Business dining in Newcastle upon Tyne

Business dining in Newcastle upon Tyne

Public Impact Director, John Howarth has written newspaper and magazine columns on food (among other things). He didn’t take much persuading to write this one on business dining in Newcastle upon Tyne.

One of the most noticeable changes in Newcastle in recent years is the improvement in the food offerings available through the City. In fact Newcastle has just got its first Michelin starred establishment (at least in recent years), House of Tides.

People in the North East have always liked their food and most have preferred it in substantial portions, however in the past the fare on offer has lacked some variety and maybe a bit of spice. Like the rest of the UK food has come on a bit, but over my visits in the last few years I’ve notices the change more and more. Checking out the listings magazines and online reviews there are more and more food events, farmers’ markets, specialist food stores and restaurants emphasising local ingredients not to mention the flowering of local craft breweries. From my point of view it is also great to see the continued success and development of independent (by which I mean non-chain) outlets.

Picking restaurants carefully using trusted online and offline sources we’ve been lucky to have some pretty good eating experiences. At a networking event I was attending I got into a conversation over the bacon sandwiches and my interest in food and cooking came up. The conversation turned to business lunches and which Newcastle restaurants are best for business dining?

For business dining, we want reliably good food and decent service, of course but also somewhere you can talk easily, where you’re not going to be hurried out the door and where you will feel you have had decent value for money. There is a balance when entertaining clients or thanking suppliers. The psychology isn’t about the total of the bill. The people you work for and the people you work with will get mixed messages from splashing the cash. That said, I was once taken to lunch by a supplier to whom we had channelled very significant business. I can still remember the restaurant they chanced upon with no prior knowledge. with the care-home decor and half-defrosted starters. They were very deeply embarrassed.


  • ALWAYS check the online reviews as well as friends’ recommendations or your personal experience. Things may have changed – the management, the chef, the suppliers. So give most credence to the most recent reviews and give most weight to longer reviews – they are written by people who care about their dining experiences.
  • BUT be a little sceptical – learn to ‘discount’ the ratings somewhat. For example, Trip Advisor ratings out of five – as their scale is skewed (Terrible, Poor, Average, Very Good and Excellent). There are a lot more ‘very goods’ and ‘excellent’ than places really deserve. Also, people are much more likely to be critical of service than they are of food.
  • CHECK the opening and closing times – you don’t want to be chased out but you don’t want to overstay your welcome either.
  • BOOK (which may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many don’t bother) tell them it’s a business lunch/dinner and ask for a table where you can talk discretely. Your guests will appreciate the trouble you have taken more than they will having you spend your money.
  • ASK your guests what they do/don’t can/can’t eat. These days restaurants that have got their act together will ask about dietary requirements, food allergies and so on – you don’t want to be calling back to find out. And BE CAUTIOUS – it’s best to play safe, at least first time out.
  • BRIEF the person who actually does the booking on what you need from them – don’t expect them ‘just to know’.

So, not my ‘top five’ restaurants in the region, not my favourite food necessarily, not the best place for a romantic night out or the office party but good environments to do business and all with nearby parking:


16 Stoddart Street. NE2 1AN

Next door to The Biscuit Factory – a privately funded and run gallery and event venue in the much regenerated Sandyford district. Very good, modern regional food in a roomy setting. The menu emphasises the seasonal and changes regularly. There are sets for lunch and dinner which represent decent value. Good, strong flavoured game. artisan, note the lower case and the underscore, keeps it simple and does it well – and there is a lot to be said for that.

Peace & Loaf

217 Jesmond Road. NE2 1LA

Run by a former Masterchef Professional finalist, Dave Coulson and another excellent modern British experience that offers a great value prix fixe – £14 two courses £18 for three the last time I looked – though you can spend as much as you like in a place like this. Peace & Loaf verges on fine dining– but is more relaxed than the term suggests. If you know your guests like their food and you want to take them somewhere with adventurous but not wildly ‘out there’ dishes then this is a good choice.


