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McKenna's at Northern Stage, Newcastle

THERE aren’t many laughs in an Ibsen play. His take on life starts in a dark place and travels, scene by scene, to an even bleaker one.

McKenna's restaurant, Northern Stage, Lucy Crowe

THERE aren’t many laughs in an Ibsen play. His take on life starts in a dark place and travels, scene by scene, to an even bleaker one.

Maybe it’s all those long Scandinavian nights that depressed him. At least with Shaw we got some humour interspersed with all the moralising and social commentary.

The evening we visited McKenna’s at Northern Stage in Newcastle, Ibsen’s The Dolls House was on. The restaurant was full of theatre-goers hell-bent on a serious night out and feeding themselves up for the strenuous effort that lay ahead. The three-minute bell went and there was a mass exodus, leaving us alone in the dining room. The dark brick walls closed in as the waiter blew out all the other candles and cleared the tables.

We ran through the reams of snacky tapas dishes on offer but chose from the limited, pre-theatre menu. There followed the first of three long waits, which we filled by watching dance students practising and performing on the green outside.

I was just getting into the rhythm of it when my classic prawn cocktail arrived. The sundae glass was filled with shredded iceberg lettuce with a good serving of prawns on top smothered in a vinegary, pink mayonnaise sauce. It had all the ingredients of a “classic” but was in reality a basic version of this retro dish.

My companion’s feta cheese and cherry tomato salad was very workmanlike, producing a competent compilation of ingredients that looked pretty but produced no surprises. Cubes of salt-chalky cheese dotted a small mass of rocket leaves and cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of pesto running around the plate.

The plates went and another long interval ensued. The dancers were joined by a teacher who introduced somersaults to the routines. The youngsters started cart-wheeling enthusiastically up and down the dance mat. It’s great to see such energy being harnessed and used so creatively. If only the same could be said of the kitchen here.

My roast Mediterranean vegetables with pesto linguini was deeply disappointing. Any vegetarian would be justified in feeling very short-changed by this dish because, although there were masses of linguini in the bowl, there were tiny bits of courgette, capsicum and onion hidden in the tangles all swimming in a sea of oil.

Luckily, the pan-fried chicken breast with baby roast potatoes and wilted greens was much better. The plump chicken breast came with a very generous serving of wilted spinach, softened courgette slices and chunky potatoes. Although the gravy lacked savour, compared to the vegetarian option the chicken dish was a feast, which she graciously shared.

She was just as generous with her Eve’s pudding, although I wasn’t as grateful because the sponge was as weary as Rip Van Winkle and the sugary custard and processed apple couldn’t revive it. My crème brulée, however, was good with creamy custard topped by a glossy, crunchy brulée. Mind you, if a chef can’t produce a passable brulée he should hang up his apron and go home.

I’m looking for good places to review and McKenna’s only just makes the grade.

Information

Address: McKenna’s at Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle.

Tel: (0191) 242-7242.

Open: Monday 9.30am-6pm; Tuesday-Saturday 9.30am-8.30pm; bistro menu from 5.30pm.

Where is it?: In the theatre overlooking Newcastle University.

First impressions: Slightly upgraded multi-storey car park.

Welcome: Busy but efficient.

Style, design and furnishings: Basic brick walls with no decoration.

Cuisine: Modern British with breakfast to evening snacks and tapas.

Wine: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Pale (grapefruit) gooseberries with a light citrus background, £14.95.

Service: Patchy.

Value: Not a wholly positive experience, but at least it wasn’t too pricey at £48.85.

Parking: Currently no parking directly outside. The rear of the Civic Centre is the nearest place.

Disabled facilities: Fully accessible.

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