It does have the most incredible view. Straight over the river, with the cityscape framed by the huge sweep of the Tyne Bridge, it’s a breathtaking panorama.
Though the Hilton stands high on the Gateshead bank of the Tyne, the hotel’s website places it in Newcastle, which must irk everyone south of the river.
This is a flagship hotel for the whole of Tyneside, a first choice for putting up posh guests and VIPs. It hosts big conferences and banquets – and, although catering for hundreds is a tough call, I can attest that they do it very well.
But this wasn’t a meal for hundreds – it was just me and a business colleague, power lunching in what the hotel calls its “casual yet elegant” restaurant. We wanted to sample its “modern and local cuisine”, so we went à la carte, which means we were paying nearly £20 for a main course, plus £7 each for starters and desserts. That’s London pricing, so we expected a lot.
I’d love to be able to tell you that Windows on the Tyne offers our city’s visitors a showcase of regional produce and recipes. But aside from a cursory reference to “local” cheese, there was no mention of provenance.
Seafood linguine and scotch egg salad sat alongside steaks, braised ox cheek and seared tuna: this menu could have been found in any big hotel in any provincial town. A “healthy options” section offered ‘lime and chevil marinated chicken on ozro rice’, by which I assume they meant chervil and orzo. We decided to be un-healthy.
I asked the waitress, whose badge declared her a ‘Team Leader’, if she could recommend a starter. She couldn’t.
‘How about the spicy crab cakes?’ I asked hopefully.
‘They’re very popular,’ was the reply.
‘Yes, but do you recommend them?’
She couldn’t, because she hadn’t tried them. Or anything else for that matter.
She could endorse neither food nor wine. We were on our own.
My colleague ordered quenelles of chicken liver with beetroot relish, whereas I risked the crab cakes on “dressed leaves with mint and coriander yoghurt”.
Now I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that a restaurant this expensive would buy in its pâté and relish. But I can report that it somehow managed to make both taste as if they’d arrived on a van.
The pâté was bitter and cloying, rather than smooth and homemade, whilst the relish could have come from a jar. Presented clumsily with a few undressed leaves, a couple of large slices of white toast and garnished with two cherry tomatoes, this dish would have been laughed off the table in the conference hall next door.
My two spicy crab cakes contained no discernible spice and very little crab: virtually hollow balls of fishy nothingness, perched on baby gem that had been drizzled with a milky minty liquid and garnished with two more cherry tomatoes.
Our mains were salmon steak with grilled sweet corn, béarnaise sauce and loin of lamb with roasted vegetables. The Team Leader had no idea if the “roasted vegetables” would be sufficient without an additional side dish, so I paid an extra £3 for chips that I didn’t need. The lamb would have graced a Sunday pub lunch, piled on roast potatoes and other winter favourites.
The meat was tender and pink, but let down by asparagus that had lost its green and a “redcurrant jus” that suspiciously resembled granulated brown liquid.
Even more disappointing was my colleague’s salmon. An anaemic slab, it lay next to a gravy boat of acidic béarnaise, with half a cob of corn hiding in embarrassment under a veil of pea shoots. It was right to hide: it had been billed as grilled, but any crunchiness had been boiled or steamed away; it had no more colour than the sad fish beside it.
By now we had almost lost the will to eat, but decided to share a “selection of mini desserts.”
This turned out to be a cube of brown sponge aspiring to be sticky toffee pudding, a little ramekin containing a piece of hard meringue, a blob of cream and some strawberries (a mess that had never been to Eton), and, bizarrely, a slice of Victoria sponge that had lost its way to afternoon tea.
As I tried three times to pay the bill – the Leader’s team had been replaced by another group of disinterested staff – my colleague gazed wistfully at the view.
“Look, isn’t that Kenny Atkinson preparing dinner in House of Tides?” he said.
I growled as I got out my credit card.
Secret Diner’s Verdict (out of 5 stars)
Hilton Newcastle Gateshead
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 490 9700
Mon-Sat 6.30am to 10pm
Sun 7am to 9.30pm