The Experimental Diner is a dining concept with the best North East culinary talents at its heart. It’s a unique way to dine in unusual locations, with taster dishes cooked right in front of you by top notch chefs from around the region. You know those experience days you can buy? Well it’s a little like that, if that was region specific and food-centric. The only way to find out exactly what The Experimental Diner is all about is to go along to one of their hosted events, so that’s exactly what I did…
I was invited to dine al fresco on the roof of Newcastle Castle as part of The Experimental Diner’s Summer offering and I jumped at the chance as it’s not very often that an opportunity like this rolls around. The castle itself, or what’s left of it, is on the outer edge of Newcastle and we’re left with one perfectly maintained building that’s actually pretty easy to miss amongst the stunning architecture of our city and serves as a reminder to look up once in a while. Steeped in history, the Keep and Black Gate which make up Newcastle Castle are a rugged reminder of Northern England’s turbulent past. This was no baron’s stately home. The Castle was a grim symbol of royal authority, where armies gathered and criminals were imprisoned and executed. It’s where the story of Newcastle began; the reason it got its name, and the rooftop has some of the most commanding views across the city and the River Tyne.
On a sunny but very windy evening I set off for the castle (in sensible and amazing footwear, as instructed), and was greeted on arrival and taken down into the basement Gaol of the castle for a champagne reception. Guests had the chance to chat to historians who shared stories about the castle’s rich history (in costume no less) and informed us that this reception room was actually a former prison. I could think of worse places to be held captive.
Sadly due to the weather conditions which persisted all evening, al freso dining was deemed unsafe and we were moved to dine in the Great Hall rather than on the roof, still a remarkable setting and decorated beautifully with fresh flowers, lanterns and tealights. As we took our seats in the U shaped setting, we were introduced to The experimental Dining concept and our chefs for the evening.
The concept itself is simple, a pop up chef’s table that can be moved from venue to venue providing a kitchen environment and essentially turning any venue into a restaurant for the evening.
“We want to bring out The Experimental Diner in everyone by launching our very own pop-up chefs table, bringing this to brand new locations and venues for a truly outstanding culinary experience. With so many beautiful and unique places all over the North East, we want to combine this beauty with some stunning food and give people an extraordinary dining experience that they will never forget; from castles and landmarks, to inside city structures, we want to bring out the best of the North East for all to see!” The Experimental Diner
With Troy Terrington, Chef Patron of Dobson & Parnell commanding the chef’s table for the evening, we were in pretty solid and very steady hands. One of the great things about The Experimental Diner approach is that you get a chance to see the food being prepared, dished up and served, you get to observe the effort that goes into the presentation and uniformity of each dish and literally experience the heat of the kitchen. Troy talks us through not only the ingredients of each element of the four course set menu, but also the history of the ancient sourdough used to make the bread that’s provided for the tables, and the buttercream blend used to create the perfect tasting butter. Sure at £125 per person the tickets are expensive but when you see what goes in to putting one of these events together, it suddenly doesn’t seem quite so bad.
We dined on four courses, engineered to make up the perfect tasting menu. Not too big but not too small and we were plied with the best sourdough bread I’ve ever tasted for the duration of the evening. Because I’m a super VIP (or maybe it’s because of my nut allergy), I was treated to my own special nut free versions of the dishes above.
First up, North Country Beetroot. Now I gotta be honest here Voyeurs, I really hate beetroot and not just a little bit. I mean I find it gross and every time I’ve eaten it it’s tasted like freshly ploughed mud. Bleurgh. I knew in this situation I’d have to eat it and pretend to like it but actually found myself really enjoying it, it had a fresh earthy taste and paired with the goats curd it was actually pretty damn delicious. Surprised? Yeah, me too.
Next Charred Day Boat Mackerel which was caught fresh that very morning, served with heritage tomatoes. I don’t know what goes into Heritage Tomatoes but damn Troy, they be amazes. It’s worth mentioning here that despite being a four course menu, these are small enough portions that you’re left satisfied, but you’re not so full that you can no longer ‘taste’. also, I was on a cleanse programme when I accepted the invite to this event and it met my calorific intake perfectly.
Now for the jewel in the crown of this particular Experimental Diner event, Rare Breed Pork; if this is on the menu at Dobson & Parnell then go try it Voyeurs, it’s divine. Every single aspect of this dish is perfect, from the uber tender, melt in the mouth pork (something else I’m not usually a fan of) to the darling blue cheese and the potatoes. Everything combines to compliment each other perfectly, this one really is something special. The mashed potato is prepared with buttermilk and lemon which has to be tasted to be believed, if you have a favourite place for mash then prepare to have your mind changed.
Lastly, we were treated to a Dark Chocolate ganache, mine was served with, yup, you guessed it: more chocolate. Whilst it might look like the poop emoji, let me tell you, it was a joy to eat.
After dinner aperitifs were served which we were took up on to the roof for a little surprise entertainment in the form of a historical re-enactment sword fight! See Voyeurs, we made it up on to the rooftop eventually and in actual fact, it was the perfect time as the sun was just beginning to set and the light over our gorgeous city was just perfect. The Experimental Diner is an experience, it’s more than just food. It’s about being able to access unusual venues to create special experiences with friends and this one was definitely a night to remember.
Fancy checking out The Experimental Diner for yourself? Sign up to their website or like the FaceBook page to find out about exciting new venues and events, I’m dying to tell you what’s coming next but I’m sworn to secrecy, just trust me, it’s a doozie!