When you receive an invitation to enjoy dinner served to you whilst you’ll be suspended from a crane at 100ft, you can either panic and turn it down (definitely considered it for a hot second) or you can face your fear, tell ’em yes and brace yourself to conquer your (my) fear of heights. It’s kind of a fight or flight response; not the last of the air-related puns in this post, don’t worry.
The idea for Newcastle in the Sky was born out of Jacqui McKirdy’s university degree in Events Management and returned this year after it’s debut in 2016. It is a joint venture with her daughter Lauren, and I first met the two ladies at an event they put on earlier in the year – an exquisite ten-course tasting evening by Peace and Loaf, at the historic Alderman Fenwick’s house. I was instantly struck by how passionate they were, not only about food, but about hosting. It was kind of a no-brainer to want to take part in this event. This year, Newcastle in the Sky attracted chefs from eateries like Livello, Brown’s, Hawthorns, Red’s True Barbecue and Chaophraya, amongst others.
The VIP guests were treated to free champagne in the tent on the ground before we were given a safety brief and the experience was explained to us. Once strapped in, and once we realised our chairs could swivel basically 180 degrees, we were ready to take flight. The crane lifts the table to 100ft within about 10 seconds and once up there, you’re basically level with the roof of the Sage. In a word, it’s awe-inspiring. We were even lucky to go up in time for the sun to set over us.
Our particular flight was catered by the team from Artisan. Head chef Andrew Wilkinson was on hand to serve up a storm; a menu which included seafood, red meat, dessert and perfectly paired red and white wines.
Our starter consisted of a Lindisfarne oyster with apple, cucumber and horseradish, swiftly followed by North Sea crab salad with citrus cured salmon, fennel and orange. The oyster was the freshest I’ve ever tasted – my previous best was a tequila-soaked beauty from top Gosforth seafood gaff Loch Fyne. Andrew’s blew that out of the water (again, excuse the pun). The crab salad was also great – not something I would normally order, but was a triumph paired with that tender tangy salmon.
A hearty main of Navarin of Northumbrian lamb and seasonal vegetables was up next. There’s something very special about seasonal produce and the carrots, tender stem broccoli and potatoes here didn’t disappoint. And the lamb! The lamb couldn’t have been more tender and beautifully pink. I didn’t snap a photo of the main as my camera died on me. I did ask if there was facilities to charge it but I was met with confusion and a few laughs! Shy bairns and all that…
Dessert was a vanilla poached peach with champagne, raspberry sorbet and pistachio. Each layer offered up a different fusion of tastes and textures, the granola-like pistachio a clever accompaniment to the smooth tangy sorbet.
Chef Andrew was visibly a little frustrated at the logistics of serving up his food so high in the sky. With no facilities to heat the dishes (the food is loaded on to the table before take off and served once the guests are suspended) or indeed keep them cool, a couple of the elements couldn’t take, well, the elements. The lamb came slightly lukewarm, and when I say ‘slightly’ I really mean it. The drop in temperature didn’t affect the near-perfect taste of succulent meat but it was clearly frustrating for Andrew. Similarly, the sorbet began to melt once scooped into it’s serving glass. All the more reason to throw the pleasantries out the window, or off the side of the crane, and tuck in quickly!
An incredible experience I, and the lucky bunch of diners who also got to fly, are not likely to forget in a hurry, Newcastle in the Sky is not only a chance to eat fine food and take in jaw-dropping views of our fine city, it’s a chance to be part of something that feels so much bigger than that. It’s a culinary treat but it’s cultural significance feels much more important. The stunning food is matched only by the views from 100ft up. This is something that our region doesn’t see every day. Bravo Jacqui, Lauren, your whole team and of course the chefs.
This is a venture that has not only took off – it looks set to soar.