New Times for Newcastle
Newcastle has come a long way since its coal mining and ship building days, and more recent reputation as a hen and stag do destination.
With its renowned university and an increasing number of premium bars and restaurants, this friendly city is a growing and exciting hospitality hub.
Born and bred Newcastle lad Alex MacPherson is head sommelier at Jesmond Dene House, a boutique hotel and restaurant just outside the city centre. He believes that Newcastle is opening up, with a growing and well-off student population. “There’s a lot of money coming in, which has led to more good-quality restaurants opening,” he says.
Pleased To Meet You is a Crafted Projects site in the heart of Newcastle, with a focus on wine, gin and craft beer. Manager Tom Proud explains that Newcastle’s fine dining and drinking sector has improved dramatically over the last five years. “We’ve gone from having very few good bars, to now having a huge choice for food and drinks,” he says.
Owner of Crafted Projects Barry Ladhar believes that there’s now something for everyone in the city. “Drinking out and eating out eating out habits in Newcastle are changing: people tend to go out more and they’re spending more money,” he says.
Spanish bar and restaurant chain, Tapas Revolution, opened its latest site in Newcastle’s Eldon Square shopping centre. Managing director of the group, Mac Plumpton, explains, “This is our sixth site – it took a while to find the right place, but we are excited to be in Newcastle. This is our biggest square footage yet and is also our first site with a dedicated bar.”
While many consumers tend to stick to old favourite drinks, Tom explains that some are more open to suggestions. “It’s great if you can upsell on a wine and the customer loves it – it’s about the story and the drink, creating a memorable occasion.”
Premium wine seems to be slowly growing in popularity. Alex says, “At Jesmond Dene House, the Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc sells itself. But we also like to offer customers something a bit different – the Bodega Garzon Tannat from Uruguay is a winner, especially with our venison dish, while the new Chateau Changyu Moser XV from China is proving very popular by the glass.
“Sherry has also become more fashionable, especially during our afternoon tea. Visitors are more willing to try new things and take advice from us, and we offer a lot of interesting wines by the glass and carafe,” he says.
House of Tides has become a Newcastle institution in just three short years. The first in the city to receive a Michelin star, Kenny Atkinson really wanted to put his city on the map. Restaurant manager Laura Stephenson has been involved since the beginning and explains that while they had to play it safe at the start, they now have more freedom to do something interesting, to exceed expectations.
Sommelier Adam Renwick believes that having places like this has made an impact on the city’s development, with more restaurants now putting an emphasis on fine food and drinks.
Laura explains that they offer a good range by the glass – “even the entry-level wine is great. We don’t have Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio by the glass and it comes down to the staff to be able to suggest an alternative. Training is so important. The more training and knowledge you have, the easier it is to sell.”
Although evolving, Newcastle doesn’t have a very strong wine culture yet and for Alex it is important to educate guests on things like wine serving temperature. “I hear at least once a day: ‘this Chardonnay is too warm’, or ‘that red is too cold’. But customers’ knowledge is improving and we can help by having trained staff to spread the message further.”
With more and more restaurant and bar openings across this expanding city, competition is getting tougher. Tom says, “Bibendum was there when we started – the team helped us pick wines for the different sites and provided training for everyone. They’re great at sorting out any problems; it’s the small things that make a massive difference.”
With a rich history and culture, and beautiful landmarks and coastline, Newcastle is an all-round destination. “It’s an exciting city that is growing rapidly. The people are the friendliest you are going to meet in the UK,” Alex says. “It’s got great bars, great people – what’s not to love?”
For Barry, it’s about offering something for everyone – “Newcastle has a great, compact city centre that offers many different things. You can get any night out that you are looking for. It’s an exciting place to be!”