Nestled beneath Arch 8 on Westgate Road just round the corner from the Castle Keep and High Level Bridge, The Herb Garden has recently been delighting scranners across town and beyond with artisan pizza and platters in their laid-back, quirky venue.
Make your way through their door and past the horse in ankle-warmers and roller skates (a killer touch when giving pals directions), and you’ll find yourself in industrial but inviting surroundings, with corrugated green metal walls and ceilings, upcycled thick wooden benches, hundreds of dangling seventies-style paper light fittings, and their star feature; a floor-to-ceiling metal rack stacked with lit hydroponic pods, each churning out a bounty of fresh, tasty herbs, giving the place its suitable moniker.
Their nicely compact menu of sharers, pizzas, calzones, salads and sides is bolstered by a frequently changing specials board featuring a running countdown of how many of the specials remain in the kitchen, which adds an air of danger to the ordering process as you desperately hope the last of the dish you’re after hasn’t been snapped up by the table to your left.
It looks like there’s something for every taste at The Herb Garden, so to test this out we took two different paths through the menu – one vegetarian and one with all – and we mean all – of the meat. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the first ever Scran on the Tyne “tag team” review…
First up, Leigh goes leafy and gets tempted by blue cheese and truffles before making his way towards his final destination – a giant calzone bursting at the seams with fresh, tasty ingredients.
Apropos to their name and their verdant venue, The Herb Garden has a robust selection of non-meat plates to choose from, with a tasteful veggie antipasti and a vibrant salad selection – including gluten-free options and the choice to add various meats – bookending a very strong bunch of pizzas at the heart of their simple, straightforward menu.
Over half of the pizzas they serve up are non-meat, including two outstanding vegan options, one with tomato, peppers, red onion, mushrooms, olives and pine nuts, and the other boasting tomato, broccoli, mushroom, thyme, walnut and beetroot.
The rest of their non-meat selection variously includes Pecorino, Taleggio and Mozzarella cheeses, all of which are likely produced using animal rennet as Herb Garden don’t label them up as vegetarian options on the menu, so one to look out for depending on personal preferences.
The standout however amongst the meat-free pies has to be the startlingly good and staggeringly scaled Mozzarella, blue cheese, truffle and chive. A vast pizza, laden generously with the cheeses of choice, and bursting with that amazing umami truffle savouriness, it’s one not to miss.
But, for tonight, my attention was grabbed by their heaving specials board, and I went straight in with the De Don Don, a mighty calzone filled with spinach, feta, pine nuts, red onion, peppers and sun blushed tomatoes, served up alongside a mixed leaf salad with chili, red onion, feta, pine nuts, mint, peppers and coriander in a lemon dressing.
The Don Don arrived big, steaming and beautiful on a groaning wooden board (natch) with the salad amply and attractively piled next to it. Unlike a good many calzones out there, the Don Don was absolutely packed to bursting with gorgeous crumbly feta and all of the trimmings, and the crust was soft and tasty across the whole thing, with the filling spread liberally inside so as to avoid any purely doughy bits. It was delicious, incredibly but not overly filling, and the zingy, lemony salad it came with set the whole thing off perfectly.
Meanwhile, across the table, Sarah weighed up the options and ended up taking on a near-herculean beef rib challenge, leaving her sated, near-delirious, and with high hopes for the future of The Herb Garden.
You say tomato, I say tomayto, you say vegetable calzone, I say gigantic meat board…
Being that I am not a vegetarian I had my eye on the meatier aspects of the menu, which usually involves ordering a spicy meaty pizza or the melty-soft steak, but on this particular visit we were in the house to try the new 36oz Sailor Jerry’s Big Beef Rib. Yep, you did read that correctly.
As we ordered I was feeling pretty blasé about the prospect of eating so much meat. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t paying attention or if my confidence was purely down to the fact that I had no idea exactly how big 36oz is. Well, let me tell you, I do now.
Luckily we *were* paying attention when they advised us that this is a dish best shared between two people because the beast that was put down before us was… well, it was downright ridiculous. Flintstones style. It practically blocked out the light and greatly obscured my view of the wine that was previously well within my reach. The monster rib comes served on a wooden board (natch) with a mountain of tasty little roasted sweet potato chunks and a pile of fresh salad which was pleasantly herby, jazzed up with fruity sprinkles of little pomegranate jewels, rather than your average, boring side salad.
Now, the meat itself. Allow me to start by clarifying that I am an enthusiastic omnivore. I like meat, especially beef, but I like quality. And, for me, this cut didn’t quite hit the spot. Believe me, I so desperately wanted it to be amazing. I’m a big fan of The Herb Garden and all that they do. I eat there on a fairly regular basis and I wanted the Big Rib to be soft, juicy and pink; I wanted parts of it to be falling off the bone and coated in layers of the sticky, spicy glaze and I was just slightly disappointed.
From what I can remember through my meat coma the meat was tough and fatty at one end and noticeably dry at the other. We didn’t manage to finish the rib and I’m not sure how much of that was down to size. There’s only so much that extravagance and gimmicks can do for a meal if the actual meat itself is going to be a bit of a let down.
It’s worth noting that, as we’re nearing a state of meat-induced delirium, I turned the joint over and discover that the underside, which has been sitting in its own juices, is a much nicer and juicier forkful (well, more than a forkful). Clearly the idea, the enthusiasm and the ambition is there but it’s still not as good as their simple Steak Board (fillet steak, possibly the best in Newcastle!), or their wonderful stone-baked pizza for that matter. But then they are a pizza joint. And a damn good one in my opinion.
So, is this a case of ‘stick to what you know’? At the minute yeah, maybe, for me at least. I hope that practice will make perfect and The Herb Garden will one day conquer the MOUNTAIN of meat but at the moment – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – let’s not be silly about enormous ribs of beef.
There’s a lot to be said for limiting yourself and working on perfecting your niche. Cosy nights in with a pizza or four, a couple of bottles of wine and all your favourite people? Then yep. The Herb Garden’ve got you covered.
The Herb Garden is located at Arch 8, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE1 1SA, and you can find them at theherbgardenuk.com too. Leigh and Sarah were given a complimentary meal for the purpose of this review, however all views are true to experience.