An art gallery isn’t usually the first place you think of when it comes to eating out.
The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) is a place we’ve never been before, with the terrible excuse of an hours drive putting us off. So when we were invited to the launch of their Sunday Lunch service we thought it about time we ventured ‘down south.’
The cafe at MIMA has been taken over by a band of food evangelists. Luke Harding and his team from award-winning vegetarian restaurant The Waiting Room have created a destination for those looking for a delicious meal. They’ve called it ‘The Smeltery’ after inviting visitors to the gallery to help them choose a name.
With fish and meat dishes on the small but perfectly formed menu alongside some of the best dishes from the Waiting Room, there is plenty to choose from.
Having had a quick look around the gallery we settled into the handmade chairs in the light and airy cafe. Everything has been made by the team or the community – cork tables, parquet wood floor made of an old school gym and mismatched chairs. All is made with care and attention, and this is also the idea with the food. The slow food movement has been fully embraced by these guys and all meat, fish and veg is locally and sustainably sourced.
The delightful Emma, partner of Luke told us that they have a veg garden (which was visible from our table) tended to by local communtiy groups. Asylum seekers, people with dementia – they all take part and were due to come and enjoy soup from their harvest a few days after our visit.
We ordered Mackerel pate with roast beetroot pate, rise sourdough toast and mooli dressing (£6) and Roast squash, tomato and thyme soup (£4.50) for starters, with a half portion of cauliflower cheese soup (£2.25) for Little Dude.
The mackerel pate was every bit as good as the one at The Jolly Fisherman in Craster, and the roasted beetroot elated it to another level. A good slice of toasted sourdough with pumpkin seeds was the perfect base and the salad (often an afterthought) was dressed simply but perfectly.
Mr TLC had the soup and found it the perfect thing on a cold winter day. Plenty of delicate flavour, only achievable through perfect seasoning and slow roasting.
My main course of Field mushroom and smoked cheddar cashew lair with red wine sauce and horse radish creamed turnip (£10) is one of the dishes that have made the Waiting room the best vegetarian restaurant in the UK (they have the awards to prove it). “Good choice” said Emma as she took our order, and she seemed too genuine to be humouring me.
She was right – it was excellent. A generous slice of a sort of nut loaf wrapped in pastry, with plenty of flavour and moisture. It was accompanied by a delicious sauce with hints of apple and cinnamon and the creamed turnip complimented it beautifully. We were given a beautiful ceramic bowl of vegetables which were all seasoned and cooked differently – honeyed carrots, cauliflower cheese, red cabbage and toasted parsnips.
The Mr had the lamb, locally reared by Teesdale farmers Tom and Kay according to the menu. It was a little fatty he thought, bits of it delicious but perhaps not the cut of lamb he would have preferred. Homemade mint sauce and horseradish were proffered, and the roasted skin on potatoes and Yorkshire pudding were a good accompaniment (as well as the seasonal vegetables which he added after this picture was taken).
Little Dude had half a portion of Free range roast chicken (£6) which came with the same accompaniments as the Mr’s Sunday lunch. Both his starter and main were perfect for little ones and although they don’t have a kids menu you can get a half portion of anything on the main menu.
We were too full to try one of the puddings unfortunately, so we had a tea and flat white instead. Delicious coffee, which would go well with the breakfasts they serve from 8.30am, or a nice slice of homemade cake in the afternoon (or morning, no judgement here!)
This place is hipster heaven and wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch – but it’s in Middlesbrough! It isn’t trying to be hipster either, which makes in even cooler. Go check it out, it’s 100% worth the journey. I only wish we lived closer!
The Smeltery is located in MIMA, Centre Square, Middlesbrough TS1 2AZ.
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.