The tide was turning in Newcastle last night with the opening of top chef Kenny Atkinson’s first restaurant in his home city - breathing new life into a 16th Century listed building.
As The House of Tides on the Quayside opened its doors to guests ahead of next Wednesday’s official public launch, food-lovers were anticipating big things from the 37-year-old with the Michelin star reputation.
“The expectation is horrendous!” said the father-of-two, who yesterday had been shopping for some forgotten essentials - “bins and spoons!” - as finishing touches were being made at the historic Buttress House at 28-30 The Close, just along from The Cooperage.
He said: “I have to get ready for that and prepared for that. There’s a lot of hype. But as long as people give us time to settle in...as you’re going to make mistakes, it’s natural. I’m not just a chef any more, I’m an owner.”
The restaurant, where old meets new in quirky style with sloping walls and creaking boards adding to its unique charm, promises a boost to the area with bookings already building up.
“We want people to accept the building for what it is,” said Mr Atkinson. “It’s not your average restaurant - it’s never been a restaurant before.
“It used to be three separate houses, which is why its address is 28-30, and five North East Lord Mayors have lived here as well as merchants in the 16th Century.”
It was a picture dating from centuries past, showing the river right up to the building, that led to his restaurant’s name. “It was right on the water’s edge,” said Kenny.
In keeping with its listed status and tight planning rules - which finally approved the restaurant sign which will be in place by Monday - the transformation has been a sympathetic one, retaining original features such as pillars, beams and the 16th Century stone flag floor. The fact that no holes could be made in it for beer pump pipes means that bottled beers will be sold instead.
Upstairs, features have been made of the old brick walls.
It’s been a huge job but he’d loved the site for his first restaurant as soon as he saw it.
Kenny said: “We had a vision when we looked at it and thought it was quirky - and quirky tends to work.”
The chef started out working on a fruit and vegetable stall in the Grainger Market 20 years ago and went on to earn a Michelin star at Tean Restaurant on the Scilly Isles then another at Seaham Hall before going on to work at Rockliffe Hall near Darlington, which he left in April.
He admits he is nervous about the opening night of the restaurant which he will run with wife and business partner Abbie and a team of local staff, including new starter recruits in the kitchen.
“I started off as YTS at £35 a week and it’s done me good,” he said.
He wants to encourage young people back into an industry which he thinks has put people off with a reputation for long hours and kitchen histrionics.
His environment will be fun and casual, he says, and staff will mingle with customers for a less stuffy fine dining experience.
“It’s hard to categorise what we are. The style of food is fine dining but it’s not a ‘fine dining’ restaurant.
“This will be more casual fine dining. All we’re trying to do is use the very best of local produce and cook it and present it in best possible way.”
The restaurant’s current taster menus are set to change every month.