Trinity Gardens, NE1 2HH

21, formerly Café 21, is now just 21, or maybe it’s 21 Newcastle. All very confusing. There is now a Café 21 in Fenwick’s – the City’s flagship department store. So be clear where you are going. 21 is near the Quayside and is, without doubt, decent quality with a prix fixe than is good value – but be warned the a la carte is somewhat overpriced. 21 wouldn’t be my firsdt choice for a cosy night out but it’s clean modern bistro lines, crisp white table cloths and comfortably large tables make it a good comfortable business choice.

Marco Pierre White Steakhouse

Hotel Indigo, 2 Fenkle Street. NE1 5XU

Modernist and functional, Hotel Indigo is a good space for a business lunch. The Steakhouse isn’t just about steak – but the steak is very, very good. You can be reasonably cynical about a serious chef like White taking the advertising cheque for stock cubes who doesn’t exactly drop in every day but give the food a chance – it is reliable and the lunch set is locally designed rather than handed down from on high. Good, efficient service and a nice informal bar to slide into – especially if your lunch is on Friday.

A Taste of Persia

14 Marlborough Crescent. NE1 4EE

This one is my wild card. If you know your guests and you know they like something different then you could do worse than try A Taste of Persia. Persian food is about flavours rather than fire, so most palates can find something they will enjoy. The exterior is not attractive, the interior is basic but the food is very good indeed, different and very worth the visit. So be clear – this has to be sold on the food and you have to know your client is up for it, in which case you’ll be introducing them to a real treasure. There is a sister branch in a Jesmond hotel – but this is the original and rules are there to be broken.

And if this lot won’t do it for you there’s a lot more to food in Newcastle than there ever was – so we might do another of these blogs sometime soon.

Posted by John Howarth in Business, 0 comments
Why Should We Have to Retrain Graduates?

Why Should We Have to Retrain Graduates?

First published on the former Public Impact Blog in March 2013

In recent months we’ve come across a number of articles and blog posts lamenting the quality of design graduates being produced by universities and colleges in the UK. It is almost a hackneyed cliché to moan that the education system is ‘not responding to the needs of modern businesses’. But why should we have to retrain graduates who don’t have the basic skills necessary for commerical design or content marketing?

The worst thing about this recurring gripe is the queue of (usually) right of centre politicians lining up to nod in agreement or to see it as validation of their simplistic, ‘back to basics’ calls for addition ‘rigour’ in our schools.
Above: Fundemantal typographical skills are frequently missing from the armoury of today’s design graduate. 


Nonetheless my colleagues and I find ourselves wondering exactly what it is that design schools are trying to teach and if it bears any relation to the requirements of the ‘real world’ (or even its virtual counterpart). In talking to students and lecturers alike we see a disturbing lack of grounding in the basic skills that are required to work in a studio across a broad spectrum of delivery channels. We also see the requirements of the purely academic asserting themselves over the vocational.

We cannot help but conclude that the absorption of the colleges of art and design into the expanding ‘universities’ during the past couple of decades has produced nothing of any value. The object of the exercise should have been to raise standards, modernise courses and to produce a better standard of graduate. As it is I am uncertain of the benefit – degree certificates may have replaced HNDs and diplomas but beyond that we’re struggling.

Sometimes we wonder if we are expecting too much. But is shouldn’t be  unreasonable to expect any design graduate to understand and have experienced the typical software used in design houses; neither should it be unreasonable to expect that they will have experience of multiple platforms – PCs as well as over-priced Macs. If that IS too much to expect why would it be unreasonable to expect that a graduate would have the ability to prepare a file for press, to set up standard features like master pages or templates, to know when and how to use a baseline grid, or understand the fundamentals of typography? Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that any self-respecting design graduate would at least have heard of the concept of widows and orphans even if they can’t remember which is which. And even if this is all out-moded stuff that doesn’t any longer matter why do we encounter web designers with no concept of what a search engine does and why that matters to the sites they wish to build?

It is easy to trivialise, but these are fundamental skills for any studio-ready graduate and in our experience students simply don’t know. These skills are just as important to the notion of teaching creative process and creative thinking because without them they will struggle to get past their role as a junior. If I had paid £27,000 for an essentially vocational degree that didn’t equip me for the basics of work I would be looking for my money back. £27,000 buys a lot of on the job training for potential apprentices who are much better placed to be useful without the salary expectations that accompany a university degree.

Talk of ‘rigour’ misses the point. Universities need to look at themselves, how they re-connect with the creative industries and what they are delivering in return for their fees or eventually students and businesses will vote with their feet.

