Housed within Milburn House, Dean Street, is the latest member of Newcastle’s ever-growing gang of hip bars and restaurants. Though this one stands out from the crowd – by a mile in our opinion – thanks to its breathtaking 1920s-style decor and menus. A tavern, rhum bar and botanical garden all rolled into one (and named after the creator of Newcastle Brown Ale, Colonel J Porter), the place is blessed with Gatsby-glam good looks and aims to takes drinkers and diners on a whimsical journey back in time. And it does. A truly unique find, we think, that needs to be seen to be believed.
It’s a real feast for the eyes. Settings in the bar range from a Victorian-style drawing room, filled with red-wine coloured velvet booths and lovely leather chairs, to a secret rhum bar hidden behind a bookcase, leading to Archie’s Lab, used for private, candlelit functions, spectacular rum-tasting masterclasses and Sunday lunch. Walking in, you don’t quite know where to look; there’s a giant flowering tree sprawling the bar’s ceiling, there are old-school, ballroom-style chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the place is stuffed top-to-toe with vintage nick-nacks, from stuffed animal heads (the majority of which are all real) to gramophones, hanging bird cages, bunting and scuffed, wooden signage. The lighting is low, making for a deliciously-moody atmosphere, and the tunes oozing from the stereo (or the DJ decks) will take you back to the roaring 20s. The best part is that it’s all executed effortlessly – nothing feels or looks gimmicky. You really do feel like you’ve just stumbled back in time.
Think vintage, house signature cocktails and seasonal tipples, mighty-fine champagne, real cask ales and over 100 brands of rum. It’s also a place where Newcastle Brown Ale is enjoyed in its traditional form. Plenty of gin (head out to the Botanical Garden, created with Sunderland-based distillery, Poetic License) and wine, too, plus a sweet collection of after-dinner liqueurs and whiskeys worth sipping on ’til the early hours. We knocked back a ‘Colonel Porter’s Garden’ – a refreshing muddle of mint-infused Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, apple and lime juice, cucumber and coriander – and a ‘Grey Lady’, made with Earl Grey-infused Star of Bombay gin, bergamot liqueur and lemon juice. Both £7.50 and both a revelation. Really sophisticated, bringing new flavours to the table, just when you think you’ve tasted gin every which way.
The small-ish menu is divided into large and small ‘plates’ and sharing boards, making it an ideal spot for chums and families, or solo diners who fancy trying a few bites. There are classic sarnies, inventive sides and home-comfort-style desserts thrown in there too and everything takes inspiration from popular 1920s dishes – things like buttered lobster, beef roly poly and sherry trifle. At first glance, it appears to be a confusing mish-mash of dishes (when was the last time you found mac ‘n’ cheese, seafood pancakes, chicken salad, avocado and poached eggs on toast, black pudding bhajis and sausage buns on the same menu?), but we urge you to embrace the quirkiness and dive in with gusto. Stop by on Sundays for hearty helpings, all the trimmings and plenty of proper gravy, or book in for a spot of ‘Tipsy Tea’ – their take on traditional Afternoon Tea. They feature a selection of dainty finger sandwiches, lobster vol-au-vents, fruit scones with clotted cream and preserves and a variety of sweet treats including Colonel Porter’s signature rhum baba (what else), mini tarts and macaroons and pistachio brownies. Along with tea or coffee, you can choose a glass of fizz or a specially-crafted cocktail.
What we ate
We hadn’t a clue what we fancied, so decided to kick things off with a few small plates to share, before moving on to mains and a sneaky pud. Things got off to a fishy start with lobster tacos (£8.75), crunchy and golden, jam-packed with lashings and lashings of creamy meat, mixed with dollops of zingy avocado, tomato and lime, on a bed of crunchy lettuce and cucumber and radish curls. You only get two, but they’re filled to the brim and deliciously messy. Eat with your hands. There was beautifully-smoked Craster mackerel pâté (£6.50), too, smeared over warm, thick wedges of toast and topped with pickled cucumber for a bit of tang. Great stuff – really moreish – and you get two big servings. The vibrant green padron peppers (£4), went down a treat; their skins were gorgeously charred and crinkly, having being roasted in a good glug of olive oil, while the flesh was as sweet-as-can-be, sprinkled with smoked sea salt. Buttery asparagus spears and a runny fried egg (£6.50) arrived soon after on yet more garlicky toast, as did a simple tomato and anchovy salad (£4), which surprisingly, ended up being one of our favourites. Think big and juicy beef tomatoes, marinated in olive oil, and whole pickled anchovies that tasted of the sea, drizzled in one of the best salad dressings we’ve ever tasted – almost like sweet, mustardy vinaigrette. So good, there wasn’t a single leaf left on the plate. For mains, we chose from the classic sarnie menu, settling on avocado and poached eggs on toast (£6) and buttermilk chicken schnitzel (£10.50). We’ll be honest and say we’ve had better eggs (ours on the night weren’t as oozy as we’d have liked), but the guacamole hit the spot – smooth and spiked with plenty of garlic and black pepper for a kick of heat. Nice, crusty sourdough, too, with a pot of fluffy, home-style fries on the side. Our mate’s chicken earned itself nothing but compliments; succulent meat topped with gooey gruyere cheese and plenty of black pepper mayo, encased in a bap-sized brioche bun. We shouldn’t have had dessert, but we hear calories don’t count at the weekend. Just as well, really, as the apple and vanilla crumble (£5) turned out to be nothing short of stunning. Basically a giant ramekin, filled with soft, stewed wedges of green apple, topped with a buttery vanilla crumb and served with a jug of warm, homemade custard, specked with real vanilla. We polished off the lot – as we’re sure you will too – before heading back to the lounge for more cocktails. A jolly good evening if ever there was one.