18 August 2016

A mediterranean feast at Harissa Kitchen

I wish I was a still a student in Sandyford...well today I got to reminisce about my old stomping ground when I payed a visit to new restaurant on the block, Harissa Kitchen. After weeks of seeing enticing, summery photos of their food on Instagram, my curiosity and tastebuds got the better of me. As well as serving delicious food from all corners of the Mediterranean, I also love the fact that it's a social enterprise, investing its profits back into the community via its sister organisation Food Nation. I was instantly struck by it's relaxed atmosphere, and the yellow and white colour scheme providing instant uplift on a dreary grey, albeit August day. 

So how did Harissa Kitchen come about? MD Jamie has an affinity for this kind of cuisine, and wanted to offer something different on the restaurant scene in Newcastle.  He's been running the sister company, Food Nation for seven years and is clearly passionate about inspiring people to eat good food. What's harissa, you may be wondering? It's a hot chilli paste that's commonly found in North African cooking (it's main ingredients are roasted red peppers as well as a variety of other peppers, spices and herbs). 

I immediately warmed to the menu, which has plenty of vegetarian options. The varied selection of small plates and dips make it an excellent choice for a celebration or work night out, sharing is actively encouraged! Don't expect to get comfortable with the menu; they offer seasonal dishes using freshest, locally sourced ingredients. Although the options are in flux, you can rely on a selection of chargrilled meats, fresh stews, flatbreads, salads and mezze being constants. The lucky people living nearby can take advantage of the takeaway service, too. 

The sample menu features a colourful selection of dips (hummus, roasted red pepper - I ordered the amazing whipped Labneh cheese which is served with fresh herbs, smoked paprika and rapeseed oil).  All are served with a freshly made flatbread. The evening menu is available from 4.30pm, making it a great idea if you've got a packed night out planned. If you fancy a quick drink with friends, you can get a selection of three nibbles for £6 - spicy roasted nuts, marinated olives, and harissa house pickles. The small plates are predominately vegetarian (yay) - today there was Chargrilled Halloumi, Crispy Aubergine with Date Molasses and sheep's cheese, Fresh Falafel and Roasted Orange and Purple Carrots. Carnivores can enjoy plates like Yorkshire Air Dried Smoked Ham, Pancetta and Spicy Salami and Mergeuz Sausages. 

Whipped Labneh Cheese and Flatbread
It's all about kebabs for main course - but get all ideas of greasy donner out of your head. These are served on freshly made flatbreads, and flavoured with fresh herbs grown on site. On the menu tonight - Lamb, Pistachio and Cardamom Kofte, Slow Roasted Shoulder of Spiced Pork (I'm starting to wish I wasn't pescetarian) to name a few, but I plumped for the Monkfish and King Prawn, served with herby bulgar wheat, crispy capers and chargrilled lime, lemon and coriander creme fraiche (a mouthful in many ways)! The seafood was so fresh and the herbs - oh my god! You can easily add more flavour (not that you really need it) with the option of asking for extra Harissa Chilli, Tahini, Garlic Sauce and Lime and Coriander Creme Fraiche depending on whether you need to spice up or cool down your palette. Extras include more flatbread, lemon and herb mash, saffron rice and either mixed veg or bulgar wheat salad. 

Monkfish and King Prawn Kebab on Flatbread 
Desserts take on a Lebanese vibe - Honey, Tahini and Pistachio Parfait, Orange and Saffron Polenta Cake and the amazing Whipped Labneh Cheese rears its head again in sweet form - served with honey, biscuit crunch and seasonal fruit. I went for the Parfait to avoid Labneh Cheese overload (even though it's delicious) - this frozen dessert dates back to 1894, and served with pistachios and drizzled with honey and flower petals, its definitely a palate cleanser and not too rich.

Honey, Tahini and Pistachio Parfait
Drinks wise expect a selection of reasonably priced French and Spanish wine, and also a Lebanese Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're celebrating there's a Spanish Cava too. It's good to see them keeping it local with the beers (Collingwood Pale Ale, Angel Amber Ale). Spirit lovers can partake in Durham Gin and Yorkshire Vodka. Not drinking? Choose from Blue Keld Mineral Waters from Yorkshire, a selection of Fentimans and the usual teas and coffees, except for the Harissa Hot Chocolate for those that like it hot, with chilli and cinnamon.  Herbal tea lovers will be happy about the varied selection. 

I can't wait to come back with friends and get through more of the menu! 

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