If you like Mezcals… and Newcastle in the rain

Dean Bailey visits Newcastle’s Barrio Comida

This winter has been a long one hasn’t it?

I was one of those first in line for autumn food when it came – potatoes, root veg, casseroles, pies – come the end of September it’s all I long for.

Trouble is (call me fickle if you will) I’m all full up of winter food now, thank you. With that in mind, this month I wanted to ditch seasonal menus and ‘proper’ restaurants in favour of something light, fresh and above all else different!

Where we ended up couldn’t have been more different – Shaun Hurrell’s new Mexican bolt hole on Newcastle’s Quayside, Barrio Comida.

The container in which it is housed was put up by Adam Riley of Riley’s Fish Shack last summer, and Shaun moved in around the turn of the year, replacing Adam’s excellent fish with a Mexican menu and cocktails. It’s a quirky café space, this, in a couple of converted shipping containers between the Gateshead Millenium Bridge and the Quayside Seaside (returning in May), which will be the perfect place to enjoy cocktails and tacos when some sunshine finally returns.

Right now, it’s quite the cool beach front vibe – even on this, what seems to me the greyest, wettest, coldest, most miserable winter day since records began. Mind you, weather aside, there is not a better view in Newcastle – sit by the windows and your view down the Tyne and its iconic bridges is uninterrupted – and the rain can’t spoil that.

And while the view is fantastic, the best part of the whole Barrio Comida experience, at least for me, is how un-fussy it all is. I am yet to see a waiter master the art of picking up a roof tile from a table, or a chopping board for that matter, and to see a chef switch from a Michelin-starred background and ditch all the pomp for fresh ingredients, cooked simply and served on paper plates makes perfect sense to me.

As does the floor-to-ceiling menu board featuring Mexican classics like corn chips, salsa and guacamole, oysters Aguachile style and tacos. Served straight from the open kitchen with its charcoal-fired oven, the tacos are the stars of the show and three each is about right.

The Carne Asada is the best of my three choices – steak cooked over charcoal served with Salsa Negra (chipotle, molasses, garlic, soy and vinegar), grilled spring onion, coriander and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. The freshness of the lime juice and the crunch of the onion is an instant reminder of summer – fresh with a mix of heat and sweetness sorely missed these last few months.

Lengua – braised and grilled ox tongue, chipotle salsa, radish, avocado, onion and coriander is more subtle, the softness of the avocado and earthy ox tongue matched well with the salsa.

Mole – wood roast chicken, mole poblano sauce and pink onions carries the biggest punch in flavour thanks to that smoky poblano.

Served simply, the food packs big flavours into small plates – perfect for a stop off during a Quayside walk or for summer lunches and an escape from the city. The open kitchen, high tables topped with flamboyant designs, and a mix of 1980s classics on the stereo add to the relaxed vibe.

This was a perfect respite from the dark days of winter and I can’t wait to return when we have some sunshine, the Quayside Seaside just out the front door, a long summer evening and a couple of Mezcals…Roll on summer.

Barrio Comida, Wesley Square, Newcastle, NE1 3DE, www.barriocomida.com

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