.
“Until she came to Seaton Sluice my mother had never seen a carrot and she thought the roast dinners with boiled vegetables eaten by our neighbours were very bland.
“While the food served in the Cuban tourist resorts doesn’t have a good reputation, that eaten in people’s homes is very different. It uses a lot of garlic, cumin and lemon and has very strong flavours.
“My mother began improvising with what was available to her and brought a Cuban touch to our meals. At first our neighbours thought she was mad but were slowly converted and thought it was fantastic what she was doing.
“After that each time we moved our mother would reinvent the local cuisine and put her own touches to it.
“I have inherited that skill and desire to push the gastronomic boundaries and my own food reflects all those cultures that influenced me. I couldn’t cook a simple, straight- forward roast; nothing food-wise is ever as it seems with me.”
A good example is Dilaila’s take on that most British of fast foods, fish and chips. Instead of the usual batter and deep-fried chips, she coats fish fillets in polenta seasoned with the lemony Middle Eastern spice sumac and serves it with sweet potato wedges.
It has become a dinner party favourite at her house.
“Structured cooking isn’t either mine or Sam’s style,” Dilaila states.
Before becoming a social worker in his early 20s, Sam, who lives with partner Ruth and their son Eddie in North Shields, trained as a craft baker, and he will be using those skills to produce Dil and the Bear’s range of freshly-made patisseries and bread, while Dilaila is working her own magic in the kitchen.
Turning from home making to home baking may seem a strange route for an interior designer to take. Certainly Dilaila, who did an arts foundation course in Manchester and then took a textile design degree at Nottingham University, was highly successful in her chosen career.
In Dubai she landed a job working with Sheik Mohammed – now the country’s ruler – as interior designer for all his palaces and hotels both in the Emirates and overseas.
Still living in Dubai, she then joined the famous Swedish designer Lars Waldenstrom’s company.
But food was playing an increasingly important part in her life. “I love good food; I love making it, I love eating it and I love seeing other people enjoy it,” she says.
She helped Marks & Spencer revamp and redesign all their menus in their cafes in Dubai. She then decided to set up her own catering firm, Frangipani, which supplied many of Dubai’s top multi- national companies with baked goods (Dilaila has another string to her bow as a cake-maker and decorator).
In 2010 the pull of the UK proved too much for her, however, and she came “home”, first to London and then last year to the North East where she has been house-sitting in Tynemouth for her mother, who is living in Miami.
Dilaila had decided she wanted to open a café and fate intervened when she re-met Sam.
“He initially told me I was mad and tried to discourage me,” she says.
“But gradually I have talked him around. It is a big gamble, especially in the current economic climate, but my feeling is if you don’t try you will never know.”
Dil and the Bear will give a new lease of life to what was an empty former bank building in Tynemouth Front Street. Sam believes he can reproduce the success of Belle and Herbs, which three years in a row won the Observer Food Awards “Best Breakfast in the North”.
Dil and the Bear will not be a clone. The only similarity is that it offers what Sam calls “innovative, zeitgeisty food exploring delicious flavours and combinations that are unique to us.” They are also supporting local producers.
Indeed, come the summer the food is likely to be even fresher. For Sam and Dilaila are planning on starting their own allotment in the spring growing vegetables, salad leaves and herbs, many of them exotic – to British tastes at least – Middle East varieties, like za’atar with its savoury-thyme-oregano zest.
Fusion food has had a bad Press over the past few years, often with good reason. Mixing culinary styles can be calamitous. Few chefs, with the exception of the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and the team behind Nobu, which blends Peruvian and Japanese themes, have successfully got away with it.
Done well, it offers the most exciting flavours around. And as Sam points out, food by its very nature is always evolving.
Sam has moved forward in the past three years since leaving Belle and Herbs. He has worked on community- based projects such as Soul Soup, an arts and food initiative to encourage people to cook. Then the Comfrey Project in the West End of Newcastle where he has helped set up cooking groups for asylum-seekers, which has brought him into contact with new cooking styles.
His and Dilaila’s foodie experiences will come together in Dil and the Bear.
Apart from hopefully striking a chord with the dining public, Sam and Dilaila want their venture to help popularise ingredients like lemony sumac and turn people into adventurous cooks.
“Fusion food is some of the most exciting food,” Dilaila says. “The thing to remember when doing it is that the only rule is there are no rules.”
She found it interesting returning to the UK after so many years abroad. “Having spent part of my childhood here in the UK and dipped in and out over the years, it is fascinating to come back and look at the country’s food culture through the eyes of a chef.”
Now that’s worth raising a cup of rose petal tea to.
Dil and the Bear, 18 Front Street, Tynemouth, NE30 4DX. Tel: 07817 515251.
SAM’S SUNDAY MORNING PANCAKES
Sam says these “are as light as a cloud with none of the rubbery, teeth-squeakiness you get with normal American pancakes.”
15g fresh yeast (or one sachet dried yeast*)
700ml warm milk (body temperature)
2 eggs, beaten
60g butter, melted
In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the milk, eggs, and butter and beat for two minutes.
Cover and let the batter rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 30 minutes).
Pour the batter in half cupfuls on to a lightly greased hot griddle or dry non-stick pan. Turn when bubbles form on top of the pancakes.
Cook until the second side is golden. Serve with maple syrup and butter.
If using dried yeast, whisk into the milk and butter, and sit for 10 minutes until it is frothy before beating in flour.