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John Lewis Brasserie (Newcastle upon Tyne)

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Information: Brasserie situated within the John Lewis Department Store / Address: John Lewis Eldon Square, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RR

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      03.01.2011 12:32
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      Good food, great service and all the facilities of a large store at hand.

      So many retail outlets have in-store eating places now - supermarkets, garden centres, bookstores, chocolate shops - and it is clear that there is a demand for them. I rarely see such cafés completely empty as shoppers make a brief stop at these convenient re-fuelling stations before they get on with their spending. They provide a useful and often good value service, but how many would you associate with really good food, excellent service, a relaxing dining environment and a well thought-out menu? The brasserie in John Lewis, Newcastle is one which I think meets that description. The brasserie offers a flexible menu ranging from light meals such as salad or morning toast right through to a three course meal with wine.


      ~~~How to find the Brasserie~~~

      The John Lewis department store is situated within Eldon Square indoor shopping complex in Newcastle's city centre. There are several ways to gain access to the store - perhaps the the simplest route for a visitor to the city would be to enter the shopping centre from Northumberland Street and then to take a very short walk along Eldon Way to one of the store's main entrances. Alternatively, the entrance at basement level which is adjacent to Eldon Square Bus Station is another route which could be convenient to use.

      The brasserie is on the first floor of the shop and can be reached by escalators, stairs and wide-access lifts. The entrance of the restaurant would be easy to miss as it is tucked away amongst displays of ladies' clothing and the signage is quite understated. Regular menus are displayed on the wall and additional cards showing the day's lunchtime menu are available to peruse at the reception desk. A member of staff will greet you and find a table for you.


      ~~~Style and ambience~~~

      The brasserie is situated on a balcony which overlooks Chevy Chase (that's one of the shopping centre's walkways and nothing to do with an American comedy actor by the way!) so there is a very open feel about the place. It's modern, fairly uncluttered and it uses a mix of materials and colours to create a comfortable environment. Some tables are granite-topped, some are of dark wood. Seating is provided in the form of wooden/leather topped chairs and upholstered bench seating. The tables are arranged in fairly close proximity to one another so it may not be the best setting for a romantic meal for two though a series of panels composed of wooden pillars do go some way to providing a little seclusion and break up the openness of the restaurant space to some extent. On the whole , though, it produces quite a lively setting and families and groups of friends can usually be heard chatting animatedly . At the same time, a lone diner would not feel uncomfortable or out of place in any way.

      A granite-topped reception counter is placed at the entrance forming a separation between the brasserie and the main shopping floor area and another similarly styled bar counter is located about midway into the restaurant. This latter area doubles up as a payment point if you prefer to approach a desk to pay. (Staff will also take payment at your table.) The bar area is immediately adjacent to the kitchen entrance and in fact it is just possible to watch kitchen staff at work behind a partition. I like the fact that I can see the kitchen but it is not an overbearing or dominating feature of the restaurant.Overall there is a very, very relaxed feeling about the place. There is an air of professionalism from the staff which is palpable but without any hint of aloofness or stiff formality.


      ~~~The Menu~~~

      The standard menu changes every so often and the daily lunch menu seems to be changed most frequently - not weekly perhaps, but I have noticed that two visits, say a month apart can mean you notice different lunchtime choices.

      Prices are certainly more than we might have come to expect from an in-store eatery but they appear to be fairly standard for a brasserie. Starters are priced at £4.25 to £6.50, mains range from £6.95 for a salad through to £12.95 for a sirloin steak or 'fish of the day'. Puddings are £4.50. Breakfasts items are available from £2.50 to £6.95 and afternoon teas are £5.95. A bottle of wine will set you back around £14 - £16 (more for champagne, obviously) but glasses of wine are now served in three sizes.

      The menu choice is not the most extensive I have come across but there is usually at least one dish with meat, one with fish and a vegetarian option. (Vegetarian dishes are marked on the menu with a "V".) Breakfast choices can be as light or indulgent as you fancy with several items from toast to Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon being offered.

      Every day a set lunch is offered at £12 for two course or £15 for three.

      If I were to be pushed into finding any negative point about the menu I might only request that an even greater emphasis could be placed on locally produced ingredients. (Or if the ingredients are from the region, then more information about them could be included on the menu.) To give an example, the cheeses used are superb but I would love to eat some of Northumberland's excellent cheeses in this restaurant - I have in the past but they don't appear on the menu at the moment.


      ~~~The food~~~

      To try to convey the style of the cooking and the quality of the food, I shall concentrate on describing my lunch choices on a most recent visit.

      I don't often eat a pudding in a restaurant as savoury foods are by far my favourite and I would normally opt for a two-course option of starter and main. However the menu on this occasion was offering cheese as a final course so I chose to begin with the main dish.
      From the main course I chose 'slow braised beef on horseradish mash and roast baby carrots'. I wanted only a small glass of red wine to accompany the food and was delighted to be told by the waiter that a 125ml serving was now being offered. That really is a small glass of wine but for lunchtime and on a day when I had quite a lot of tasks to complete in the afternoon, it was ample. I appreciated the opportunity to at least have the flavour of the wine but without the risk of feeling sleepy or slowed-down afterwards.

      My glass of iced water and small glass of Chilean Merlot arrived before the food and the powerful scent of the red wine hit me before the glass even touched the table - plummy, chocolately, spicy and the colour the deepest of reds with a tinge of purple. If the intensity of the flavour could match that of the aroma then the wine was going to be spectacular! Unfortunately it wasn't, it was a good deal lighter in flavour and body than the aroma had suggested but with its cherry-like sharpness and slight tannic bite it proved to be quite a good match for the food. And it did leave a warmth and a spicy aftertaste which was welcome on that cool day.

