As a Low Fell native, I’ve always been very keen for new and exciting spots to open that provide a bit of luxury on the old high street. For years, the small suburb has been awash with dated and stale-beer-smelling old boozers that don’t really inspire an air of something special, so as a result, I’ve never been one to venture to ‘The Fell’ too often. This all changed last Monday, when myself and my sister-in-law-to-be (apologies to my brother who actually hasn’t even proposed) were invited to the re-launch of the only swish spot on Low Fell high street, The Bank.
The venue didn’t get the best start when it initially opened, however now under new ownership (well actually, back in the hands of the man who conceived the idea in the first place, Kevin Brown) and with a fresh lick of paint, newly designed menu and cocktail list, bright times lie ahead.
Its location on the street couldn’t be more perfect. Set in a beautiful building circa 1840, right in the centre of all the hustle and bustle, The Bank Low Fell actually used to be an old Lloyds Bank. In fact, and I’m showing my age a bit here, I can vividly remember visiting said branch when I was a little nipper. The perks of inhabiting this old building is that they’ve managed to grasp a sort of ‘old world made new’ vibe. Think huge ceilings, decadent lighting and a gorgeous old front to the place.
We were welcomed in on the very grim and rainy Monday evening by two very polite and friendly hostesses and directed to the bar. The cocktail list, which has shrunk somewhat in The Bank’s latest incarnation, was full of reimagined twists on old classics and a few of their own exclusives. My favourite, A Kiss From a Rose, wasn’t on there anymore (just bring that one back, please!) however there was a beautiful Elderflower, Apple and Gin concoction which softened the blow. It was then on to the Raspberry Bellinis before we headed up to the newly-decorated dining room to begin our tasting experience.
One of the perks of being a food blogger is that you get to occasionally attend events like this. I was absolutely delighted that The Bank was being given a rebirth despite its rocky start under the previous management, and so as someone who’d usually turn down a launch night review, I graciously accepted and hoped that chef Lee Walker would be able to bring the goods and deliver on their fairly ambitious 5-course menu. He definitely did not disappoint.
The food throughout the evening was complemented with wine pairing by wine merchants (and suppliers of The Bank Low Fell) Corney and Barrow, who sent a lovely chap to talk us through them and share his expertise. Over the course of the evening we tried 2 whites (Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, the latter being splendid despite not usually being my tipple!) and a Merlot and Amarone (again, the latter being totally heavenly!) which – and I’m not just saying this – actually did complement the dishes we ate to perfection.
So anyway, the food. To start we were presented with sharing starter plates of Garlic and Chilli King Prawns, Creamed Mushrrom Bruschetta and Charred BBQ Chicken skewers, which were all piping hot (no mean feat when you’re cooking for a bunch of hungry press folk who want their food at the same time!) and perfectly seasoned. Highlight here was definitely the prawns, which I’m delighted to see are on their normal menu. Try them.
Next up was the fish course, which I was particularly looking forward thanks to the promise of Parma Ham wrapped Monkfish with a superbly zesty tomato and chorizo cassoulet (really incredible!), Traditional Fish Pie with Creamed Potato and a Gruyere crust, and my favourite – the tempura king prawns. Luckily there was plenty of cassoulet to go round, so I basically paired it with everything on the plate (not the idea, but it was good!). As someone who’s not a fan of fish pie, it made it far more agreeable for me and the flavour it packed complemented every element of the plate deliciously.
After a short pit stop in the form of champagne sorbet, which was delightful, by the way, it was time for the main event. The dish every single person in the room had been waiting for. The star of the show: a selection of fillet, rump and sirloin steaks, rack of lamb with wholegrain and walnut crust and potatoes, kale and hand-cut chips and a red wine jus. This course, paired with the Amarone, was my absolute favourite part of the evening.
The sheer amount of meat on the plate was almost (ha, not really!) too much to cope with, and everything (aside from the lamb, which was a little too red for us!) was cooked to absolute perfection. To put into context how much we enjoyed this course, myself and my companion sent pictures to each other on a number of occasions the following day just to reiterate how wonderful the whole thing was. Bravo, chef Lee! I’ll dream about that selection of steak for a very long time.
As if we weren’t fit to burst enough as it was, the dessert course followed shortly after and comprised of a gorgeous trio of favourites including Chocolate Orange Tart, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Poached Pear with Amaretto Ice Cream. For me, the latter two rocked my socks off (I’m not the biggest chocolate fan!) and I’ll definitely be heading back to the venue soon to sample the Sticky Toffee Pudding once more. I’ve said it before, but as someone who doesn’t really like desserts too much, its quite the statement and testament to how good it was that I’d be up for hunting down a sweet treat.
The lovely night was shortly drawn to a close with a few words from proud owner Kevin Brown and the GM Adam, both of whom were gracious, happy to help and really delighted with the way things are coming together this time. Head Chef Lee Walker also came out to say hello to us all, before parting with the words “Just make sure you come back!” – oh, we will.
What’s brilliant about the relaunch of this place is that they’ve had time to take stock, minimise their menu and focus on quality rather than quantity. Even their cocktail list has shrunk by half, but that’s a good thing. The staff and bartenders are focused on much fewer things, making it easier for them to put their all into everything they do.
Low Fell has some ok – and that’s me being polite! – restaurants, but I can safely say that if The Bank manages to keep up the standards we saw last Monday, it’ll be no competition for them. We wish them all the very best of luck (and we can’t wait to try the Sunday lunch menu soon!)
The Bank, 516 Durham Road, Low Fell, Gateshead, NE9 6HU. Head over to their website: www.thebanklowfell.co.uk for more information and details of their Christmas 2015 packages. Thanks to Roundtable Solutions and The Bank for extending their kind invitation to us. Food and drinks were complimentary for the purpose of this review, however all comments are based on the true experience of the event.