Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Vegetarian food in Newcastle upon Tyne

This blog is usually about cake or at the very least something with sugar in it, but this time I’m breaking the rules and going savoury. 

The question came up this morning on Twitter, my main form of social interaction, on whether meat-eaters order vegetarian food in restaurants. I ranted as much as a 140 character tweet would allow that meat-eaters might choose a vegetarian option more often if we weren’t so poorly catered for in the north east. By this I mean NOT a Sunday “roast” that is just the vegetables or a bowl of tomato pasta, like I couldn’t make that myself. I’m also baffled by restaurants’ obsession with mushroom risotto and goats cheese tart. Come on guys, the 1990s were ages ago.

In fairness to local restaurants, the north east has one of the lowest ratios of vegetarians in the country so it’s not surprising there is less choice – even Greggs, one of the north east’s proudest sons, doesn’t sell its vegetable pasties up here because of a lack of “customer recognition and the demand for that particular food” (their words, not mine, in a polite email they sent me on this hotly debated topic).

So where IS good for vegetarians in Newcastle? Here are my recommendations for the centre of town and its immediate environs, particularly the ones I stomp about.

Cheap eats

Tea Sutra on Leazes Park Road offers all vegetarian food, tea and cake. It also offers a shoe-free area and complementary therapies that to be honest freak me out a bit, but the food is good and it’s one of the few places here that caters for vegans.

The Settle Down Café is a friendly café just off Westgate Road that does great pizza, sandwiches and cakes and caters for vegans. They also have the tiny Sugar Down Bakery on Pink Lane selling artisan breads, cakes and biscuits to take away.

The Polish Restaurant Krakow on Shakespeare Street has a surprisingly good vegetarian selection of soups, dumplings and pancakes in such hearty portions that you will definitely not go hungry and are perfect on a cold day.

Newcastle’s best comedy venue The Stand on High Bridge is open all day serving a small but excellent menu by a chef who knows his stuff. About a third of the menu is vegetarian - contrast this with a restaurant trip recently where one out of 15 main courses was vegetarian (that's you, Malmaison).The Stand even has a large outdoor courtyard for both of those days when the sun shines here. Hey, you could also see some comedy.
Crispy tofu with hoisin & pancakes; Pad Thai with sweet potato & peanut sauce; Sticky ginger pudding

A new addition to Newcastle is Kingdom, a 300 seater buffet above Haymarket Metro station that offers fine views and food from around the world, particularly Asia.

It is amazing value: £9 for lunch or £14 for dinner. There is so much choice that a vegetarian can't possibly go hungry. [WARNING: see the comment below] There is a also a large dessert buffet and an ice cream station. You can fill your plate as many times as you want.

Another new addition is Istanbul Cafe on Ridley Place near Haymarket, popular with international students. As its name suggests, it serves Turkish food and it has plenty on offer at cheap prices for vegetarians, including breakfast for £2.50. I had a hearty portion of  vegetable moussaka and Mexican potatoes for £10.

They also offer amazing homemade desserts - I've eaten a lot of baklava in my time and theirs is one of the best I've tasted, all for a mere £2.95. 

The latest addition is Aneesa's Indian buffet on the Quayside, offering a wealth of dishes for £11.95. As well as Indian dishes, there is pizza and a made-to-order stir fry bar. And lots of puddings.

Slightly less cheap eats

Generally as a rule the more expensive the restaurant, the poorer the choice for a vegetarian. This makes me a pocket-friendly date if nothing else.

I’ve yet to find an Indian restaurant that doesn’t cater well for vegetarians. For a start, they run the full gamut of protein from pulses and legumes to nuts and dairy. For good vegetarian Indian food, I’d recommend:

Dabbawal on High Bridge. An award-winning newcomer, Dabbawal offers street food and a range of vegetarian dishes that are a far cry from the usual “tinned veg under some sauce”. I could eat their vegetable samosa chaat every day and not tire of it. Dabbawal is fast becoming my favourite place to eat in Newcastle.

Rasa on Queen Street on the Quayside is a blessing. It started in London as a South Indian vegetarian restaurant and chose Newcastle as its first foray outside the south east. Its Keralan vegetarian feast of five courses is a mere £19.50 and could well defeat you.

I also like Komal Balti House on Brentwood Avenue in Jesmond – tasty, fresh balti dishes that use chickpeas, vegetables and paneer. Plus we get to laugh at my dad for ordering lamb bhuna every single time. For a cheaper night out, you could try Komal's unlicensed sister restaurant in Fenham.

Italian restaurants are also good for vegetarians and are myriad in Newcastle. My favourite is Caffe Zonzo on Goldspink Lane in Sandyford –  well priced, great food, friendly atmosphere and large enough for big parties. I was such a regular that I was asked to contribute an item of underwear to the “washing line” strung across the restaurant. Let me know if you spot it. Pasqualino's inside the Theatre Royal on Grey Street offers absolutely bargain two-for-one stone baked sourdough pizzas with a long list of vegetarian option. It is the latest opening from the De Giorgi family who run Populo, Paradiso, Intermezzo and Secco all of which are great, central and reasonably priced.

Slightly off the beaten track but the Lebanese Al Baik on Byker Bridge has a fantastic vegetarian selection. It’s unlicensed so you can take your own drink for a very cheap dinner at about £10 a head. Oddly enough, it’s one of my dad’s favourite places.

Plus if you’re small and cute, you get to wear a fez.

Lastly, David Kennedy’s Food Social at the Biscuit Factory did me proud on my birthday earlier this month. It has a good vegetarian choice and does a set lunch for £12.95, ludicrously good value for such high quality food. The Biscuit Factory is one of the largest commercial art galleries in the country so after lunch you can go and look at pictures and that.

I realise this is a very incomplete list and that I’ve not even mentioned the vegetarian cafes in Heaton like Jack Sprats and Sky Apple Café – nothing personal, I’ve just not been. If you’d like to recommend somewhere in Newcastle that is good for vegetarian food, I’d be very interested to hear from you. Particularly if you’re vegetarian yourself – I’ve heard “ooh look there’s a salad you can have” just one too many times...


  1. I'm not veggie - but I LOVE Sky Apple's food (as do a number of my non-veggie and veggie friends alike) and can only recommend you try it :) and Caffe Vivo on the Quayside - it's italian and caters very well for veggie and non-veggie, and has set price menus that are v. reasonable.

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  3. A taste of Persia has some delicious veggies options!

  4. Yeeesh, we tried Kingdom last night and it was bleak. £15 and we ate:
    onion rings
    chinese seaweed
    sage & onion stuffing balls
    spring rolls

    They had veggie sushi, but no veggie pasta. The Mexico bit had nothing veggie on, the Indian thing had nothing veggie on, the Great Britain had broccoli and cauliflower. The Spain one had some cubed halloumi but nothing else. The Chinese/Thai bit had one veggie option, but it shared a dish with something with squid in it. Definitely not worth the money - we came home hungry.

  5. Brilliant post, will be trying some of these places out, thank you very much!

  6. Another great place near Newcastle is the Vegan Kitchen - the web is http://Vegan-Kitchen.co.uk

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