American pie

Cocktails and a catch-up with the girls used to be a regular occurrence on a Thursday evening, but lately we’ve fallen out of the habit. So, the arrival of an invitation to try out the new bar and restaurant at Malmaison in Newcastle was timely.

There’s been a big change here. What used to be the dark, sultry restaurant is now an industrial-styled bar with 10 beers on tap, an array of cocktails, double the seating capacity, and a resident DJ doing his/her stuff on Thursday to Saturday nights.

What was the lounge bar overlooking the Tyne has now become an uber-glam, beautifully understated restaurant, with tables for two in those big window alcoves everyone loves, and vintage-style chandeliers.

This new layout certainly makes sense, and there’s no more hovering around the bar eyeing up the lounge seats to jump in the graves of people leaving. With the new mix of booths, bar seats and tables there’s ample space and plenty of seating in the new-look bar, making it an ideal spot for the Saturday night crowd.

Once my pal and I were comfortably ensconced with cocktails in hand, the conversation started to flow. Perhaps choosing to sit up at the bar within earshot of the barman wasn’t the best place for the sort of discussion only very close friends can have, though I’m sure it was quite an education for the young chap.

And he certainly knew a thing or two about cocktails, talking us through the menu and helping us to work out what would suit us. In fact, we could easily have stayed in the bar gassing away all evening, but the restaurant was beckoning and, come the next morning, our heads would not have appreciated a night out without a good supper.

I’m pleased to say that Mal’s popular signature dishes still feature on the menu, with the addition of some new choices to keep things fresh.

The pan-roasted sea scallops with a spinach purée and chorizo and tomato dressing were perfectly succulent, while the goat’s cheese salad with apple, poached pear, walnuts and raspberry dressing was crisp, light and fresh, bringing with it an early hint of spring.

Steaks are something of a speciality at the Mal, and in particular the New York Black Angus strip steak. Our attentive and knowledgeable waitress explained that Mal gourmands had sampled many global suppliers to find the best beef, which, it turns out, is from New Zealand. The sumptuous beef is vacuum-packed and aged for six weeks on the journey by boat to the UK, giving it that extra pizazz, and side orders of decadent truffle mash and green beans with feta certainly hit the spot.

The béarnaise sauce served with half a grilled lobster was divine, and the accompanying hand-cut pommes frites found their way into the peppercorn sauce with the steak on the plate opposite on more than one occasion.

An extensive wine list has a well-chosen selection of both affordable and blow-out wines, which our waitress was able to discuss in detail, but it being a school night, we had to decline one of the delicious dessert wines to accompany our pineapple carpaccio with coconut and mint and a lemon sponge and berry concoction, which well and truly finished us off.

I’ve long been a huge fan of the Mal’s Sunday brunch, an American-style feast with a heaving chef’s table, pancakes and waffles, all followed by a big traditional roast and a Bloody Mary trolley which does the rounds. The reason I love this so much is because it reminds me of holidays in the States, and it really is a must on a Sunday morning.

In fact, despite the French influence in both name and classical cuisine, the Mal has an air of Americana about it with its glamorous surrounds, its New York strip steaks and its Bloody Marys. I’d even go so far as to say it feels like a little slice of American pie right here in the Toon, and what could be better than that?

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