Baffling… yet brilliant


Dean Bailey is by turns surprised, perplexed, intrigued and delighted by Peace & Loaf

It may surprise you, but life at appetite HQ can be taxing (it’s not all fine dining and cakes, honest) so a trip to the foodie trend-spotters’ place-of-the-moment Peace & Loaf in Jesmond is sometimes required to brighten otherwise difficult days.

If you’ve met chef Dave Coulson, you know you’re going to be taken on a creative journey by this tattooed, top-knotted, bearded mod, and his menu of traditional seasonal produce – pigeon, chicken pie, livers and duck – is an adventure of the extraordinary culinary creativity which has made his name nationally.

Take, for instance, the simply described yet brilliantly complex Lemon, Elderberry Vinegar, Eau De Cologne dessert, which, much to my disappointment, is not presented with a bottle of my grandad’s favourite Brut. More on that later.

Meanwhile, a starter described as XO Pigeon, Pickled Girolles, Elderberries, Aged Balsamic turns out to be a tantalizing mix of gamey flavours, tart elderberry and balsamic in a warming dish enjoyed while we further entertain ourselves trying to decipher Coulson’s menu of lists. A starter described as Scallop, Pigs Head, Carrot, Tarragon is perplexing in its constituent form, while the dish leaves us in awe – delicate scallops with what is
best described as the world’s finest pork scratchings creating a multi-textured thrill.

Coulson’s creativity is well illustrated by the 42C Halibut, Chicken Pie, Creamed Potato, Mushroom. A dish which wowed MasterChef judges, I may never fathom how he came to combine poached white fish with the earthy contents of chicken pie, but it is a show-stopping construction served on a circular canvas sprinkled with textures which fill every forkful with a sense of creative derring-do.

Across the table, on a similar circular canvas – possibly salvaged remnants of Barney Rubble’s hub caps – is a dish which is simply listed on the menu as Sirloin of Beef, Fatty Onion, Pearl Barley, Oxtail, Cabbage; the ruby red beef holding centre stage amidst the vegetables and barley. In Coulson’s hands these autumnal staple ingredients far surpass everyday experience, fascinating with intriguing textures and surprises.

Credit also to the space here, which is used to great effect – three floors with an open kitchen which fills each with atmosphere. From the upper floor, looking down on the central kitchen level with its handful of tables offers a view of the heart of the restaurant. It’s a clever space, where even the earliest evening diners on a wet Monday enjoy a warm atmosphere on the mezzanine, while by the time we leave all three floors are buzzing.

Another surprise from the kitchen, our all-day breakfast intermediary course is delightful fun. Purées of bacon, sausage, egg, black pudding and beans are served on crunchy sourdough toast in a brilliantly executed surprise addition to the adventure we are by now thoroughly enjoying.

Our waiter is excellent, knowledgeable while confident enough to leave the deciphering of each selection to us. The appetisers are extraordinary – bite-sized pleasures presented on heart-shaped slate, wooden blocks and, yes, a small, smooth rock. The Thai-inspired fishcakes give away just enough heat, while the mini-macarons with minty pea purée
are outstanding.

The Lemon, Elderberry Vinegar, Eau De Cologne dessert (no bottle of Brut on the side) takes the prize for the most bafflingly brilliant dish of the evening. The powerful lemon sorbet cuts through the richness of the main courses which precede it, while the perfumed hints throughout lend an intriguing complexity.

Three courses for two comes to just under £100, which is ridiculously good value for the quality and creativity we’ve been treated to. If he were in London, Coulson would be courted as a celebrity. Let’s hope the bright lights of Jesmond are enough to keep him here.
Peace & Loaf, Jesmond Road, NE2 1LA, tel 0191 281 5222,

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