Newcastle in the Sky – “stunning, seasonal fayre matched only by views from 100ft”

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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REVIEW: Smashburger – “more Five Guys than fine dining but well worth a visit”

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Nestled in Newcastle’s bustling Eldon Square, Smashburger is one of a plethora of restaurants to have opened in the past year. It’s nestled amongst neighbours as talked-up as Chaophraya and as well-established as TGI Fridays and Ask. But, does Newcastle really need another burger joint?

I immediately went with the Truffle Mushroom Swiss; a beef pattie with truffle mayo, sautéed crimini mushrooms and aged swiss cheese, on an egg bun. Truffle oil is one of those flavours that can be overkill if done wrong and it’s usually an indulgence. But, on a burger? I couldn’t pass on that one.

A friend plumped for the Spicy Jalapeno Baja – fresh jalapenos, guacamole, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun. They were out of guac (a first-world problem if there ever was one) but our waiter willingly substituted it for haystack onions. A fair compromise. We opted for sweet potato fries and Smash fries, which are a pretty dreamy combo of fries with rosemary, italian olive oil and garlic. Both were a great mix of old and new, and the haystack onions were a more-ish addition.

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Ending the night on a high, the chocolate Oreo and strawberry milkshakes were to die for. Well worth the calories if you fancy getting your Pink Lady or T-Bird on.

The service on the night wasn’t the most efficient or attentive and the restaurant wasn’t busy. Although our food came fast, the shakes were forgotten until we’d finished eating. Fingers crossed it’s still just experiencing teething problems.

In what is quickly becoming a saturated market in Newcastle, Smashburger plays to its advantages; it’s more fast food than fancy cuisine, more Five Guys than fine dining. However, whereas it’s surroundings are classic burger joint, tastes like truffle mayo and applewood smoked bacon elevate it to more than just your regular burger and fries. It didn’t quite smash it out of the park on this occasion, but this place is definitely worth a visit.

REVIEW: Orangegrass Thai and Oriental Cuisine – “an authentic taste of Asia, off the beaten track”

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There is no shortage of amazing restaurants to dine at in the North East, each with their own vibe and take on cultures from around the globe. Newcastle has had a major culinary shake up over the past year, and Sunderland has been trying to nip at its heels for a while now, even introducing a rival Sunderland Restaurant Week. And South Shields, known as much for it’s stunning beaches as it’s food, has a plethora of Asian delights on the town’s famous Ocean Road.

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But last week, a well-loved Thai restaurant had it’s relaunch and it isn’t on gastronomical hub Ocean Road nor is it is slap bang in the town centre; a little off the beaten track it may be but believe me when I tell you Orangegrass is worth the detour. Having been to Thailand on a holiday of a lifetime a couple of years back, their cuisine holds a special place in my heart (and stomach) so I take any opportunity to sample it again.

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The venue has recently undergone a refurbishment and menu shake up and, as revealed to a select few on their VIP launch night, it looks great. Grand but intimate at the same time, it definitely invokes the traditional look of Thailand, with large artworks and ceiling lights, all gold embossed and luxurious. The room is dominated by a staircase which leads to a mezzanine with more dining space.

Guests were entertained on the night by traditional Thai dancing, as well as stunning vocals from hometown girl Annabel Pattinson, who serenaded us for most of the night, and impressive magic by Ryan Phelps.

The beef massaman was my highlight; tender pieces of meat that melt in the mouth in a rich peanut sauce. The tangy chicken was another treat, although don’t be fooled by the word ‘tangy’ – this is as hot as Bangkok in the summer. Other dishes on offer included green curry vegetables and traditional Thai salads. Dessert was sticky rice pudding with coconut milk and although a tad too rich for me, suited my sweet-toothed fellow diners perfectly.

We only sampled a few of the wide range the restaurant has to offer, and aside from their sumptuous A La Carte menu, Orangegrass also have set menus starting at £16.95. A takeaway option is available.