Posted by John Howarth in Business, Creative & Content, 0 comments
Urban regeneration and the decline of retail

Urban regeneration and the decline of retail

First published on the former Public Impact Blog – Feb 2013

Redefining the role of retail in regeneration policy is now a key challenge for planners in the UK.

Above: The Oracle, Reading UK. One of the UK’s most successful regeneration projects – based on shopping, but what happens next?

Much of the urban re-generation through the 1990s and the first decade of the new century focused on the importance of the city centre(1). UK projects drew from European success stories: Barcelona, Berlin, Bilbao and applied it to our new public spaces.

Planning criteria drawn up under John Prescott during the first term of 1997-2010 Labour Government acted as a constraint on the out-of-town mall and sprawling retail parks as the first priority for retail chains. The rules didn’t halt out of town development but it did push the balance back toward the urban centre.

Had this been a matter of solely planning intent it would have been doomed from the outset. The market was on the side of the planner. Affluence, increasing disposable income and cultural changes created in the UK a much expanded ‘after hours’ economy which was to do with far more than mere alcohol consumption. Eating out in the UK had been something only the better off could do until the 1980s since when it has grown dramatically. The growth of dining out as much as anything else made city centre became a destination for the evening and created employment for an increasing pool of young part-time labour. Music, club culture and the resurgence of cinema all played their part in transforming the ‘closed after work’ UK city centre to an all day, all night economy.

But whatever else was going on in city centre regeneration retail was always the magnet. In the UK we like our retail. Enough urban planners and politicians grasped the notion that ‘going to the shops’ was and is a major part of the lives of many ordinary people, especially women. It was a constant, a given, aspirational consumerism that crossed class and culture. Through the past two decades we created a quality experience around it and our cities thrived. Whatever else might change people would always ‘go to the shops’, wouldn’t they?

Well, no and it is having a significant effect in our cities. UK commentators have focused on the recession and falling consumer spending but more significant for the retail sector is the effect of web-based retail. Recent closures at Comet, Jessops and HMV have added to a range of familiar names that have been left behind by the shift to online spending. Retail staff report that ‘going to the shops’ has become a scouting mission – find the facts, touch the product, compare, contrast, get a little demonstration, then go home to order it online for a few quid less. Staff in fashion retail outlets report spending as much time dealing with internet returns as making sales. You don’t need to be chief economist at the IMF to work out the consequences. The trend won’t end with this recession either (whenever that may be). Recession confirms and accelerates market trends, rarely does it create them.

In Reading, one of the UK’s leading retail centres at a highly successful 90s city centre regeneration that has punched above its weight in the good times has seen a marked increase in vacant and available (on the market) retail space since 2009.

Q4 2009 6.72% 4.69%
Q4 2010 9.03% 7.01%
Q4 2011 10.97% 8.93%
Q4 2012 11.13% 10.03%

While still below the UK average this trend should worry local policy makers, landlords and city centre business operators. The challenges they face are clear:

  • If the magnet for the city centre economies is losing its pull, how do we maintain the health of our cities?
  • How do major retailers respond to the challenge of web commerce?
  • How do national governments and the EU deal with tax sheltering multi-nationals who undercut local trade and put nothing back into communities?
  • What does it mean for property owners, investors and landlords when there is increasing vacancy in relatively new properties?

And aside from the more obvious economic consequences, what does this say for the quality of leisure experience when diversity is sucked out of city centre commerce? What does it do to our social lives? Two experiences brought this home to me: going to a major department store to purchase a lamp advertised in their mailshot only to find stock levels were so poor we were told to order online; and seeking in vain a pair of boot laces (off and on trying around fifteen stores) only to resort to Amazon.

If our city centres are not to enter a new period of crisis and decline creative thinking will be needed on many levels to adjust to these powerful market trends.


1) I am here using the term ‘city’ as the generic descriptor of substantial urban centres rather than anything determined by charters, cathedrals or historic significance. I realise some get their underwear is a knot about such matters – but please don’t call me about it.

(2) Figures quoted from Reading UK CIC email update Feb 2013 sourced by Hicks Baker.

Posted by John Howarth in Business, 0 comments