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Secret Diner Awards 2013: Nominations revealed

It’s awards time again. Earlier this week, the nominations for The Golden Globes kicked off the Hollywood season of glamour, intrigue and surprises

Bistro 21, Aykley Heads House, Durham
Bistro 21, Aykley Heads House, Durham

Ok, so the Secret Diner Awards may not be quite as prestigious as their film counterparts, but in their own way these awards are just as important.

For it’s a chance for us to celebrate and honour the men and women in our region who have been striving so hard for culinary excellence.

And if there’s one thing we people in the North East love, it’s our food.

Over the last year in The Journal, I’ve tried to be critical and supportive in equal measure as I’ve reviewed venues from the modest to the overblown.

This week, however, it’s only about giving credit: to the chefs for their ingenuity and creativity; to the restaurateurs for their resilience and determination in the face of the worst recession in living memory; and to you, the food lovers, who have supported your favourite restaurants with your hard-earned cash.

The establishments listed on these pages are the lifeblood of our hospitality industry here in the region.

They are what make nights out worth looking forward to.

They are, in short, some of the very best eateries in our region, divided into eight different categories.

These are our 2013 finalists.

Next week on this page I will announce a single winner from each category, and from them I will choose a single restaurant to be awarded 2013 North East Restaurant of the Year.

It’s been an incredibly difficult decision, for which I’ve relied not only on my own judgment, but also on the views of many people whose opinion and taste I respect, including more than 1,000 online correspondents.

I am grateful to you all.

So, for this week only, please celebrate with me the very best of North East food.

From the fine dining restaurants, which are featured in pictures on these pages, to the cafés and gastropubs, the Asian and European restaurants, the hotels and the places that welcome your children.

They are all unequivocally recommended by me, The Secret Diner, and most now display the stickers on their windows to prove it.

And, over the next 12 months, I hope they will continue to be supported by you, their most valued and essential customers.

Don’t miss the announcement of the winners in next week’s Journal.

Fine Dining Finalists

Bistro 21

Terry Laybourne’s atmospheric Durham restaurant is very good value, “highly recommended for business lunches, romantic evenings, and impressing the in-laws”

Café 21

After a disappointing couple of years, Laybourne’s original flagship on Newcastle’s Quayside “perked up no end” in 2013, with “creativity and precision” in its cooking, and “an exceptional meal” for £20 a head for 3 courses.

Jesmond Dene House

The 2011 North East Restaurant of the Year now has more fine dining competition in the region, but it still demonstrates “consistent, imaginative cooking”, including an outstanding tasting menu which won chef Michael Penaluna my first six star award.

Peace & Loaf

The latest entry to the North East fine dining scene, former Masterchef finalist Dave Coulson has launched this Jesmond restaurant as a real fine dining contender, with an “intriguing” menu that’s “modern, imaginative and fun”.

The Raby Hunt

The North East’s only Michelin-starred restaurant continues to shine near Darlington, with passionate, flawless cooking by self-taught chef James Close.

Taste of Persia restaurant in Newcastle City Centre
Taste of Persia restaurant in Newcastle City Centre

Best Newcomer Finalists

A Taste of Persia, Jesmond

Newcastle’s authentic Persian restaurant spreads its wings to Osborne Road

Dabbawal Jesmond

Indian street food comes to Jesmond – atmospheric and fun

David Kennedy at Vallum

Farm-fresh local ingredients and David Kennedy’s cooking make a great combination

Peace & Loaf

Newcastle’s newest fine dining restaurant is already taking the foodie crowd by storm

The Bridge Tavern

This new Quayside venue has already earned itself a great reputation for its food and real ales.

Best Gastropub Finalists

The Barrasford Arms

Good hearty pub fare at Tony Binks’s popular North Tyne pub

The Bridge Tavern

Great comfort food, with ales from its own microbrewery

The Broad Chare, Quayside, Newcastle

Newcastle’s first gastropub continues to win national acclaim for first class traditional cooking

The Feathers Inn, Stocksfield

Atmospheric award-winning country inn with seasonal, regional ingredients

The Rat Inn, Anick

A thoroughly well run pub with some excellent cooking

Best Café Finalists

Café Royal, Newcastle

Classy venue for ladies who lunch, with great afternoon teas

The Butterfly Cabinet

Arty, lively Heaton café with soups, lunches and enormous breakfasts


Quirky, laid back, Ouseburn café bar with an eclectic menu

Quay Ingredient

Popular, tiny Quayside coffee house with friendly service and good cooking.

Sky Apple Café

Heaton’s great value gastro-vegetarian café

Hei Hei Chinese restaurant, 46 Dean Street, Newcastle
Hei Hei Chinese restaurant, 46 Dean Street, Newcastle

Best Asian Restaurant Finalists

Dabbawal Jesmond

Indian street food in a lively atmostphere

Hei Hei

Spicy modern mainland Chinese in Central Newcastle


Sushi and noodles in Grey Street


Authentic Keralan cuisine on the Quayside


Award-winning gastro-Indian in Gateshead

Best European Restaurant Finalists

Bouchon Bistrot

Authentic French bistro in the centre of Hexham

Caffè Vivo

Modern Italian with a café feel

Marabinis, Morpeth

Lively, family-friendly Italian in Morpeth


Sardinian specialities and a fine wine list


Possibly the best Italian meatballs in the North East

Best Hotel Restaurant Finalists

Doxford Hall (George Runciman Restaurant)

North Northumberland country house hotel with 2 AA rosettes 

Hotel Indigo (Marco Pierre White)

Marco’s classy brasserie is a hit in Central Newcastle

Jesmond Dene House Hotel

Consistent fine dining, including a 10-course tasting menu

Rockliffe Hall (The Orangery)

Fine dining in Darlington, with tasting menu and 3 AA rosettes

Wynyard Hall

(Wellington Restaurant)

Opulent Victorian country house hotel with fast-improving kitchen

Best Family Restaurant Finalists

Colman’s, South Shields

Reputedly the best fish and chips in England

Fratelli, Ponteland

Warm, family-friendly Italian with good pizzas and pasta

Marabinis, Morpeth

Traditional Italian welcome for families and foodies

Pizza Express, Gosforth

Popular branch of the chain beloved by kids of all ages


Child-friendly Italian in Hexham


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