Hg2‘s Charlotte Warwick was in for a cultural and culinary surprise on a recent visit to NewcastleGateshead, the furthest North she’d ever been…
Geordie Shore, mining and terrible weather were the phenomena that I, Hg2’s resident Southerner, associated with ‘Up North’, but a recent visit showed Newcastle-upon-Tyne to be a surprisingly beautiful and totally culture- (as well as rain-) soaked city. With 12 theatres, 26 galleries, England’s smallest cathedral and oldest eatery, plus Britain’s third largest shopping area, I found NewcastleGateshead to be brimming with interesting places and friendly people. With a bunch of attractions packed into a city centre that can be circumnavigated in 25 minutes, there’s a hell of a lot to see. So I’ve picked a few that I reckon are worth a tourist’s time – my NewcastleGateshead top five.
Even if contemporary art isn’t your thing, the BALTIC Centre is a must. Just a quick hop across one of the seven bridges into Gateshead, this converted flour mill houses several art installations, activity rooms and kids’ areas, a cafe and a shop on its seven enormous floors. Some great views of the city can be had from BALTIC’s Six Rooftop Restaurant (open for lunch seven days a week, dinner six days a week, +44 191 440 4948), or sipping cocktails in the viewing lounge up there. What I was most impressed by, however, was Janet Cardiff’s ‘Forty Part Motet’ installation; 40 speakers each projecting one singing voice, all interweaving to become Tallis’ 16th century choral masterpiece, ‘Spem in Alium’. Relaxing, and unexpectedly moving.
(‘Forty Part Motet’ is at BALTIC until October 14th)
The light, airy and oh-so-modern Caffè Zonzo (+44 191 230 4981) lies just off the beaten tourist track, a 5 minute cab ride away from the city centre in the cute suburb of Jesmond. It was well worth the short trip though, as the service provided by owner Franco Polsinelli & his team, combined with their incredibly authentic Italian dishes, really made Caffè Z a joy to dine at. We ordered (a pizza primavera and risotto ai gamberoni) from the inexpensive menu, and were promptly delivered generous portions of stone-baked, olive-oiled deliciousness. Loving good art almost as much as good food, we found ourselves surrounded by prints, photos and paintings, all of which chime nicely with the venue’s cool and contemporary vibe. Hats off to Sig. Polsinelli for creating a casual dining utopia. (Currently being refurbished, Caffè Z reopens on August 21st)
Early August, annually
A definite highlight of my Northern excursion was the NewcastleGateshead Festival, a weekend celebration of everything Geordie, all along the Newcastle quayside. I tried everything from foot-printing with paint to postcard-making with a vintage letterpress, and even got active with a dance troupe. The riverside restaurants, cafes and bars offer discounts on food and drink during the fest, hosting live bands and offering front row seats to the Saturday night fireworks display (if you get there early enough). The fireworks were spectacular, but for me, and many others, the most outstanding showpiece was street theatre company, ‘Fairly Famous Family‘, who delivered an improvised Wimbledon spoof show, involving members of the audience and creating props out of, well, whatever was to hand.
Leading from Grey Street through to Market Street and Grainger Street is the Central Arcade, a bubble of golden-tiled nostalgia that’s hardly changed since 1837, when it was built as a commercial exchange. The original weights house is still there, but instead of measuring goods for trading, the less insecure tourists can pay 30 pence to be weighed the old-school way. Opposite sits the first (and smallest) Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar, boasting ‘entry free’ in its original tiling, and stocking mainly M&S underwear. Safe to say, nothing in there costs a penny now. Central Arcade proved a good place for us to pick up a not-so-tacky souvenir from the North; it is lined with old fashioned boutiques and home-ware stores, congruous with the imperial beauty of this glass-roofed arcade.
The quirky and altogether delightful Electric East (+44 191 221 1000) is an oriental cafe tucked away behind Newcastle’s main shopping strip. The place stands out from the concrete around it; the facade features Asian patterning and parasols, and outside sits a motorised rickshaw, as well as a bamboo forest for customers to negotiate in order to get to the front door. Once inside, we had a veritable feast – tempura prawns with chilli jam, steamed mussels with Chang beer and coconut, and, our favourite dish of the meal, duck Sui Mai spring roll. For such a casual hang-out the food is seriously top-notch, and the restaurant’s oddities (such as the photo of an Asian drag queen watching me in the loo) make Electric East all the more original.