You have kids in tow, you’re exhausted and need a quick lunch before hitting the stores again. If you can’t face another McDonald’s quarter pounder, where do you go? This week Mrs Diner and I went shopping to find fast food with flair and flavour. We failed.
Kingston Park is a bleak, sad place, and by lunchtime, tired of trekking round TK Maxx and Tesco, we were desperate for a plate of something interesting.
Though the brood were braying for Happy Meals (there’s a McDonald’s right in the middle), at the far side of the car park we spied Luciano’s.
“Fine Italian Dinning (sic),” its website proclaims, “filled with the warmth of the Italian spirit, and the relaxing glow of the Mediterranean… fabulous Italian cuisine and friendly service”. Perfect for escaping the shopping crowds, we thought.
Inside, it’s like an ancient ski chalet, with heavy wooden tables. Years ago this might have looked inviting, romantic even. Now it’s a tired barn of a place, big enough for a banquet. It was very quiet.
A waitress seated us by a window and took our drinks order of water and red wine. During the next ten minutes three different waiters turned up asking if we’d like a drink. When our drinks eventually arrived, nobody came to take our food order. Eventually, I had to walk across the restaurant to summon the manager.
Although a sign outside offered a 2-course lunch for £7.95, there was no mention of it from manager or menu, so sadly I can’t describe it. Instead, I shall tell you about the meatballs in rich tomato sauce, the chicken Milanese with garlic butter, and the childrens’ pizzas, which together cost us, with one glass of wine, nearly £40.
Nearly an hour after we’d ordered, there was no sign of food. No bread was offered, nor apologies or explanations. Eventually we asked a waitress if the chef had died. She went to find out.
She returned with the news that the kitchen was really busy; our food would be another 15 minutes. The restaurant was nearly empty and our children were starving. So I told her to tell the kitchen to move us to the front of the queue and bring the food pronto. It turned up in seconds.
Meatballs are always a good test. They must be tender, spicy and herby. Luciano’s were none of these. Made of dry minced beef (the best meatballs have veal or pork, and are laced with parmesan) these were dull and bore a tomato sauce that was far from rich. Indeed, it was incredibly poor.
Not as bad as Mrs Diner’s £12 chicken, though, which, instead of the light, breadcrumbed gourmet offering we expected, was covered with a gloopy unpleasant sauce that tasted of oily butter and no garlic.
This was possibly the worst Italian food I’ve yet tasted in Newcastle, with inept service in an unremarkable atmosphere. It turns McDonald’s into a destination venue.
A few days later, we found ourselves hungry in the Eldon Square shopping centre. Gazing down at us was the John Lewis Brasserie.
The food was imaginative. For £13.95 I had goats’ cheese laced with pink peppercorns on nice marinated beetroot garnished with pea shoots, and rainbow trout with a saffron and tomato dressing.
Mrs Diner had a tasty courgette soup with loads of basil, followed by a salad of ricotta with pine nuts, roasted lemons and fennel. The junior diners were happy with their pasta.
It’s the service that lets them down: although the place was only half full, it took 45 minutes to get our mains out of the kitchen. This is supposed to be a brasserie for busy shoppers. Note to the partners: people can’t shop and add to profits if they’re sitting waiting for food. And we waited an awfully long time.
Secret Diner's Verdict
Luciano’s Italian Restaurant
2 Kingston Park Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 286 1222
John Lewis Brasserie
Eldon Square Shopping Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 232 5000
The Secret Diner pays for his meals in full, does not reveal his identity and comments on what he finds during his visit. Ratings out of five stars.
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