Note, this restaurant has been closed and reopened under a new name and new management. The below is therefore rendered pointless… but you might want to read it anyway as the Head Chef will be popping up somewhere new soon!
It’s difficult to keep up with the number of restaurants and bars opening in Newcastle right now. We’ve got the impending arrival of The Alchemist to look forward to, there’ve been a number of gems popping up around town food-wise, but none have I been more excited about than Shilling, an independent, unique bar and restaurant offering a “nose to tail” dining concept.
For the uninitiated, nose to tail means that as much of the animal will be used throughout their menu, but as we discovered on a recent visit to Shilling, their passion for sustainability goes much further…
Taking up residence in the old Rumpoli’s spot on the Quayside, the bar and restaurant both make the most of the magnificent space, boasting large chandeliers, quirky tiling and mismatched furniture. There’s an amazing metal spiral staircase leading up the the dining room, and the whole space has an air of “oh we just threw this together”, with the caveat being that there’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the vibe they want to portray to customers.
Shilling is the brainchild of Tim Ward and Neil Donachie, two gents who’ve done their fair share of graft in the Newcastle hospitality scene and decided to go it alone. I for one am mighty glad they did.
We visited on a Thursday evening and the bar area was relatively busy, mostly with couples enjoying a belated Valentine’s date (as were we) with the odd group of people together enjoying a drink in the beautiful surroundings. They’ve got a range of cocktails on offer, but given I knew what was in store food-wise, we opted for a bottle of Chilean Merlot (£20) and headed upstairs to the dining room, where we were greeted upon entry by possibly one of the most polite individuals we’ve ever encountered, Luke.
Our table was a window seat overlooking the beautiful Sandhill on the Quayside, perfect for people watching. The upstairs restaurant is a similar vibe to downstairs – spacious, quirky and open, with a view into the kitchen where you can see Head Chef, Matty Stephenson, hard at work.
Many of you might be familiar with Matty’s culinary skills, as he’s been at the helm of the likes of Branches in Ponteland, The Bottle Shop Bar and Kitchen and Lola Jeans, to name but a few. The ‘nose to tail’ concept at Shilling allows him to be creative and resourceful, clearly a move that he’s loving and already succeeding in.
The menu boasts 5 options per course, with a selection of small plates priced at £4.50 a piece, similar to those you’d find at neighbouring hotspots like The Broad Chare or The Bridge Tavern. Think creative nibbles like Ox Tail Bon-bons, Pork Crackling, Pork and Leek Scotch Egg and Venison Sausage Roll. It was tempting to go for a selection of all of them, but we resisted, favouring the main menu instead.
As a compromise, we opted for Bread and Dripping to get the party started, priced at £3. Warm, fresh bread served with beef dripping, that was so moreish and addictive we found ourselves battling over the last bit. In terms of dripping, you can opt for chicken, pork or beef, and we opted for the latter. I was very aware of actually how unhealthy dripping is as a concept, but for flavour and crunch like that? Screw it!
Needless to say, this isn’t one for the veggies, but on the plus side you can opt for an aperitif instead and get your meal off to a flying start.
For my first course, I’d originally opted for the Beetroot Salmon Gravlax but sadly just missed out on the last one, so Luke recommended the Confit Duck Leg, served with Apple-cured Duck Ham, compressed apple, braised red cabbage and crispy skin. What arrived in front of me was a beautiful dish bursting with fresh ingredients and a generous helping of duck.
I’ve not had the combination of duck and apple before, and am pleased to report it works wonderfully, given the naturally rich – almost gamey – flavour of duck, against the punchy flavour of fresh green apple.
At £7.95, it’s on the expensive end of the starter menu, but it’s confit duck and you get what you pay for, let’s face it. All in all it was a great-tasting starter that perfectly whet my appetite for courses to come.
My boyfriend’s starter was on the adventurous side, a Coronation Chicken terrine, served with a carrot and onion bhaji (the eagle eyed amongst you will also notice this is on the Small Plates menu – proving the nose to tail concept doesn’t just stop at their use of meat!), apricot, poppadom and carrot.
This dish was a little less ‘refined’ in terms of presentation, but the creativity was evident and the combination of flavours a massive success. How many times can you say you’ve seen Coronation Chicken terrine on a menu? I’d bet very few.
