When I was a bit younger, birthdays were all about going out early-doors, getting as drunk as humanly possible and stumbling home at 3am to an unimpressed Mother. However, now I’m a “grown up” (honest!) times have changed and I’m all about the birthday feast. After making a shortlist of potential venues, the winner was obvious: we were going to Terry Laybourne’s spectacular Café 21 on Trinity Gardens, Quayside. No need for further discussion.
So we headed out on a very balmy late July evening and it’s fair to say I was pretty excited about the culinary treats ahead. The restaurant was full of suits (it’s amidst “Lawyer Central” and behind the Crown Court though so that’s no surprise) enjoying fine wine and even finer food. We were seated quickly by a lovely waitress who took our drinks orders and supplied some outstanding bread and olives. I don’t know what they put in those olives but MY GOD they were divine and I’m unashamed to say that I ate the lot… thankfully the rest of my party weren’t big olive fans.
I must have studied the menu for at least 10 minutes before finally coming to a decision: for my starter I chose the Grilled Scallops with Chilli & Garlic Butter (£14.50), my fella went for the Crab on Toast with Broadbeans and Lemon Vinaigrette (£12.50) and our friend had the Watercress Soup which came with a perfectly poached egg and croutons (£5.80). The scallops were frankly, perfection. Nestled in a shell and smothered in gorgeous chilli and garlic butter, three simply weren’t enough! Well, that’s a lie, but they were so moreish that I wanted at least 5 or 6. Needless to say, they didn’t last very long. I dipped the last of the table bread in the butter (how uncouth!) afterwards and was more than ready for my next course. The boys confirmed that their starters were also excellent and I managed to nab a little taste of the crab on toast and loved it… fresh and zesty, a perfect light starter.
For main course (this was the hardest to choose for me!) I opted for the Roast Breast of Duck with Peaches & Turnips (£21.50) which came rested on wilted spinach with a little dish of my favourite: Potato Gratin. The gratin was deliciously creamy and indulgent, and I absolutely loved the sweetness of the peaches against the rich flavour of the duck. I asked for my duck to be served pink and of course, it was cooked to perfection and came with a well-seasoned jus. The boyfriend went for the 8oz Fillet Steak (what else?!) with hand-cut chips and peppercorn sauce (£29.50) which was succulent and gorgeous, while our friend had a selection of starters because he couldn’t choose from all the delights on offer.
After my main course, which was delicious but incredibly heavy, I didn’t think there was any chance of squeezing in a dessert, but where there’s a will, there’s a way! We decided to go for the Hot Raspberry Souffle with Raspberry Ripple Ice-cream (£8.60) and the Palet D’Or of Wild Bolivian Chocolate served with Hazelnut Ice-cream (£8.80) and dived in both with a spoon each. The standout dessert for me was the soufflé, it was fluffy and light and jam-packed (literally) with raspberry, and served with a tangy raspberry ripple ice-cream that was unlike anything I’d had anywhere before, ever. The palet d’or was a little too rich for my taste, but the boys seemed to enjoy it and the hazelnut ice-cream was also pretty spectacular.
As it was my birthday, I have absolutely no idea what the bill total was, but I’d estimate somewhere in the region of £180 for the three of us, with drinks and service included. Quite steep, but this place really is fantastic and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to spend a special occasion. Service is swift and unassuming and the menu unrivalled by anywhere else in the city. It really is the jewel in the 21 Group crown and there’s no doubt about it that I’ll be back.
You can book at Café 21 by calling (0191) 222 0755 or online at: http://www.cafetwentyone.co.uk/.