Artisan: The art of noise


Jane Pikett enjoys the understated excellence of Artisan at the Biscuit Factory art gallery

Ask anyone in the trade and they will tell you just how good Andrew Wilkinson, head chef at Artisan at the Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle, really is.

That being the case, he hasn’t, as far as I can see, got a massive personal profile, having wisely avoided the ‘me, me, me’, shouty style of marketing in favour of letting his food do the talking.

Wilkinson’s food also seems to me to have no ego; it’s just excellent, intelligent, beautifully and thoughtfully executed and served in understated surroundings.

I note he has been made the subject of the recent marketing campaign of the still relatively new Artisan restaurant at the Biscuit, but this is done elegantly and without noise and fanfare, again like his food, so it seems to suit him.

He’s only in his late-ish 20s and yet is a veteran of the best kitchens in Newcastle, including Black Door and Artisan’s former incarnation, Food Social. He was also named North East Chef of the Year in 2009 when a mere pup aged 22.

The food at Artisan is clearly put together by someone with an instinct for flavour, balance, and good looks and the stand-out dish of an impressive meal is the garden herb panna cotta with Serrano ham, sourdough crouton, and pea vinaigrette (pictured).

Quite the most attractive dish I’ve seen in a long time, this is beautiful food boasting world-class looks and a superb flavour balance. The mere thought of the work that’s gone into it is enough to make me blanch and we savour it, a) because we don’t want it to end, and b) because it feels impolite to spoil such a pretty picture.

Artisan is more comfortable than its predecessor, Food Social, thanks to fantastic new chairs. Seriously, they are fantastic, and Dom McCracken, the restaurant manager, says sourcing them was a mammoth exercise so he’s pleased that we like them.

The lighter décor makes it feel more open, and the glazed wall showing off exhibits from the Biscuit Factory sheds lots of light and tempts us into the gallery.

The Carroll’s Heritage potatoes are so good, I take a doggy bag of them home. For me, not the dog, mind. We also take home pudding, because we’re full, of which the star is the dark chocolate delice with hazelnut praline, though the apricot and almond tart is nearly as good.

We like it all, particularly the cheese soufflé, which tastes of France, and its accompanying salad of flavour-packed beetroot, walnut, apple, leaves and shoots, which cuts through the richness of the soufflé with aplomb.

There is an elegant fillet of pan-fried seabass with mussel cream and sea greens (foraged, I presume), and fluffy salted cod encased in crisp, light batter to form wee balls atop a nicely balanced caponata with glorious crispy sage.

Wilkinson uses flavour-packed shoots, leaves and flowers to great effect, while his side of wilted lettuce, peas and wild garlic also heads home for further enjoyment.

Our waitress, Elsa Bairacharya, is efficient, well-informed, and absolutely charming, and we have a lovely evening.

For info, the early evening set menu is £15 two courses, £18.50 three courses, Mon-Fri 5.30pm-7pm. On the a la carte, the starters hover around £6, mains range from £12.50-£24, sides £3, and desserts £4.50-£8.50. I like Artisan for its politely understated style, and I like Wilkinson for allowing his reputation to grow for his excellence in the kitchen rather than because someone is PR-ing the life out of him. A star, minus celebrity noise.

Artisan, The Biscuit Factory, Stoddart Street, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, tel 0191 260 5411,

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