Friday 4 February 2005

The Living Room is a large new cocktail bar/restaurant that opened just before Christmas in a Grade 2 listed building on Newcastle's Grey Street. Last Friday a team from The bgroup went along to try out the food and get a feel for the place. Here's our verdict.

We arrived at 7pm to find the bar comfortably busy with a mixed clientele, both young and old - business people grabbing an after-work drink and those dressed ready for a night out. On entering, the main bar does appear quite small but is actually split over two levels with stairs from the main bar that take you down to the lower level. The restaurant meanwhile is located to the rear of the main bar on the ground floor.

The stylish décor of browns and creams follows in the fashionable footsteps of a number of new bars that have sprung up in this area of town, including Apartment and Attic on neighbouring Collingwood Street. The exposed brickwork and wooden floors add to the stylish interior, but comfort has not been overlooked and there is good level of seating in both the main and lower level bar.

In the restaurant, as a table of seven, past experience has taught us to expect to be seated at a rectangular table where the length has rendered conversation between either ends difficult. So we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in a perfectly sized, square booth which housed us all comfortably while maintaining the intimacy required for conversation with all sides.

Now onto the food. For those who prefer a snack while you peruse the menu, you might be disappointed to find that there is a 2.25 charge for the selection of bread on offer, but we found opting out of this course in favour of a starter to be a wise move in light of the variety to choose from.

The Spiced thai salmon fish cakes with sweet chilli (5.45) proved a unanimous hit around the table, while the Duck spring rolls with shitake salsa (5.45) avoided a common pitfall of being too greasy. The Thai vegetable & noodle soup with coconut & lime with seared salmon also proved a good choice with a good balance of flavours (4.95) with neither the coconut nor the lime overbearing and the salmon seared to perfection. My own starter of Woodland mushrooms sautéed in garlic & butter (4.75), however, was pretty standard.

When it comes to the mains, the options range from 7.95 for a house salad through to the top price of 15.95 for an 8oz fillet with mash. I chose creamy roast chicken & ham pie with colcannon mash (9.75) from the home comforts menu. The pie's puff pastry crust was a decent thickness and broke to reveal a very creamy mixture and while the ham proved to be the dominant taste throughout, it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the dish. The mash, however, was a little dry and I was glad of the pie's creamy sauce to use as a dip. Other mains we tried included: Crispy duck, pancakes, cucumber, spring onion & hoi sin (14.95) - the duck was lovely; moist breast under a crispy skin - very tasty, and Fettucine with oven roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, olives, a hint of chilli & garlic with shredded roast chicken (9.95) - which was pleasant enough but not particularly inspiring.

The side orders available are admittedly rather pricey from chips at 1.95 through to 3.75 for sweet tomato, basil and mozzarella but our choice of mains, combined with the starters, rendered such additions unnecessary.

We rounded off the meal with a couple of choices from the sweet menu, including a slice of banoffee cheesecake (4.25), and Eton mess (4.45) - a delicious mixture of whipped crème, broken meringue and forest fruits

All of our meals were served with such friendly efficiency that I was quite disappointed at the speed with which the meal came to an end, especially as we were enjoying the live music from the singer on the grand piano in the corner.

The verdict: The Living Room is a chain and this inevitably puts it in line for the familiar criticism that it is lacking in personality - this is not an assessment which we would personally agree with having thoroughly enjoyed our evening. We will certainly be going back sometime soon!

The full menu can be viewed at www.thelivingroom.co.uk


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