Another trip to Thailand may be pricey, but it’s nice to know for an authentic and well-priced taste of Asia, South Shields has got you covered.

Orangegrass Thai and Oriental Cuisine is on 7 Mount Terrace, South Shields, Tyne & Wear NE33 1PN. To book, call 0191 455 8555 or visit their website here.

Photos: Orangegrass

On the Toon…My night at the inaugural Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards

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Last week saw the people behind the North East’s best businesses mix with the beautiful people of television, and the odd celebrity guest, as the first ever Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards took place.

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum proved a beautiful venue for the great and the good to assemble as prizes in categories like Best Bar, Best Fashion Retailer and Best Live Experience were handed out. And as special guest, pop star Sinitta, said, it was the perfect opportunity to find out just where you can get the best cup of coffee in the North East, where you should be checking in for the night and where you should be getting your hair did!

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(The grand Discovery Museum, our venue for the night)

The Lifestyle Awards is the brain child of PR guru Jason Gale, who was in attendance on the night along with his partner Sinitta. After public voting, a panel decided on the eventual winners.

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(Me and special guest Sinitta)

As an awards do newbie, I was grateful and relieved to be introduced to a fellow blogger on arrival. Also riding solo, Pixie Tenenbaum (below) a fashionista I had heard lots about through mutual friends, became my date whether she liked it or not. After posing on the red carpet and grabbing a complementary glass of fizz, we were frantically pulled aside by the lovely Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown, Made in Tyne and Wear’s hit TV show, for a live interview. We ended up having a ball together – our table was a mix of Made TV talent, PR and the lovely Donna Petch, who is behind the marketing powerhouse The North East Hub. We dined on a delicious three courses, ranging from a Geordie delicacy with a twist (ham hock terrine with a peas pudding sauce and fresh stottie) to corn-fed chicken supreme with gratin dauphinoise to a Sicilian lemon tart with macerated berries and cream. All superb.

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(Fashion blogger Pixie Tenenbaum)

Entertainment was provided by The Mimic Men, an impressionist double act last seen storming Britain’s Got Talent, and the rowdy room was kept in check (just!) by hosts from Made in Tyne and Wear, Peter Darrant, and the lovely Hazel and Mel (below).

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(Hosts Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown)

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(Two of the winners of the night – Mister Woods took home Best Coffee Shop)

It was wonderful to see the eclectic mix of talent our region has and lovely to not only recognize a lot of the winning faces but also make new friends. It is events like this that really shine a spotlight on regional businesses and let the rest of the country know what we already do; that the North East is a truly unique place to live.

A big thank you to lovely Fran from Made TV for the invitation and looking after us and the rest of the team for helping pull off a fantastic event. Sore heads all round the morning after, no doubt. Looking forward to the next one.

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The full list of winners:

Best Coffee Shop – Mister Woods

Best Pub – City Tavern

Best Fashion Retailer – Have To Love

Best Hair and Beauty – Patrick Forster Barber and Shop

Best Hotel – Malmaison

Best Bar – The Botanist

Best Cultural Attraction – National Glass Centre

Best Restaurant – River Beat

Best Club – House of Smith

Best Fitness Facility – Model Health

Best Live Experience – Great North Run

Legend Award – Colin Burgin-Plews (Big Pink Dress)

REVIEW: George’s Great British Kitchen – “a refined and dynamic twist on the traditional”

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When the multi-million pound Grey’s Quarter investment was announced as an addition to Newcastle’s Eldon Square, I was both intrigued and apprehensive. Did the city really need more generic chain restaurants? Or would it be all pulled pork and hipster craft beers? These feelings turned to excitement and BIG, BOISTEROUS hunger pains when I discovered George’s Great British Kitchen would be one of the eateries holding (food) court in the new development.

Although the second opening (after their successful Nottingham venture) I had never heard of George’s. My excitement was merely the result of looking at their quirky online website and traditional-cum-contemporary menu.