      A large white plate arrived and the quantity of the food looked about right for lunch. I had the impression it would be sufficiently filling without leaving me feeling overly uncomfortable or needing to leave large amounts of the meal uneaten. One very thick slice of beef was nestled against a generous mound of soft mashed potato with two halves of a roasted carrot (definitely an adult carrot and not a baby carrot) arranged at a jaunty angle on top. The beef was bathed in - and surrounded by - a generous pool of rich, glossy gravy.

      Sometimes with beef I find there can be a trade-off between tenderness and flavour but in this case both qualities were present in abundance. The meltingly tender meat was bursting with a rich flavour which was manifest equally in the gravy. To call it 'gravy' does not really do it justice. It was smooth, just the right consistency to coat the food and had a beautiful gloss. The carrot had been gently roasted which had accentuated its flavour and sweetness but allowed it to retain just the right degree of firmness. The mashed potato was perfectly smooth, soft and expertly flavoured with horseradish - not so much that it overpowered the delicate potato flavour but just enough to enhance and add something really interesting and lively to an old favourite. The portion had proved to be more of a challenge that I had anticipated! It was very filling. I was determined not to miss out on the second course I had been looking forward to, so I just asked the waiter for a 'rest' before continuing and spent some time sipping at my wine and people-watching.
      When I felt ready, the plate of cheese and oatmeal biscuits arrived and it looked as if it was another meal in itself. Four oatmeal biscuits - crisp and of good quality - were accompanied by three wedges of English cheese - an Oakwood smoked cheese, a Wensleydale-style cheese flavoured with berries and a piece of creamy, mature stilton. A ramekin containing home-made chutney ('real ale chutney') was served alongside and this provided a better foil for the cheeses than I had imagined it might. I thought the sweet, fruity yet sharp chutney would 'clash' with each of the three differing styles of cheese. Clearly the chef knew more on the subject than I did. The biggest surprise was the way the sharp fruitiness combined with the salty, smoky flavour of the Oakwood. All quite enlightening really. A few pieces of fresh apple and celery added not only visual appeal but a refreshing and juicy crunch to the platter.

      I must have arrived at the restaurant at around two thirty for a late lunch. It was over one and a half hours later when I left - replete and in good heart ready to tackle the rest of the day's activities. I did not eat another thing for the rest of the day. A hot drink before bed-time was all that was needed.
      On reflection I thought the menu - or at least my selection from it - ran the risk of seeming a little staid. However the key for me was the fact that that very fresh and flavoursome ingredients had been used and they had been cooked with care to highlight the flavours. The presentation was sleek and attractive but never in danger of putting style ahead of substance. It was classic British food well executed and with modern twists. The menu does often include such British classics but also shows clear signs of European influence.

      On that occasion my choice had been filling, hearty food but lighter choices are available too. In the past I have enjoyed risottos of perfect consistency and flavour, beautifully cooked fish dishes (salmon and Artic char ), home-made pate packed with flavour, light and crisply-battered prawns served with aoili and also smaller items such as a warmed scone and clotted cream. (Yummy!) Every meal I have had has been beautifully presented and of the highest quality.


      ~~~The service~~~

      Once you have been seated your waiter/waitress will allow you as much time as you need to make your choice. Even at the busiest times there is no feeling of being rushed. Staff are happy to explain dishes or ingredients to customers and manage to do this in a way which is informative but never condescending. If you ask them a question they are unable to answer, they will go back to the kitchen to get the information for you.


      ~~~Facilities for disabled customers~~~

      Being in the heart of a modern department store means that useful facilities for disabled customers are available. Toilets are to be found on the same floor as the Brasserie and these are accessible with a RADAR key. If you do not have your own key, ask store staff for assistance. Accessible parking is also available near to the store. All areas of the store are accessible to wheelchair users due to the installation of short-rise lifts in addition to the main elevators.


      ~~~Facilities for families~~~

      Again, the store location provides excellent facilities for parents with babies and young children. All floors are accessible for parents with buggies and pushchairs and facilities including a nappy changing area, a babies' feeding room and what is described as a 'rest area' is provided - also on the first floor.
      Within the brasserie staff make it easy for parents to get settled at a table with the pram or buggy alongside if the child is sleeping or too young to be seated in a high-chair - though these are available too should they be required. I have noticed that staff go beyond merely arranging seating, but take an interest and interact with the baby or child. The Brasserie appears to be very popular with parents and it is not difficult to understand why.


      ~~~Store opening hours:~~~

      On weekdays the store is open from 9am to 8pm (10am to 5pm on bank holidays)
      Saturday's hours are 9am to 7pm and Sunday, 10.30am to 5pm. (There are some variations over the December/January holiday period.)

      The restaurant serves breakfasts from 9am to 11.15am and then lunch from 11.30am until the stores closes.


      ~~~Contact details and further information:~~~

      John Lewis
      Eldon Square
      Newcastle upon Tyne
      NE1 7RR
      Telephone: 0191 232 5000


      Some photographs of the brasserie and a sample menu can be viewed online though I notice that the prices are currently a little higher than those shown and the menu is similar but not exactly the same as that currently on offer.

      The web address is as follows:

      http://www.johnlewis.com/Shops/DSTemplate.aspx?Id=430


      ~~~In summary:~~~

      This is not the cheapest venue to visit while you are in town shopping. However the quality of food on offer is in a different league from simple in-store coffee shop fare. It offers a very relaxing atmosphere and I would recommend the brasserie even if you are not planning to shop. If you are in town and looking for a brasserie-style meal I would thoroughly recommend making a detour into Eldon Square just to visit this restaurant. The food is of a consistently high standard and the service is excellent.


      (Please note this review - or edited versions - appear on other sites under the same name (or The Travelling Geordie)).

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