It could have done with a *little* more poppadom, purely for mopping up the accompanying sauces and terrine morsels, but overall it was a stand-out dish and a steal at £5.95.
With bellies part-full and a lovely vibe to enjoy as we awaited our main course, I kept remarking how great an addition Shilling is to the Newcastle food scene. Not often is a chef given free rein to produce dishes he or she is passionate about, and it’s evident that this approach really works. Matty is passionate about the suppliers, quality and longevity of his ingredients and the attention to avoiding waste means dishes are fully thought through and creative to boot.
Our main courses were a fantastic example of this. I’d dabbled with the idea of ordering the sirloin, but I’m a sucker for pork belly and I knew this was set to be a belter. Served with creamed potato, cabbage rolled faggot, pancetta and turnip, along with a generous helping of rich jus, this was a divine main course and only £14.95.
The pork belly was cooked to perfection, with a thin layer of crispy crackling atop moist, super rich meat.
This is the kind of cooking you’d expect from neighbouring 21, so think yourself very lucky that we have a Quayside restaurant producing this standard of food for a fraction of the price. The creamed potato and accompanying veg were plentiful and delicious, but nothing can stop me from talking about how great that pork belly was to anyone who’ll listen.
My boyfriend’s course was a similar affair and as far as he’s concerned, one of the best things he’s eaten in quite some time. Rich, succulent beef sirloin served with braised oxtail, tarragon mash, honeyed parsnip, baby turnip and jus.
This one’s more expensive, given the outstanding quality of the meat, but at £24.95 I’d still say you’re getting a STEAL when considering the quality to price ratio. The beef was perfect, cooked pink and served with a good helping of meaty jus, delicious tarragon mash and a bunch of crunchy root vegetables and braised spring onion.
The braised oxtail was served in a breaded crumb and again, the meat cooked to perfection. I had major course envy, I’ll not lie, but thankfully he’s a gentleman and let me have a forkful, so I can attest to how great a course it was.
Despite being fit to explode, I’d heard great things about the desserts thanks to my Mum’s visit during NE1 Restaurant Week, so knew that we had to at least share one. So share we did, opting for the decadent Chocolate Delice, served with raspberry gel, sorbet and a smattering of fresh raspberries (£5.95), which was more than enough for the two of us.
It was very indulgent and rich, but the perfect sweet end to a really wonderful meal. The sharpness of the raspberry sorbet helped keep any sickliness at bay, and beneath the soft chocolate was a solid dark chocolate base, which we broke up and enjoyed with the remainder of our Merlot.
The service throughout was really good, with pleasant chatter whenever Luke visited our table, and plenty of glass top ups and menu recommendations. It’s clear the team know their stuff when it comes to the food on offer, and given my starter was such a success despite not being what I originally had in mind, I’d say the staff are equipped to direct you to deliciousness on the menu.
Luke is in fact the Head Barman but was covering upstairs for the evening, and had he not mentioned it we would never have guessed he wasn’t a regular feature in the restaurant upstairs, such was his professionalism.
I’d go as far as saying that Shilling is one of the most exciting restaurants in the city centre right now. The food is outstanding, good value for money and the drinks selection is on par with some of the best bars in the Toon.
Plus, they actually stand for something, and their approach to avoiding waste and being resourceful is an added bonus to an already great establishment. Not only are they operating a nose to tail concept with food, but you’ll notice table water presented in old bottles of Tanqueray 10, and fruit and veg used in creative ways to get the most out of the produce in every dish.
Would we go back?
It’s not so much a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
I’m hoping there’s Sunday lunches on offer because based on the quality of the meat we enjoyed, I’d put my money on them being outstanding. If you’ve been for Sunday lunch at Shilling, do let me know how it was. Of course, their menus are seasonal, so I expect we shall go back when their Spring/Summer offerings are available, and I’m hoping for much of the same in terms of flavour and quality. I’m 100% confident they’ll continue to deliver on that front.
Visit Shilling at 17 Sandhill, Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3AF. The website isn’t live yet, but you can see plenty of photos and updates on their social media accounts (particularly Facebook), if you so desire.
Big thanks to Tim, Neil and Matty for the kind invitation to visit, although admittedly we were going to anyway! All food was provided on a complimentary basis for the purpose of this review. As always, views and photographs are my own.