Tyneside’s hospitality industry has been in bloom recently, thanks to a swathe of new hotels. With the Sandman, Sleeperz, Jurys Inn NewcastleGateshead Quays and the Doubletree by Hilton all launched in the last year or so, there’s now true strength in depth to this sector.
March saw global giant the Wyndham Hotel Group step into the fray when it opened its first venue on Tyneside – the Ramada Encore Newcastle-Gateshead.
Tucked behind Baltic and well placed to take advantage of Gateshead Quays’ cultural and commercial renaissance (the futuristic Northern Design Centre, for instance, is just over the road), the 200 room hotel marks yet another coup for the area.
Lunch is available in The Hub, the hotel’s open-plan restaurant, lounge and bar area on the ground floor. It’s a smart, contemporary space that takes full advantage of the natural light, but what really stands out is the menu.
General manager Deb Peart, North East born and bred, has expressed a firm, commendable commitment to championing the region’s produce; this is borne out on the specials list, while the main menu offers plenty of variety and excitement too, with locally caught hand battered fish and chips (£9.95) rubbing shoulders with chicken mahkani (£9.95), chicken and Mediterranean vegetable risotto (£9.95), or starters such as wild boar terrine with melba toast and sweet red onion chutney (£4.95).
On a staff recommendation, I ordered the intriguing deep fried goats cheese oat cakes with balsamic syrup and tomato and coriander chutney (£5.95) from the specials menu. A well presented and superbly crafted starter, the dish was an excellent choice: the delicate oat crust of the cakes, once opened, revealed a fragrant, creamy cheese which was complemented wonderfully by the chutney and syrup.
My colleague opted for the soup of the day for his starter – a hearty bowl of pea and mint soup served with a warm crusty baguette and butter (£3.95) which he greatly enjoyed.
Belly pork – sourced from Wark Farm in Northumberland – accompanied by a black pudding and potato mash with honey glazed carrots and mustard cream sauce (£13.95, also from the specials menu), was served as my main course. While not hitting the heady heights of the starter, it nevertheless proved to be another excellent demonstration of the chef’s skills.
The pork was tasty, succulent and covered with a golden layer of crackling, but it was the moreish mash which proved the real highlight.
Another Northumberland farm (Battle Bridge, near Alnwick) supplied the slowly braised shoulder of lamb that formed the basis of my companion’s main (£15.95, from the specials list).
Coupled with minted potato gallete and a casserole of roast shallots, carrots and cherry tomatoes infused with rosemary and redcurrant jus, it was reportedly a triumph.
The dessert menu again showed more imagination than those found in many hotel chains, featuring some tantalising, homely comfort food that begged to be sampled.
It was apple and blackberry flapjack crumble with vanilla ice cream (£5.95) for me (exceptional) and deep filled Bramley apple pie with fresh cream (£4.95) for my colleague (eaten with great gusto!).
While there’s a North Eastern flavour to The Hub’s cuisine, the warmth of its staff did the region proud too; they were a real credit to Ramada and their experience and professionalism added to a superb dining experience.
It’s early days for this hotel – and it has plenty of local competition – but the Ramada Encore Newcastle-Gateshead seems to have got off to a fine start. Welcome aboard.
The Ramada Encore Newcastle-Gateshead is at Hawks Road, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 3AD. Tel: (0191) 481 3600 or visit www.encorenewcastlegateshead.co.uk