I ENJOY being a lady what lunches on the odd occasion. Even more so when it’s a smart and rather stylish eaterie, situated a few steps away from designer label heaven. Investment buys, I’m always telling my husband!
My dining destination was Café 21 at Fenwick, a sassy little number, part of restaurateur Terry Laybourne’s 21 Hospitality Group, which makes for a rather elevated department store offering. Middle-of-the-road dining it is not.
The only problem is it can get pretty busy at lunchtimes. It’s situated on the first floor and very popular with the ladies-that-lunch brigade who waft in from the adjacent French Salon, with its wall-to-wall designer labels.
A couple of times I’ve tried to get in and been put off by big queues and ended up having lunch at Pret A Manger downstairs instead.
Café 21 is light and bright, slick and sleek, with olive green banquette seating, wooden floors, lots of mirrors and lots of natural light.
I couldn’t be doing with any queues, so purposely popped in late on a Sunday lunchtime with my other half and our young daughter.
We were seated in the middle of the restaurant – all the preferred banquette seating being taken – and I did feel a tad exposed.
There was a choice of a cafe menu and a fixed-price menu, which looked interesting and competitively priced at two courses for £14.50 and three courses, £17.50, with a choice of three starters, four mains (although there was no roast strip loin of beef by 2.30pm) and three desserts.
Service was brisk and extremely zippy. Our drinks were delivered at the double, as well as a complimentary basket of bread – sliced, super-fresh baguette with French butter.
My daughter Olivia and I opted for two courses from the fixed-price menu, while the hubby chose from the cafe menu.
My starter of salad of goat’s cheese with walnuts and green beans was served up in a jiffy, before I’d barely had time to take a breath.
It was a pretty little dish, attractively presented. There were three delicate slices of French bread topped with grilled goat’s cheese and plenty of herbs, and the pieces were duly shared around the table.
The bread sat on a bed of green beans and rocket, studded with delicious toasted walnuts and plump sultanas. It was sweet and slightly tangy, making for a lovely contrast. A simple but a tasty start to lunch.
Olivia really fancied something meaty, and since beef was off the menu, she opted instead for roast leg of lamb with Yorkshire pud, roast potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Staff checked when ordering that she was fine with the meat being served pink in the middle. She’s partial to a little bit of pulse, so that was fine.
Again, simple components, but all well executed. Three big slices of lamb, sourced locally (from Throckley, we were told), it was indeed beautifully pink, sweet and tender.
It was accompanied by sweet roast parsnips, large roasties and a little dish of vegetables, which arrived five minutes after the meat. The vegetables consisted of green beans, broccoli, carrots, pea squabs and cauliflower, all cooked al dente and in a delicious buttery coating.
Hubby’s main of Thai green curry with chicken, £10.70, was a beautifully fragrant dish.
The curry concoction was served separate to the prettily presented timbale of steamed rice, which had just the right bite.
There was a delicious aroma of coconut, generous chunks of chicken, green beans, shiitake mushrooms, red and green chilli slivers, and a subtle taste of lemongrass.
It was a colourful looking, cheery dish, creamy with a warming kick. Really delicious, and a generous portion too.
My main of grilled salmon with baby pak choi and soy and ginger dressing was also big on taste. The fish had a crispy coating, was topped with sesame seeds, and was presented on a bed of chunky pak choi. Though the big leaves offered too much in the way of vegetation for me, and I couldn’t finish it all.
The warming gingery soy marinade enveloping the fish was utterly delicious, and sassed it up no end.
Olivia finished off with baked vanilla cheesecake with berry compote.
The cheesecake was slightly warmed (nice touch) and the berry compote colourful and tangy, not too sweet, with a generous serving of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries in a rich red berry coulis.
The bill, with three soft drinks, came to £51.26, which included a 10% service charge.
I liked the food, which was good value for money, and the setting is chic and cheerful.
But I just thought the service – whilst fine – was somewhat lacking in warmth.
Brisk and efficient, but maybe too perfunctory.
Address: Café 21 at Fenwick, first floor, French Salon (direct access via Brunswick Place/Northumberland Street south entrance), Northumberland Street, Newcastle, tel: 0191 260 3373.
Open: Weekdays: 9am-7pm last orders (closes 8pm); Saturday: 9am-5pm last orders (closes 6pm); Sunday: 10.30am-4pm last orders (closes 5pm).
First impressions: Buzzy eaterie, just off the French Salon. Chic and contemporary.
Welcome: Met at entrance and briskly shown to a table.
Style, design and furnishings: Wooden floors, olive green banquette seating around edges, trendy central bar area for perching, lots of mirrors.
Cuisine: Cosmopolitan, everything from breakfasts and lunches to afternoon teas. All bases covered.
Drinks: Fentimans Victorian lemonade and ginger beer, £2.40 each; Diet Coke, £2.10.
Service: Brisk, perfunctory, not much interaction.
Value: Great value for food of this calibre and quality; especially fixed price menu.
Disabled facilities: Accessible