A TROUBLED restaurant once regarded one of the jewels of the North East’s dining scene has closed its doors again.
The Fisherman’s Lodge restaurant in Jesmond Dene, Newcastle, has been plagued by problems for two years.
But just as things seemingly began to look up, visitors found the venue had been “abandoned”.
Diners said they turned up to find the doors locked and the restaurant in darkness, while others were contacted by staff and told their bookings could not be honoured.
Bosses have insisted the closure is only temporary, but many people have been left frustrated.
John Kirby has been ringing for three weeks trying to make a booking for his mother, who lives in the Lake District. She had bought a voucher for afternoon tea via discount website Groupon.
“We just want to know what is going on,” said John. “It doesn’t matter what time of day you call, morning noon or night, no one answers. It’s as if the place just doesn’t exist any more.”
The taxi driver said the restaurant’s good reputation is known to people across the UK.
“You don’t expect it from such a reputable place,” he added. “If it is still open, they seem to be doing everything possible to give the opposite impression.”
More complaints have been logged by reviewers on the Tripadvisor website. Crabsky wrote: “I made a reservation four weeks ago, for Saturday, April 13, to celebrate my wife's birthday.
“At 9.30pm tonight (April 12) I received a telephone call informing me the restaurant would not be open.
“How annoyed and upset I am to be told the night before they cannot honour my booking; especially since the meal was supposed to be a special celebration. Very, very disappointed!”
And Lola1956 wrote: “The place is closed but no signs to explain why.”
Last night, restaurant owner Jamie Howell admitted “complicated issues” have forced him to shut the doors.
“We intend for this to be a temporary closure, but one that will certainly last at a least a month,” he said. “There are factors behind that which cannot be avoided, but we are taking some very positive steps to reconcile these unavoidable issues.
“We are busy trying to put the business on a properly secure and financially viable footing, with a properly resourced new professional management team. There should be an announcement very shortly to make things clearer.”
He said every effort has been made to reach those with prior bookings.
“We have contacted the booked-in customers on a daily basis, but in certain cases we have been unable to reach the customers.
"Groupon is contacting the large number of afternoon tea and tasting menu customers to bring them up to date. We are to have a meeting with Groupon to iron out the way forward and allow the present voucher holders to be able to enjoy what they have paid for.
“We are very grateful to customers for their patience, understanding, and the support many have expressed in this difficult situation.”
The Fisherman’s Lodge first got into financial difficulties in March 2011. The Journal reported how the restaurant abruptly shut, and remained closed for several months.
Mr Howell blamed a bad winter and roadworks in the Dene for causing money problems. It reopened after the original company behind it went into liquidation, and a new venture, Harmony Fine Dining Ltd, was set up.
Last summer staff walked out after a dispute, forcing another closure, and last month the restaurant’s Twitter account was hacked and a series of disparaging comments were left.
Mr Howell also faced a court appearance over a driving offence.