IF you’re fed up of turkey and the trimmings and want to give your tastebuds a workout, this health-conscious Korean restaurant could be right up your street.
Tucked off the beaten track in Taylors and Tanners Court, Newcastle, the Mannaza Grill House is a prize for those who can find it.
Serving traditional Korean food, there is an expansive menu that’s packed with heart ... and Seoul!
Diners will be pleasantly surprised by this elusive eaterie that certainly gives its rivals in Chinatown a run for their money.
The restaurant boasts an exotic Asian-inspired interior, with Gangnam Style playing on the big screen!
The menu is varied and offers a refreshing mix of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.
I have to admit, I am hardly the obvious candidate to be reviewing a Korean restaurant as raw meat and me don’t mix.
I have a preference for hot and hearty Iranian stews that have been bubbling on the stove for hours.
However, always one to try something new, and it being the only Korean restaurant in Newcastle, I dragged my husband Hossein along for the evening.
On our visit, front of house were, to quote the hubby, “a host of very beautiful, friendly young ladies” to give us a warm welcome. All seemed very eager to take our order.
To whet our appetites, we ordered a bottle of Sentina Merlot, £11.90, which was lovely.
We’d never experienced Korean food before so, perusing the menu, it’s fair to say we were a little bit lost.
Luckily, restaurant owner Nan Wang was on hand to offer us some pointers as to what to go for.
He suggested first trying out the Korean Soju. It’s £8.90 for a 350ml bottle. Traditionally made from rice, its taste is comparable to vodka but slightly sweeter. A word of warning, however ... a little goes a long way, so be careful not to drink too much.
The boss, to our surprise, is not Korean but Chinese, although his love of Korean “superfoods”, such as kimchee, is clear to see and he is definitely talking the talk to make this eaterie a huge success.
While kimchee is an acquired taste for anyone not accustomed to eating fermented cabbage, it is low in both calories and carbs. It’s a good bet for anyone watching their waistline ... and it could work, but only because I would rather go without food than eat it again.
It’s an overwhelming mixture of textures and tastes.
The cabbage was crunchy and cold with a clean taste, while the dish itself looked bright. I took a few more bites before pushing the plate to one side and deciding I didn’t like it. Perhaps a smaller portion would have been more palatable.
Another side dish, however, was seasoned spring onion and chilli, £1.60. This was much more to my taste and resulted in a clean plate. The menu offers a whole host of side dishes – pickled or otherwise – to share alongside your main meal.
To me, it’s the ideal place for a working lunch, and its location in the city makes it super-convenient.
Nan suggested the seafood pancake for starters, so I chose this, while my other half opted for deep-fried king prawns.
Presentation of both dishes was extremely elegant, in a relaxed café kind of way. The pancake was deliciously stodgy and packed with seafood, while the prawns were fleshy and full of flavour.
For mains, Hossein ordered the sliced fillet beef, £8.90. It has to be said, it wasn’t what he’d imagined.
The beef came thinly sliced on a bed of sizzling onions with a side bowl of lettuce and some spicy sauce. Not a bun or plate of fries in sight, much to his disappointment.
Nan explained that, traditionally, the beef is wrapped in a lettuce leaf before it is eaten. This is, after all, healthy fare.
I was pleased with my mains, however.
I’d opted for the sizzling squid, £6.70, which was deliciously spicy, and steamed rice with vegetables in a hot stone bowl, £6.90, which was big enough for both of us to share.
Nan mixed the rice with a spicy sauce together for us at the table. It was a wonderful combination which was beautifully presented and smelled delicious.
We didn’t pluck up the courage to sample anything from the self-grill.
This is a unique feature of Mannaza as each table has its own built-in Korean-style grill, allowing diners to cook their own dishes.
It’s definitely something I’ll try in the future and perfect for groups.
All in all, it wasn’t a huge feed – perhaps we should have ordered more dishes – but the food and service was first-class, and we felt satisfied at having tried something authentic and different.
The bill came to just over £60. Not the cheapest meal for two, but definitely the most interesting dining we’ve had for a long time.
Address: Mannaza, 5-7 Taylors and Tanners Court, Newcastle. Tel: 0191 232 7950. Visit www.mannaza.co.uk
Open: Seven days a week, 12pm-10pm, food orders by 9.30pm.
First impressions: A hidden gem with a real buzz, a fun place to be.
Welcome: Warm and nothing is too much trouble for the waiting staff.
Style, design and furnishings: Asian art adorning the walls, comfy cafe feel.
Cuisine: Traditional Korean food.
Service: Impeccable customer service! Staff smile whenever you make eye contact with them. They are attentive and polite.
Value: Good value for a unique experience. Superb Korean beverages.
Disabled access: Accessible.