It’s physically impossible to get anywhere on time with a toddler in tow. Anyone with a small child will attest to this. So when we had reservations at Harissa Kitchen, which I’ve been very excited to check out, I was feeling quite smug as I put Little Dude’s coat and shoes on. “We’re going to be on time” I thought to myself, trying not to jinx it. LD wanted to go into the garden, so knowing we had 10 mins to spare I thought why not? What could go wrong? Well let’s just say that there was a change of shoes and trousers involved. We were not on time.
Pulling up to Harissa Kitchen however we realised it didn’t matter and everything was going to be OK. We managed to grab a free parking space directly in front of the restaurant and walked in to the warmest of welcomes from the young and enthusiastic staff. It was early Sunday evening and apart from one other table we had the small and intimate restaurant to ourselves. Fitted out beautifully with nods to the medditeranean cuisine it serves, with lovely little touches everywhere we immediately felt relaxed and excited about what was to come.
Little Dude made himself right at home, exploring the restaurant and playing hide and seek with the staff. They brought a chilled bottle of water and glasses, as well as a plastic cup and straw for LD, unprompted. This is always a good start and I wish more restaurants did this, as it sets you up for a pleasant experience.
We checked out the menu and quickly settled on some of their delicious sounding dips (Smokey Aubergine – Chargrilled with Lemon, Garlic & Tahini, Hummus – Chickpeas, Tahini, Lemon & Cumin and Roasted Red Pepper – Spicy Harissa & Walnuts – 3 for £9) and flatbread for starters, to share amongst us continental-stylee.
The great thing about Harissa Kitchen I learned is that they are part of Food Nation, a social enterprise which aims to educate and inspire children, adults and communities about food, food waste and how to make delicious meals on a budget. All profit from Harissa Kitchen goes to help Food Nation.
Our starters arrived, and we dove straight in. Smokey aubergine and lemon was delicious, the chargrill adding flavour to what might have otherwise been an average dip. The humous was “the best I’ve ever tasted” according to the difficult to please Mr Toon Lunch Club. LD agreed, grabbing a spoon and scooping it directly into his mouth. The pepper dip was yet another perfect example of a chef who knows their flavour combinations. Warm, homemade flatbread was the perfect accompaniment.
Now for the main event. LD was already demanding ‘more’ when they took our dips away, clearly he knew he was onto a good thing here. We had decided on lots more things to share amongst the three of us. They do offer smaller plates for children, but the ethos is all about sharing so we went for a tapas style feast.
From the ‘small plates’ section of the menu we went for Merguez Sausages – Spiced Beef & Lamb (£5), Spiced Lentils – Crispy Onions, Fresh Chilli & Harissa Yogurt (£4.20), Crispy aubergine – sheep’s cheese, date molasses & fresh mint (£4.50) and Fresh Falafel – English Fava Beans and Chickpeas, Fresh Herbs, Spices and Tahini Sauce (£4.50).
We’d asked whether the dishes contained dairy as the Mr is lactose intolerant and Chef had no trouble at all adapting dishes for us so the Mr could eat everything we wanted. They really paid attention to our needs and nothing seemed too much, great for someone with dietary requirements. All the small plates were delicious, especially the aubergine which was in a light batter and sweetened by the date molasses. LD loved the lentils and was eating them by the spoonful. It was a flavoursome dahl, and the chilli added a nice kick. The sausages were delicious but could’ve done with an accompanying sauce of some sort if we’re being picky.
We also chose a Monkfish & King Prawn kebab – Mint Salad, Crispy Capers, Lemon, Lime & Coriander Crème Fraîche served on freshly made flatbread (£11.50) and from the specials menu a Chicken tagine – slow cooked with olives, saffron rice and homemade coleslaw (£9.50).
The Mr scoffed most of the tagine as that was ‘more his thing’ and really enjoyed it. We’ve been to Morocco and love a good tagine and this was well flavoured, with melt-in-the-mouth slow cooked chicken and good quality olives. The coleslaw added a nice flavour contrast and the saffron rice went well with it. His only critique was that there were a couple of bones that he had to pick out, but this didn’t deter him.
The monkfish and prawn kebab was delicious with good chunks of well-cooked fish, and if you’re a regular reader, you know we love prawns and these were delicious. The zesty and creamy salad, crisp salty capers and freshly made flatbread all made for a very satisfying dish. Perfect on it’s own as a light lunch, but equally great as part of a tapas style feast.
LD was enjoying his food, and also running around the restaurant impersonating a dog which the staff took in good jest. He was even able to thank the chef, as they have an open kitchen. The feeling at Harissa kitchen is very much like you’re round at a (very cool) friend’s house for dinner. All very open, friendly and welcoming – no airs or graces here.
We thought we’d end on a sweet note, keen to see if the desserts could live up to the rest of the meal. I had my eye on the chocolate tart ‘cake of the evening’ (£3.50) that was visible on the bar, and the Mr went for Orange & Saffron Polenta Cake with orange syrup and lime creme fraiche (£4.20).We asked for some creme fraiche for LD, and we were asked if we wanted some apple added to it because Chef wanted to make it more interesting. These guys go above and beyond! It turned up with pomegranate seeds, apple and a babycinno on the side. We have one very lucky little boy.
The desserts topped off an excellent meal. Chocolate tort was on the right side of rich, with a sponge base and thick ganache, and whipped cream was the perfect accompanyment.
The Mr enjoyed the polenta cake, omitting the creme fraiche because of his intolerance. They also had a vegan brownie so they definitely have options for those avoiding dairy.
All in all we were sad to leave Harissa Kitchen. Everything from the warm welcome, to the attention to detail and fluid communication between front of house and kitchen, to the delicious food made for a relaxed and enjoyable meal. It all seemed effortless and by choosing to have a relatively small but consistent menu they haven’t overwhelmed themselves with options. Everything they do, they do well. We will be back, their breakfasts look amazing and we’re very jealous of locals who can pop down to Harissa Kitchen on a Saturday morning!
Harissa Kitchen is located at 31-33 Starbeck Avenue, Sandyford, Newcastle, NE2 1RJ.
We were provided with a complimentary meal for the purposes of this review. However the opinions expressed in this article are honest and true to experience.