The Barluga marketing people weren’t too happy with my last review. They describe their Grey Street establishment as a “sophisticated gastro pub”. I didn’t agree.
“Gastro it most certainly ain’t,” was my verdict.
They took my criticism on board, rewrote the menu, then invited me back. I duly went, but nothing much had changed.
The menu is far too big, so the cooking can’t keep up.
It’s a bar with food, but no one should go there just to eat.
They have a second gastropub in Morpeth.
It has a prime position in the Sanderson shopping arcade, and I like the modern design. It’s like a three-storey library, with wine racks instead of books.
We went for a late lunch.
At 2.45pm, they might not have a full brigade in the kitchen, but they still offered the full menu: 15 main courses and 13 starters, plus sandwiches and other stuff.
They wanted to charge up to £20 for a main course, so I wanted to test it.
We went easy on them: I ordered smoked haddock with poached egg, Mrs Diner a club sandwich, and the children had fish fingers.
I asked for the house Pinot Grigio. They had sold out. Sold out of the only house white? It was replaced by a poor Sauvignon Blanc, which I sent back. Instead, I had a Viognier-Marsanne blend, which was fine.
These were the only whites by the glass, which is inadequate for any bar calling itself gastro.
The fish fingers were good, but the club sandwich arrived as a hamburger.
Quite why, we never found out. Served on a board, it looked like one of those dull pre-prepared burgers you aren’t allowed to have medium rare. We sent it back and waited for the club sandwich.
Meanwhile, we ate the smoked haddock, which sat with a poached egg on bouillon potatoes swamped by runny grain mustard sauce with a few broad beans that had lost their colour. The fish was fine.
Much later, the sandwich arrived with good mayonnaise, but on white sliced bread that hadn’t been properly browned.
It looked like a bacon sarnie from a greasy spoon.
I reckoned it wouldn’t be fair to review Barluga based on this one bad experience so, three weeks later, at the same hour, we traipsed back to try again.
The Diners are a very tolerant family.
The children wanted fish fingers, of course, but I told them they were having pizza.
We arrived carrying coffees from Barluga’s neighbour and sister, Central Bean.
That’s what we do in shopping malls – sip coffee as we browse. It took an age to get a menu. Then we tried to order, but no one noticed.
Staff were busy polishing and gossiping. Eventually, someone came, not to take our order, but to chastise us for drinking someone else’s coffee in their restaurant.
Even though the drink came from the same Fluid Group chain.
This was so rude, I needed a glass of wine to calm down.
Pinot Grigio was still listed as the house white, but again they had none. The waiter recommended the Sauvignon Blanc.
I told him he had no idea what he was talking about, and ordered Viognier again.
It was time to take the gloves off. Mrs Diner ordered sea bass at £14.95 with baby root vegetables and beetroot. I selected slow-cooked shoulder of pork, with sautéed apples and boudin noir.
This for £13.95.
It was far more than you should ever pay for lunch in a shopping mall, but this was a gastro bar. So: gastro us, then.
Mrs Diner’s food was barely edible. Reasonably good fillets were plonked onto roasted baby carrots and parsnips so raw you could scarcely bite into them.
They all had to be left on the plate, together with some unpleasant beetroot that had been vinegared to death.
My pork was shredded, with sage, into little towers, with roundels of overgrilled boudin noir around a mound of savoy cabbage and warm eating apple.
Some cidery jus had been squirted around, and underneath the castle was a smear of something indecipherable caked into dried mud.
It was a dish you might see in the first round of Masterchef. From a losing contestant.
But this was gourmet compared to the children’s cheese and tomato pizza.
What arrived was a bread roll smeared with tomato and cheese.
I kid you not: an ordinary bread roll, cut in half, pretending to be a pizza.
I have never seen anything like it.
We paid £40 for this travesty of a lunch, then walked back to Central Bean for a sandwich.
Secret Diner's Verdict
(Out of 5 stars)
Opening times: Mon-Fri 11am - 9pm, Sat 10am - 10.00pm, Sun 11am - 8pm