Things got off to a great start with Pigs Under Duvets; an update on the festive favourite complete with bubble and squeak mash and honey mustard, and George’s posh take on a scotch egg, perfectly cooked inside with a side of piccalilli.

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I plumped for the Geordie Saveloy Pie – layers of saveloy sausage, mushy peas, pork-sage and onion stuffing with homemade onion gravy, encased in pastry. The pie is topped caramelised onion crumble and served with Newcastle Brown Ale salt, mouth-wateringly good, twice-cooked chips and more gravy. This dish is exclusive to the Newcastle restaurant and by god did it make this Geordie lad happy. Moreish AND satisfying – a funny combo, but this is a funny place. I certainly didn’t bet on saveloy ever being a dinner favourite outside of Dickson’s but it just works so well. We also had the “Proper Dirty” double burger, which is chuck and brisket, grilled in the Inka with red leicester and a ‘frickle’ – a fried pickle. Served pink, the meat was to die for. Far from being proper dirty, it was heavenly.

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Desserts range from the kooky (doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce and candy floss) to more traditional fare like orange tarts and apple pies. Too full to indulge, we passed – not an easy choice when giant puffs of floss are floating by your table all night. Next time…

The food is rich and homely, but by no means amateur. George’s puts a refined and dynamic twist on favourites like pie and mash and chippy teas but delivers them in a sophisticated way that doesn’t feel like a bearded hipster knocked it up and served it on a slate or in a watering can.

Like any new restaurant, the place was frantic. In stark contrast to the serene décor of quaint seaside life, the buzz of the new business’ opening week didn’t let up all night – although this didn’t affect the service. Staff were attentive and positively charming (shout out to our waitress Jayne, who was a gem) throughout the night and gave us the history of the place from its roots in Nottingham. The barman even recommended a different wine when our first choice wasn’t available.

I read a review recently that mused that food should do the talking, and that gimmicks in restaurants aren’t necessary. I loved the gimmicks here. Plush cod toys and bowler hats adorned every free table top and booths are named after seaside favs like Whitley Bay and Amble. Chandeliers hang harmoniously with shabby-chic railings and wooden fixtures, without any of it feeling forced: It so easily have come off pretentious. My favourite aesthetic is the menus in the style of newspapers – a lovely touch of nostalgia.

This place could be a reviewer’s dream; plenty of fodder for the Instagram generation, with props and selfie opportunities galore. But it’s far from a case of style over substance – as the Pub Landlord might say, beautiful British food from a beautiful British name, George’s kitchen is well and truly open and I’ve got a feeling I’ll be going back for seconds.

George’s Great British Kitchen is part of the new Grey’s Quarter development in Eldon Square. To book a table, call 0191 230 4229 or visit their website here 

What’s on?: Five things for you to do in the North East this weekend

Bring It On: The MusicalWhen? Sat Aug 12 – Sun 14 Where? Customs House, South Shields

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Based on the hit film, the Tony Award-nominated Bring It On: The Musical is a high-flying thrill ride where the cutthroat world of competitive cheerleading meets the fierce rivalries of high school politics and romance. The production features bright young talent from the Customs House summer school.

Tickets available from £7 by calling 0191 454 1234 or online here

NE1 Restaurant WeekWhen? Fri Aug 12 – Sun 14 Where? All over Newcastle

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A whole host of restaurants have been taking part in NE1’s annual culinary celebration. Evoke, Broad Chare, Cabana (read our review here) and As You Like It are among 90 eateries offering fantastic offers on food and drink.

Click here for more information on Restaurant Week

Summer Design Exhibition in association with Northumbria University When? Sat Aug 13 Where? Sage Gateshead

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Fresh from shows in London and New York, the regions best emerging designers showcase their work throughout the summer in our stunning building. Come and see the next generation of design talent.

