A Royal Affair


Charlotte Forrester samples the delights of Newcastle’s Café Royal

Making my way through the unfamiliar streets of Newcastle in the wake of the fast-moving editor of this publication, I was scolding myself for my choice of footwear. I had failed to break in my seemingly harmless pumps and was aching to sit down.

Café Royal – a Georgian gem which makes its architectural presence felt, even situated as it is yards from famous Grey Street – served the purpose with a good deal more elegance than I was displaying in my hobbling discomfort. The editor enjoys showing off Newcastle on my visits (she considers my home town in the West Midlands pale in comparison) and this time she was in particularly effusive mood because she had me for a week slaving for her (sorry, on work experience) and a willing lunch/dinner/afternoon tea partner.

My week’s insight into the world of magazine publishing left me feeling like a teenage version of Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, except the editor is nothing like the Meryl Streep character. So she says.

Our many food adventures that week included this visit to Café Royal – a Newcastle institution, the editor reliably informed me – a haven of cream teas, lazy lunches and elegant sophistication which wouldn’t be out of place in a swish quarter of Paris.

The gleaming glass cases beside the counter proved quite a distraction with their a mouth-watering display of cakes and patisserie, while staff bustled around the place beaming broadly.

This is a place in possession of a grand allure but devoid of pomposity, and the team’s friendly smiles, relaxed approach, and smart-casual aprons were a lovely contrast to the grandeur of the architecture.

And while the casual ambience warms up the sophisticated elegance, the menu adds a contemporary, world food spin to the traditional teas on offer – spicing things up with Moroccan-spiced pulled lamb, Szechuan beef, Chermoula spiced rare tuna steak, and an excellent tiger prawn, crab, chilli, lemon and parsley linguini which further distracted me from the nascent blisters on my heels.

The afternoon tea menu also breaks the mould with its choice of savoury and sweet treats. So you could have chorizo, manchego and romesco on toasted focaccia alongside a wild mushroom, red pepper relish and goat’s curd roll along with a selection of savoury tarts and scones. Or the sweet option might include raspberry scone, Earl Grey cake in homage to the figure around the corner, and lemon and passion fruit custard tart. Oh, and you can add prosecco, naturally.

The salmon quiche was the star of our visit, while the ‘super food’ flapjack we took back to the office felt virtuous in contrast to the magnificent cream cakes on offer, and was equally delicious. The newly crowned North East Chef of the Year, Cevat Robert Elat, formerly of the excellent Peace & Loaf in Jesmond, has now joined the team at Café Royal’s parent company, Sir John Fitzgerald, which promises there is yet more creative imagination to come to the menu here.

And for this visitor, Café Royal presented a welcome distraction from an intense week – and a welcome sit down.

Café Royal, Nelson Street, Newcastle, NE1 5AW, tel 0191 231 3000, www.caferoyalnewcastle.co.uk

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