Forget the bacon stotty, Newcastle is culinary paradise

Think again. How about braised shoulder of venison with chestnut gnocchi followed by poached satsuma in white chocolate? Or goat's cheese pannacotta with chive oil, followed by roasted mallard with foie gras and puy lentils?

Geordieland was yesterday proclaimed Britain's new hotspot of emerging culinary talent after it dominated an award for newly-opened restaurants.

Newcastle took two of the top places in the Restaurant Remy awards, including the prize for the best new restaurant, which went to Black Door, run by the Devon-born chef, David Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy said yesterday that the city, hitherto largely unmarked on the global map of gourmet excellence, was enjoying a culinary renaissance based on a rich supply of local produce. "Ten years ago there were, at best, at only two restaurants of any note in Newcastle," he said. "Now there are at least half a dozen which would compare well with anywhere else in the country.

"We perhaps don't have the numbers of somewhere like Leeds or Edinburgh but what we do have is some great local suppliers. We get our potatoes from a couple who specialise in heritage varieties, a guy on the coast produces rare breed pork and our cheese is produced by a local company. Although we still go to Perigord for our foie gras.

"The result is that there is a good food scene going on in Newcastle. People who have trained in London are coming up here because there is an opening in the market."

Black Door, which charges £36.50 for a three-course dinner, was joined on the list of best regional restaurants by Secco Ristorante Salentino, another Newcastle eatery specialising in regional Italian cuisine.

The awards were based on 93,000 reviews from customers supplied to the Harden's UK Restaurants guide, which rates restaurants according to the scores of 8,000 Harden's members. Previous winners of the accolade have included Tim Aikens, who went on to win a Michelin star for his restaurant in London.

Richard Harden, who jointly publishes the guide, said that the emergence of Newcastle was part of a general trend of regional haute cuisine. Manchester, with 72 listings, has the highest number of recommended eateries outside London, followed by Edinburgh, with 51.

Despite the emergence of two new star restaurants, Newcastle is second from bottom with 20 listings.

Mr Harden said: "I suspect a lot of people might be surprised to find Newcastle ranking as our fastest emerging culinary scene.

"But it is part of a wider phenomenon of regional restaurants. When we first published a decade ago, we wrote that Birmingham had no restaurants worth going to if you didn't live in Birmingham. That is no longer the case - we now have 30 listings for Birmingham.

"I think when people visit world-class cities like London or New York, they come back expecting to be able to eat like that where they live."

All of which was news to purveyors of that other north-eastern delicacy beloved of diners in the North-east - the take-away dinner.

Raj Aswant, the manager of the Taj Mahal curry house in central Newcastle, said: "It depends on who you cater for but I'd say that most people still prefer a good balti and a beer to some of the fancier stuff you see now."

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