Free event

The Ken Dodd Happiness ShowWhen? Sat Aug 13 – Sun Aug 14 Where? Whitley Bay Playhouse

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Legendary comic and British icon Ken Dodd brings his famous Happiness Show to the region for two shows this weekend. You’ll be ‘absolutely discumknockerated’ (that’s Knotty Ash for ‘over the moon’) by a truly tattifelarius (fun-filled) evening of laughter and songs.

Tickets available from £20 by calling 0844 248 1588 or by clicking here 

Henri Matisse: The Last Works – When? Fri Aug 11 – Sun Sep 11 Where? Ustinov College, Durham University

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Ustinov College and The Global Citizenship Programme are hosting an exhibition of lithograph prints by Henri Matisse from the 1958 publication of Verve magazine. A renowned painter, in 1953 Henri Matisse (1869-1954) began working with the printer Fernand Mourlot and the art publisher Tériade on a special edition of Verve to reproduce 40 of the artists infamous cut-outs as lithograph prints. The series became known as Verve: Dernières Oeuvres de Matisse 1950-54 (The Last Works of Matisse).

This is a free event. For more information call 0191 3345470 or click here

REVIEW: Brazilian food at Cabana goes for Gold – but lands a Bronze

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The world has gone Brazil-mad. And with all of our eyes firmly fixated upon Rio and the 2016 Olympics, I decided to join in. No. I haven’t started diving off terrifyingly high boards like our Tom Daley, nor have I gone into the garage and dusted off my old chopper (steady) for a race along the riverside. I decided to take part in the South American fiesta the best way I know – eating.

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Cabana, one of the newest restaurants in Newcastle, opened in the spring of this year near the city’s Gate complex. It is situated in the old Co-Op building and, along with Caribbean neighbour Turtle Bay, is part of a host of exciting worldly restaurants aiming to please.

David Ponte, who is the co-owner of the eatery along with Jamie Barber, was raised in Rio and has previously likened the city’s Christ the Redeemer statue to our very own Angel of the North.

An interesting comparison, for sure! Ponte’s passion for Brazilian food shines through in impressive surroundings and on a menu that, honestly, looked good enough to eat. And I was thanking Christ (the Redeemer) I got to.

Along with a group of friends, one who recently having had a baby was ready for a great time, tasty food and even better cocktails, I decided on Cabana as a good choice for NE1’s Restaurant Week, which runs until this Sunday August 14, and every year takes the region by storm with its great offers on food and drink. Cabana in particular is offering three courses for £15.

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The spicy chicken wings came marinated in a delicious and fiery Malagueta sauce, and were served up in a bucket. Succulently cooked and with just the right amount of spice for someone who sometimes gets the sweats from a medium Nandos. But chain food this is not – the wings, along with the cheesy baked dough balls with garlic butter had us all wanting more.

Unfortunately, that’s where things took a bit of a nosedive. With the majority of us plumping for the Picanha burger with chimichurri sauce, beans and fries, we were collectively let down by the main, the burger itself dry and non-descript. However, one of us did go for the spicy Malagueta chicken skewer, which impressed.

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Dessert was toffee frozen yoghurt with peanut brittle, which I have to say, was a delight. The chocolate cake got thumbs down from some of the diners but I thought, especially being flourless, it was a fine attempt.

Although the food didn’t set my taste buds alight, Cabana is definitely a place to return for drinks. Opting, of course, for the native favourite, Caiparinha, as well as Carlos The Godfather, a sugary, gin-based drink, the place felt less like Newgate Street and more (and more and more…cocktails were 2-4-1) like the Copacabana. Let’s just say by the time we left, there were A LOT of showgirls names Lola. They also do a beautiful Malbec, for the red wine lovers.

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Unlike the athletes currently taking Rio by storm, this place is not exceptional. It isn’t bad, though – it just has a lot of great competition. If I was scoring, Cabana would on the podium, clutching bronze.

Bryan Ferry and Will Young announced for Mouth of the Tyne

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Two more acts have been announced for this year’s Mouth of the Tyne festival.

