AS a vegetarian I am not used to having a choice when dining out. While all restaurants these days know that vegetarians exist – and even that they do not eat fish – there are usually only one or two veggie dishes on the menu, even on some pizzeria menus.
So the Sky Apple Cafe gives us veggies a taste of non-veggie dining ... where we can choose anything from the menu. This is a real luxury, albeit in – as Sky Apple’s name suggests – low-key, cafe-ish surroundings.
Not that you have to be vegetarian to eat there. Non-vegetarian friends really enjoy it too.
The inventive menu is drawn from all corners of the globe, but influenced by the chef’s love of recipes from the US, and particularly California and Florida.
The number of ingredients does not hold him back either. When I visited, a neighbour’s puff pastry tart was topped with sun-dried tomato pesto, red onion marmalade, butternut squash gratin, roasted fennel and goat’s cheese, while the accompanying salad contained goji berries, raw beetroot, spinach, sunflower seeds, quinoa (a kind of grain) and cherry tomatoes as well as rocket leaves.
Not the kind of dish you’d often rustle up at home.
Sky Apple Cafe stands out on Newcastle’s Heaton Road thanks to its shocking pink frontage. And its huge plate glass window has a signature giant blue apple in the centre.
During the day it has a more stripped-back cafe menu, and at night a more elaborate, restaurant one. I visited in the evening with my husband, having made a reservation, as it is often full at peak times. This was not our first visit, as you can tell.
Friendly staff indicated our table, and went on to serve us with no fuss and no waiting.
The restaurant is, appropriately, painted sky blue with fluffy white clouds. A beautiful, huge chandelier adds a touch of glamour to the deliberately mis-matched tables and chairs, which seat less than 40 in all.
Sky Apple did not have a licence for many years, but now offers a selection of beers and wine, from which we chose a light, fruity Argentinian malbec (£11.50). However, as many customers are used to bringing their own bottle, this is still an option, for a small corkage fee.
We also asked for tap water, which they were happy to provide in a kitschy green plastic lidded jug.
No music played, so there was just the hum of fellow diners’ conversations – and what sounded like a bit of singing – – going on.
From the menu I chose a mushroom and stilton strudel to start (£5), which arrived prettily presented on a white oblong plate adorned with pea shoots.
Two mini strudels of melt-in-the-mouth filo pastry contained rich, “meaty” button mushrooms spiced up with the occasional tang of stilton cheese. In the centre of the plate a cold caponata of aubergine and olives, served in a perfect square, added freshness.
My husband chose the Thai-style halloumi salad (£4.90) which came stacked, topped with the grilled, chewy halloumi cheese.
He loved the sweet, fruity flavours of the wok-fried cherry tomato, basil and pepper, complete with slices of mango and melon and dressed with a mouth-tingling honey, chilli, lemon grass and lime leaf sauce.
For my main course, I looked longingly at that colourful tart, but my passion for aubergine won out so I went for the aubergine and sweet potato schnitzel (£9).
A breadcrumbed and fried schnitzel of sliced aubergine, sweet potato and mozzarella cheese was drizzled with a light, lip-smacking creamy sauce containing dill and mustard.
However, the homemade spaetzle, which I ordered blind, turned out to be German noodles or dumplings, in keeping with the schnitzel.
They were mis-shapen floury twists, about the same size as fusilli pasta, and like pasta, having little flavour except from that sauce. They were not to my liking, though my husband thought they were fine
They also completed the overall brown hue of the meal, a pet hate.
My husband was delighted with the colourful Cambodian curry (£8.90) he chose for his main course, a greenish, citrussy coconut sauce containing aubergines, butternut squash, courgette, carrot and red pepper, spiced with lemon grass and fresh turmeric.
A neatly moulded helping of basmati rice soaked up the curry and there was something to chew with the accompanying sweet potato fritters wrapped in leaves of iceberg lettuce.
That came with Tuk Trey, a sweet and sour dipping sauce with ground peanuts, chilli and lime.
After a suitable break, and thinking of previous delightful encounters, we couldn’t resist the dessert menu, which has a real sense of fun.
My husband went for the skewered fruit fondue (£4.60), falling for the doughnuts it included. The word chunky hardly does it justice. Enormous pieces of pineapple and banana, a large strawberry, and a mini chocolate muffin sat on the skewer, which at each end had a sizeable crisp, sugar-shaken doughnut containing a fresh strawberry. He was agog.
My white chocolate and raspberry trifle (£4.80) came in a tall, thin wine glass topped with a trellis of dark chocolate. Its soft, creamy layers really tasted of white chocolate, the richness cut through with plenty of raspberries, and the amaretto-soaked sponge at the base contained pieces of crunchy pistachio, glimpsed through the glass. It was perfect.
The homemade spaetzle, which I ordered blind, turned out to be German noodles or dumplings. They completed the overall brown hue of the meal, a pet hate
Address Sky Apple Cafe, 182 Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle NE6 5HP. Tel: 0191 209 2571.
Open Monday to Saturday 10am-4.30pm , Tuesday to Saturday also 6-10pm, Sundays 11am-4pm.
First impressions Colourful cafe with casual atmosphere. Parking on street.
Welcome A friendly hello.
Style, design and furnishings Painted sky walls; old, mismatched tables and chairs, brightly lit.
Cuisine Vegetarian. Dishes inspired by many cuisines. Includes dishes which are vegan and gluten free.
Service Informal, quiet, efficient.
Value Good. Daytime opening has a cheaper, simpler menu. Children’s menu also available.
Disabled facilities Entry accessible, toilets not.