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
Terry Laybourne’s atmospheric Durham restaurant is very good value, “highly recommended for business lunches, romantic evenings, and impressing the in-laws”
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.
Best Newcomer Finalists
A Taste of Persia, Jesmond
Newcastle’s authentic Persian restaurant spreads its wings to Osborne Road
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
Popular, tiny Quayside coffee house with friendly service and good cooking.
Sky Apple Café
Heaton’s great value gastro-vegetarian café
Best Asian Restaurant Finalists
Indian street food in a lively atmostphere
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
Authentic French bistro in the centre of Hexham
Modern Italian with a café feel
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
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
Warm, family-friendly Italian with good pizzas and pasta
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