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The Herb Garden review: A memorable place to eat out in Newcastle city centre

A roller-skating horse and incubating herbs make The Herb Garden on Westgate Road in Newcastle a memorable place to eat out

The Herb Garden
****

A large fibreglass horse guards this restaurant in a railway arch beneath the main line as it cuts through Newcastle.

He’s yanked me out of many a daydream as I’ve passed by. Maybe that’s his purpose because I can’t imagine any other, even in the subtlest restaurant marketing strategy. Horse, as you would expect, is not on the menu.

On this visit the horse was wearing his customary leggings but his roller skates were missing.

So, a roller-skating horse with leggings. That’s how The Herb Garden greets would-be customers.

First impressions

Well, second impressions really, given the horse.

My first impression is that this place is bigger inside than you might imagine. The address is Arch 8 but it appears to take up two arches, each metal lined and painted a soft shade of green.

There’s a long bar just inside the door.

The restaurant is in the adjoining arch, its wooden tables and benches set out in a manner that at first suggests communal dining – although, on closer inspection, this is a flexible arrangement and big and small groups can be comfortably accommodated.

Style, design and furnishings

A horse stands guard at the entrance to The Herb Garden
A horse stands guard at the entrance to The Herb Garden

Functionality, eccentricity, individuality... three words that spring to mind.

Above the bar hang glittering chandeliers of wine glasses. Suspended above the bench-like dining tables is a froth of paper lanterns of the type that used to hang in every student flat in Newcastle.

It softens the necessary metallic veneer of this re-purposed relic of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the railways. It makes me think a little of the Disney film Up in which a condemned house takes off beneath a bunch of balloons.

But the most interesting stuff is going on at one end of the room. Within a bank of illuminated drums, green shoots are visible.

They look like incubators. They are incubators. Unlike the fibreglass steed, this decorative feature also serves a practical purpose as a source of herby ingredients for the kitchen.

A word about the gents’ which may equally apply to the ladies’. I forgot to ask. Steam punk through and through: a stone sink from some kind of imagined prehistory and metal milk churns, custom-cut.

This is not a place short on talking points.

Looks aside, and perhaps most important of all, there is an air of friendliness. It might be the weirdest looking place you can eat but quickly you’ll feel you belong.

Food and Drink

Pizzas are the main event. “We at The Herb Garden have a very long love affair with pizza,” said head chef Lucy Clinch when recently announcing a new breakfast range.

These include Breakfast in Bed (chocolate, hazelnut, banana, honey and vanilla ice-cream), Fannie Farmer (pecan pie, salted caramel, maple syrup and vanilla ice-cream) and Twisted English (sausage, parsley, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, ricotta, egg and rocket).

It wasn’t breakfast time so they weren’t an option. But the evening array of pizzas was extensive with toppings including wild mushrooms, truffle, blue cheese, walnut, beetroot and Pecorino.

We started by sharing a portion of hummus which came, like much else, on a board. Served with four slices of cranberry bread, it was a demonstration of what hummus probably should be – tangy, richly creamy and leaving us wanting more.

Two pizzas came our way and they looked lovely, the lack of uniformity suggesting a hand-made approach. One was a duet of black olives and anchovies; the other, from the specials board, covered in peppered fillet steak, mushrooms, red onions and other tasty delicacies.

My son, alarmingly having developed a taste for pricy meat, also turned to the specials board for Venison Nicottini, described as rolled venison loins stuffed with mushrooms, courgettes, juniper berries and rosemary.

All incredibly healthy, this. But perhaps not as healthy as my Flower Power Chicken which exuded such wholesome goodness that I felt better for merely looking at it.

Slices of chicken were in there somewhere, along with sweet potatoes, but this among all our main courses best exemplified The Herb Garden’s approach. Scattered across the small mountain of edible flora were purple petals (pansies?) and splashes of yellow. If it had come from the rotating drums at the end of the room I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The desserts maintained the theme. I ordered tiramisu and got a pansy in a pot. Very clever – chocolate granules for soil and the edible flower – and absolutely delicious, like everything else.

Value

Food at the Herb Garden
Food at the Herb Garden

Well, if it’s good you don’t mind paying. If you want the most expensive item on the menu it’ll be the fillet steak at £26 but the fillet steak pizza was £16, the olives and anchovies version £11 and the cool hippie chicken concoction £12.

The tiramisu was £4.95 – worth it just to look at – and none of the drinks topped a fiver. I had a bottle of Apache pale ale from the excellent Three Kings Brewery in North Shields, my wife had rosé and my daughter went for one of the “naughty-but-nice” drinks – pink and sticky with a straw.

The bill for four just topped £83. And I actually went out feeling healthier than when I went in.

Are You Being Served?

As previously alluded to, The Herb Garden exudes friendliness. They do extraordinary things here and they are happy to share their secrets.

The food came swiftly along with an explanation about the incubators and the news that the horse, having been mounted by some over-exuberant students, was currently recuperating – hence the absence of roller skates.

Opening times

Monday to Sunday from 11.30am until closing time (you’re unlikely to be bawled at to see your drinks off). You can’t book so you take your chance. We took pot luck on a Saturday evening and waiting 15 minutes. We talked to the horse.

The Herb Garden, Arch 8, Westgate Road, Newcastle NE1 1SA. Tel. 0191 2220491 (www.theherbgardenuk.com)

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