It’s very rare that I get home from a visit to a restaurant and get my laptop out straight away to write up the review. I actually can’t think of a time in recent years where that’s happened, but tonight, that is exactly what’s going on here. We have just returned from La Yuan, an authentic Chinese restaurant in Newcastle City Centre, and I just gotta shout about it!
Just a stone’s throw away from Eldon Square and St James’ Park, this new eatery has taken up residence at 7-9 Gallowgate amongst a sea of Chinese restaurants and buffets. Don’t be fooled though, this couldn’t be further from some of the slop served up on Stowell Street. La Yuan offers something different: much-hyped Sichuan food and authentic tea ceremonies, specifically, to create a concept dining experience.
Since the restaurant opened towards the end of 2016, there has been a lot of positive things said about their offering – not just food – but service, decor and drinks selection. It also has quite the story, with owner/chef Joshy setting up the restaurant with the help of Newcastle University’s RISE UP start-up scheme, with the sole aim of fulfilling his dream of opening a restaurant that celebrates the unique flavours of Sichuan province.
Safe to say, we were eager to get involved…
The venue itself is tastefully designed, with simple light-wood furniture, creative lighting and whitewash walls. Our visit this evening was on a particularly quiet Thursday evening, what with the vast majority of the nation currently on their inevitable week-long ‘health kick’, so we basically had the place to ourselves.
Our waitress, Rachel, talked us through the menu, her favourite dishes and the most popular ones ordered by other diners, before leaving us to peruse the menu and pick drinks.
While I was tempted by the authentic range of Chinese tea, I couldn’t resist a glass of wine (hey, it’s been a long week!), with my boyfriend (let’s start calling him Mr.Scran, eh?) going for a bottle of Wylam Bohemia. We then picked a range of dishes to share, starting with a couple of cold plates to ease us in to the Sichuan spiciness…
To start, we opted for the Trio of Appetisers (£5.00), consisting of duck livers, pickled radish and pickled fresh veg. The bitter, spicy and obscenely tasty trio was a sure-fire signal of the good that was to come, and we thoroughly enjoyed every last zesty morsel, particularly the duck livers combined with the sweet & sour pickled radish. Quite the taste sensation!
In addition, we also went for a steamed oyster each, which were packed with Sichuan peppers, chilli and lime zest and so delicious. At £2.50 each they were slightly more than your average oyster, but frankly it was a little delight and packed a real punch, without being too spicy.
The combined flavours of all our starters were so complex – with sweetness, the sourness of the pickles and the intense spice of the Sichuan peppers. I was raring for more and luckily, it wasn’t too long to wait for main courses.
I’d gone for the Shuei Ju Beef (£12.50), with Mr.Scran (oh god, I can’t!) going for the Gung Bao Chicken (£10), which upon Rachel’s recommendation, was one of La Yuan’s most popular dishes. We also ordered a portion of the vegetable stir-fried rice to share (£6), which was an adequate portion between two.
The dishes were beautifully presented, with the chicken served on a little slate slab and bursting with colour and texture, and my beef dish in a soup-like sauce that was oozing with chilli, sichuan pepper and a lot of colour. Even just the look of my main course was mouth-watering, and I’m pleased to report that things only got better with that first mouthful.
Had I known that the Shuei Ju soup was going to be THAT moreish, I wouldn’t have worn white for dinner. I got well and truly stuck in and unfortunately, so did my lovely Zara blouse, but hey ho – for flavours like this, what’s a white shirt? The dish is an eruption of flavour, and the numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper is almost addictive.
The beef, of which there was plenty, was so moist and tender, while there was a healthy helping of Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts to tie everything together. I would go as far as to say that I am OBSESSED with this dish. Yep, you read it here first.
The Gung Bao chicken wasn’t so big on the spice, but what it lacked in punch it made up for in texture. Crunchy veg combined with roasted nuts and succulent chicken thigh, united by a sauce that was slightly sweet but overall quite light, allowing each unique element of the dish to really hold its own.
Particular praise for the roasted nuts, which have been repeatedly been described as “unreal” since we got home tonight, along with the plentiful chopped chicken thigh that was lovely and tender.
Try as we might, there was a little bit left on our plates, but absolutely no room in our stomachs for any more. I’d say what we ordered would be sufficient for 3 people, and perhaps if you threw in another cold plate, the dressed jellyfish (£8) for example, it would have probably been enough for 4.
There was however, a little room for dessert, and we both went for a lemon and white chocolate posset (priced at a very reasonable £3.50) which was adorned with a ginger and walnut crumb. This was the perfect end to a really, rather wonderful meal. The posset was light and zesty, but with a real edge of pure sweetness, thanks to the inclusion of white chocolate. The walnut and ginger crumb provided some much-needed crunch and for under 4 quid, you really can’t frown at such a delicious dessert.
I was ever-so-tempted by the tea ceremony, but given it was getting late and we were stuffed to the brim, I decided this is something for another visit. And my word, there’ll definitely be another visit.
Service throughout was so friendly and attentive, and we were also super-pleased to meet Joshy himself and talk about his food and how things are going for them since opening. This is a restaurant that I really want to see succeed and I expect, if they continue the way they’re going, it will be. You just don’t find food like this very often!
His passion for the food he creates is palpable, and even without meeting him, just one look at the menu and you can see the thought that’s gone into creating every single dish. It takes a brave guy to shun the tried-and-tested Chinese restaurant blueprint in favour of something more unique, but I’d say his gamble has more than paid off. La Yuan is a great testament to Sichuan tradition and culture, so I just hope this concept is appreciated by other toon-dwellers.
If you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine at its best, love a bit of spice and want to bask in the flavour of the majestic Sichuan pepper, look no further.
You’ll also be delighted to know that La Yuan are participating in NE1 Restaurant Week, from the 16th-22nd January. Check out their offers HERE and get yourself there, stat.
Long live La Yuan! I’m already planning my next visit…
Check out the La Yuan website HERE, or head to 7-9 Gallowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4SG. To make a reservation, check out their website, or call 0191 432 4421. Big thanks to Macaully, Joshy and the team at La Yuan for inviting us to try their amazing food.
We were invited to try the restaurant on a complimentary basis for the purpose of this review, but as always, views written here are true to experience.