STOCKING up on winter-flowering pansies and violas, we thought we’d take a detour past the scented candles and country casual clothing to check out the garden centre’s restaurant.
It’s located deep inside the sprawling centre (formerly, but probably forever known, as Peter Barratts) and always looks busy whenever I’ve dropped in for a quick coffee, lunchtimes in particular, with the regulars brandishing their loyalty cards at the till.
It’s even busier (and noisier) now they’ve opened a soft play area, but thankfully the good-natured squealing dissipates by the time you get seated.
The Garden Restaurant, as it is known, was buzzing when we dropped in one Sunday lunchtime.
It offers far more than just cakes and scones, with a good selection of home-cooked meals such as beef and ale stew with dumplings and bubble and squeak, made by their on-site chefs.
Part of the Garden Centre Group, it is supporting British Food Fortnight (which runs until October 2) with dishes incorporating produce from British farmers and producers. These include British free-range chicken pie, and British cheddar cheese, potato and leek flan, plus traditional baked sponge plum pud. And you can recreate the dishes at home with free recipe leaflets available.
The British Food Fortnight dishes are available until Wednesday of next week, when they will be replaced by other British seasonal faves.
We queued for our food, which is served up canteen style, with big joints of meat and catering-style containers of pie, roasties and veg on display. Most of it attractively presented, although the thick skin forming on top of the custard was not the most appetising of sights.
We took our seats while staff cooked the other half’s fish, and plated up our dishes, so they would all arrive together.
The restaurant is a simple, country kitchen-style, light and bright, with a homely feel to the furnishings. It’s a vast space, though, with vaulted ceiling, and can get very noisy.
Large windows overlook the cultivated gardens full of shrubbery and pot plants aplenty.
I opted for their British Food Fortnight dish of free-range chicken, mushroom and thyme pie with roasties (my first choice of parsley boiled potatoes were all out), sliced carrots and white cabbage, £7.65.
The pie was excellent, very tasty, with a thick topping of shortcrust pastry, which was both light and golden, with pastry leaves adornment. The filling, chunks of chicken thigh and breast in well-seasoned stock, spilled out on to the plate. The carrots were sweet and flavoursome, cooked in a wok with sugar, parsley and butter, we were told. The cabbage was crisp with a mild peppery flavour.
Whilst the pie was piping hot, the veg was a little on the cool side. It was a hearty dish, though, almost too filling.
Daughter’s child-size portion of topside roast beef with all the trimmings, £4.95, was a value-for-money dish. The beef, one fairly thick slice, entirely cooked through and crispy on the edges, was the star of the dish, being both tender and full of flavour. It came with roasties, decent Yorkshire pud, cabbage and carrots. Although the gravy was missing – and we had to stop a waitress, who quickly sorted it, bringing over a jug.
My husband chose beer-battered haddock and chips, £7.65, although when it was brought to the table, he was told there were no peas left, so he too opted for carrots and veg. His tartare sauce was also missing. The waitress who’d sorted out the gravy jug then ran off to sort out the tartare sauce problem.
The fish, worth the wait, was cooked from fresh, and had a mild beery flavour to the batter, which was light and crispy. It was a good-sized portion of fish, served in two pieces, with a mini mountain of chunky chips on the side. The veg and fish he loved, the chips whilst adequate, were deemed nothing special.
I finished with baked British sponge plum pudding, £2.95, with pouring cream instead of custard. A starry dessert this, the sponge was warm, golden yellow in colour, buttery and eggy, with an excellent home-made taste. A real comfort food dish. The sponge was studded with soft, sweet plums.
Chocolate sponge cake, £2.65, garnished with strawberries and blueberries, was not so good, though. Whilst it was a generous slice, with thick layer and topping of chocolatey buttercream icing, it had an overriding artificial flavour.
The daughter’s dessert aside, this was good comfort food cooking, generous portions, well priced. Worth filling up when you’re stocking up the borders.
Address: The Garden Restaurant, Gosforth Garden Centre, Newcastle, NE3 5EP. Tel: 0191 236 7111.
Open: Mon – Sat, 9am-6pm; Sun, 10am-4.30pm.
First impressions: Past the home knick-knacks, cuddly fleeces and indoor plants, you’ll find the restaurant.
Style, design and furnishings: Homely, simple country kitchen-style, bright and airy, wooden tables and chairs. Big dining space, plus comfy club chairs for quick snacks, and outdoor seating on patio. Big windows overlook attractive cultivated gardens and outdoor play area.
Cuisine: Homely classics. Hearty lunches plus sandwiches, lighter dishes and scones and cakes. Proud supporter of British farmers and producers. Drinks: Waddesdon rose, small bottle, 18.7cl, £2.95; homemade lemonade, £2; J20, £2.40.
Service: Queue at the counter to be served, canteen-style. Staff bright and cheerful.
Value: Good; substantial, filling dishes.
Disabled facilities: Accessible.