Jesmond Dene House, Jesmond Dene Road, Newcastle
Sep 18 2009 by Geoff Laws, The Journal
PEOPLE think dining at Jesmond Dene House costs an arm and a leg. However, the JDH Market Menu prices a three-course meal at £25, which puts excellent food in the very affordable bracket.
The choices rack up with a trio for each course and something for everyone.
My companion decided to dress for the occasion and her combination of a Campari and soda aperitif and high heels meant I was on tonic and driving duty. As Jesmond Dene Road is particularly narrow and windy, I held back on the wine too, which left plenty for her ladyship.
Our amuse bouches were ready for us before she was halfway through her Campari, and delayed her start on the Sauvignon, but she soldiered on and polished it off after finishing the delightful chilled watermelon and basil soup with a miniscule mozzarella and Serrano ham wrap.
Starters proper swiftly followed. My smoked haddock brandade, Parmesan crisps and ratatouille had the JDH hallmarks of excellent plate design with interesting combinations of flavours and textures. The mashed potato had just enough smoked fish to make its presence felt without dominating. The sweetness of the ratatouille and savoury bite of the crisps created a fine balancing act.
My companion’s slow-cooked Northumbrian pork terrine with prunes and Armagnac came with wholemeal toast. The fat rich pork was layered with plummy fruit and a hint of spirit. The healthy crunch of wholemeal toast was all this dish needed to round it off.
Many restaurants relegate bread to second or third place in importance, but not JDH. Here it is treated the same as everything else on the menu.
It was Jamie Oliver who said that no self-respecting restaurant served anything but its own bread, because it’s so easy to make within the working day. And he’s right.
The bread tonight was a shining example of how attention to this detail underscores the quality of a restaurant. The tomato-basil foccacia and fluffy white rolls were perfect.
Dinner rolled on with one great dish after another. The crispy pollock with butternut squash, pine nuts and mushrooms elevated an otherwise ordinary fish to the upper realms of taste, with super-crisp skin and mellow flesh boldly ticking every box.
The puréed squash skidded across the plate beside wild mushrooms and buttered greens folded around pine nuts. A light jus made this an excellent combination, as was the corn-fed chicken saltimbocca, braised borlotti beans, sage and lemon.
The succulent breast meat, wrapped in herbs and pancetta, came with a starchy stew of soft borlotti beans, fuzzy sage and piquant lemon.
Chef Pierre Rigothier added an intermediary course of yoghurt and raspberry foam, with marjoram shortbread for good measure. The layering of white and red was a mini-Souter lighthouse and a delicious introduction to dessert.
A fine trio of lavender ice cream, blueberry sorbet and chocolate ice cream ran the gamut of freshly fragrant, almost liquorice blueberry to a full- blown creamy, cocoa-solid chocolate.
The yoghurt terrine, roasted peach and lemon thyme ice cream was another well-designed taste combination of dairy richness balanced by herby fruit sugars.
Monsieur Rigothier introduced himself once our review mode had been declared. During our conversation, we let slip that we’re off to France in a couple of weeks, staying in the Dordogne region. He knew of an excellent restaurant, a few kilometres from our hotel, where his good friend is the chef. By midday the next day, he’d booked us one of the coveted tables. Now that’s service.
There was one slightly off-piste achievement that night, which I have to declare. I rarely get into JDH under operational manager Nick Shottel’s radar. He usually spots me when I’m in review mode, but not this time.
With food this good, it doesn’t affect anything because the quality lies in preparation and training and both the food and the table service were flawless, and all for £25 a head!