THERE’S a sumptuous feel to the Brasserie restaurant at Malmaison that makes dinner here feel a bit special.
With its rich purple colour scheme, subdued lighting and supremely comfy dining booths, it’s an inviting spot. And the hotel, in a commanding position on the banks of the Tyne, makes it a magnet for smart party people and culture vultures alike.
The cosy and intimate feel of the Brasserie probably means I’m drawn to it more in the winter time but a new summer menu with lots of fishy offerings and a new head chef at the helm (Kelly Richardson), meant it was a good time to check things out.
I was dining with a mum from school so it was good chance to come up with ideas to keep our kids occupied these long school holidays.
We circled the car park at the rear of the hotel looking for spaces and found all the Malmaison ones were taken up. Good sign.
We persevered and found a space, another floor up, and made a beeline for the bar. It was a Friday evening, and party-goers were sipping cocktails drinking in the views of the river and its bridges from the trendy first-floor bar.
A waitress advised we’d get served quicker with our cocktails once inside the Brasserie. My strawberry and vanilla-infused margarita, £6.50, complete with sugar-coated glass rim and strawberry garnish, and my friend’s berry-based ‘mocktail’, £6.50, were fabulously fruity.
We were sat in a comfy booth, with dark, squashy, sink-into-me leather seating, round darkwood table, and flickering tealight. There was a striking decorative display of giant bottles on a shelf by our seats.
It was busy the evening we were dining but positioned in a booth we felt we had plenty of privacy.
Assistant Brasserie manager Jonathan helpfully offered suggestions for wine to go with my food choices. I followed his recommendation for a glass of New Zealand’s Huia Pinot Gris, 2008, to pair with my fish dishes (an excellent choice), while my friend (who was driving) opted for bottled water.
The menu looked interesting with lots of fishy leanings with a few extra daily specials marked up on a chalk board.
We counted five fishy starters from nine, including smoked salmon blini and ceviche of yellow fin tuna, and four fishy mains from seven, as well as light salads and a good selection of grill dishes such as steak frites, posh Mal burger with Gruyere cheese and all the trimmings, rump of lamb and Thai green king prawn curry.
All that talk of fish – and just back from sunny Majorca – put me in the mood for more seafood offerings as I opted for a Cornish crab starter with avocado fritters, and mint and shallot dressing, £9.50.
It was so light and delicious, artfully presented, the crab bound together with a scrumptious cool and creamy crème fraiche dressing, the fritters a naughty but nice touch, adding crunch, the whole dish strewn with baby coriander. It was fresh and exciting and left me wanting more.
My friend’s beetroot and goat’s cheese starter was a dish with a twist too. The heritage beets had been prepared three different ways, marinated, jellied and pureed, and the sweetness and intensity of the ruby red root veg was a big hit. It came with delicate portions of deep- fried goat’s cheese and also a disc of goat’s cheese, sitting atop the jellied beetroot.
A clever dish this one and all attractively served up on a glass plate.
My friend – being a cookery teacher – has, shall we say, demanding standards, when it comes to food! But even she couldn’t fault this dish, or indeed her main course. Praise indeed.
We were interested in whether this was new head chef Kelly making his mark. But questioning revealed it was pretty much a centralised menu available at all Malmaison restaurants. Although chef has the scope to add individuality and local sourcing with the daily specials.
Head chef Kelly was on a night off the evening we visited but the kitchen was in safe and capable hands.
My main of roast salmon fillet with crushed potatoes and spinach, £14.50, from the specials board, was a simple, satisfying dish.
The chunky salmon fillet was well seasoned, the sweet Charlotte potatoes, sassed up with aromatic herbs, although the spinach leaves (neatly wrapped up, it has to be said) were lacking seasoning. The rich Béarnaise sauce, in separate jug, tasted home-made, with plenty of tarragon and chervil, adding a decadent twist to the otherwise healthy summery dish.
My friend’s Cajun swordfish with marinated peppers and decorative swirls of aged balsamic, £16.50, was a tender piece of meaty fish. The consistency was like slicing through kidneys.
This sparked a discussion of the woeful versions we’ve had on holidays when it’s been tough and leathery, like old boots!
It came with a separate dish of garlicky aioli. The Cajun flavouring of the fish was perfect, with hints of oregano and paprika, but not overpowering.
A minor niggle, but we did think at this price, it would come with a choice of side dish, as it needed it. But these were extras, so beware, it can get pricey. She opted for a portion of skinny fries, £3.25.
The sunny desserts, all priced at £5.95, looked so tempting. Anyone for summer berry pavlova, raspberry Charlotte Royale or coconut panna cotta? Big ticks all round.
But my eye was drawn to the cheese trolley just in view of our table with its array of delightfully pongy offerings.
The helpful Jonathan did a run through of all the offerings – none local though. And my artisan cheese slate, £8.95, was loaded with five generous offerings of cheese, crackers and an excellent seedy fig chutney.
The creamy Colston Bassett Stilton and Tunworth Camembert-style cheese with its soft and velvety texture, were big on flavour.
Across the table, Knickerbocker Glory, a tempting concoction of Chantilly crème, cherry and vanilla ice-creams with toasted pistachio nuts topping, was also going down a treat.
My dining companion over-indulged though – but had to, she explained, to reach the strawberry and pineapple chunks, soaked in amaretto, in the bottom of the glass!
The food was excellent – better than we thought it would be, which is always a pleasant surprise – and the staff slick and professional but with a friendly warmth. Plush and posh it may be, but it has a relaxed informality that we warmed to.
Address: The Brasserie, Malmaison Newcastle, Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 3DX, tel: 0191 245 5000, www.malmaison-newcastle.com
Open: Seven days, 6.30pm-10pm, Sunday to Thursday, 6pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday, 12.30pm-2.45pm Sunday.
First impressions: Commanding spot for the striking boutique hotel, on the banks of the Tyne with views of riverscape.
Welcome: Warm and friendly. Staff so attentive, a real asset to the business.
Style, design and furnishings: Lavish and luxe feel, all dark purples and plush décor. Intimate lighting. Good ambience.
Cuisine: Popular British classics with a twist, seasonal, with lots of fish dishes on the new summer menu.
Disabled facilities: First-floor restaurant with lift access.