The North East’s own Bryan Ferry CBE and Brit Award winner Will Young will take to the stage this summer when the shows return to the Tynemouth Priory July 7-10. Ferry, who was born in Washington and whose hits include Love Is The Drug and Let’s Stick Together, will perform on the Thursday whilst Young, will be performing songs old and new, including tracks from his latest number one album 85% Proof, the following night. The festival is shaping up to be all about the boys. The singers will join already-announced James Bay, who performs Saturday 9 July. The Grammy nominee’s Hold Back The River is certified platinum and debut album Chaos And The Calm won him the Critic’s Choice Brit Award in 2014.

Mouth of the Tyne is organised by North Tyneside Council and supported by Tyne Met College, Kier North Tyneside and Port of Tyne.

Get tickets from 9am tomorrow here

Big Brother winner opens up new (bar)bershop in North East

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Anthony Hutton, the cheeky Geordie lad who won Channel 4’s Big Brother back in 2005, has realised his dream of opening a very unique business, a bar-cum-barbershop.

The self-titled Mr Hutton’s Barbers and Bar opened before Christmas in Darlington and seems to be enjoying success. Hutton, who is a fully-trained barber, rose to fame in the mid-noughties when he competed on the reality TV competition and won. His antics on the show notched up many a tabloid column inch, but he seems to have put the wild times behind him as he attempts to become an entrepreneur.

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The shop, which is the former Ron’s music store, is in Blackwellgate and comprises primarily of a chic cocktail bar, with a barbershop in the back. Fear not though, the barbershop is closed off at night to avoid any drunken hairy situations. Good luck from Man About Toon, and count us in for a cut and a Cosmo!

Click on their Facebook page here for more info

 

Food: Delicious dining with a cherry on top at The Cherry Tree, Jesmond

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Seeing as it sits at the entrance to Jesmond’s Osborne Road and the rest of the road’s many hotels and bars, it’s amazing that I had never eaten at The Cherry Tree. That all changed this festive season, however, when Man About Toon grabbed the last table on a wintery Friday night to test out the restaurant’s Christmas menu. And it certainly didn’t leave us out in the cold.

Opened in 2008, the eatery itself is homely but with modern touches, wooden flooring throughout its ground floor and mezzanine balcony, separated by a domineering spiral staircase and glass balustrade. On arrival our coats were taken (a small touch which can make a big difference, other restaurants could note) and we were shown immediately to our table. No waiting around – good start. After a complimentary cup of hot mulled cider or wine, we plumped for a couple of bottles of French white and a bottle of fizz. A pianist played beautifully throughout dinner giving a real Christmas feel to the place.         

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To start, we ate tempura king prawns with crab satay, pickled Asian veg and lime. Not your typical festive fare, but a favourite nonetheless. The tempura batter on the prawns was light and not greasy at all, the satay added an unusual edge and any fish overkill that could have occurred was curbed by the pickled veg. Up next was a main of confit duck leg with sautéed potatoes, braised red cabbage and green beans accompanied by a plum jus. In a word: spectacular. Duck can be difficult meat to get right and a lot of people are wary of ordering it in a restaurant, never mind cooking it themselves. This, however, fell off the bone beautifully and had a texture as smooth as the jus on top of it. The accompanying veg were tasty but the duck was the main event. I would definitely order it again, although the waitress said this particular dish isn’t always available. So if you see it, get it!

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We declined the offer of dessert (too full!) but with a dark chocolate torte, a selection ice creams and a cheese board with their homemade chutney on offer, we could have easily been swayed. The Christmas pudding with salted caramel brandy butter looked good enough to, well, eat.

The Cherry Tree is an all rounder. Beautiful exteriors and interiors are backed up by fantastic food and service to boot. This five star dining experience is not just for Christmas.

The Christmas menu is available until December 24. For opening hours and to view their menu, go to their website here