Spectacular Spanish spread at Café Andaluz doesn’t come cheap – but this reviewer thinks it’s worth it – Hannah Graham

Newcastle has a new tapas restaurant which has already proven itself to city center punters – so we thought we’d better drop down to see if the menu was up to par.

Café Andaluz took over from Carluccio’s in Newcastle city center last October, becoming the first of the small Glasgow-born chain’s branches in England. I have to admit tapas chains fill me with a certain cynical distrust, a worry that I might be driven to spend a fortune on a huge selection of small dishes that hardly feel like good value -price.

But I’m happy to report that the new Gray Street addition exceeded my expectations, serving up a spectacular spread of southern Spain in a beautiful setting.

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We ordered generously from an extensive menu. I think our friendly waitress might have raised her eyebrows at the number of selections we made – if only we could have explained that it was all in the name of careful consideration, as opposed to greed.

A Mallorcan salad of butter beans, tomatoes and sweet potatoes was light and summery, zesty with mint and cilantro and sweet little bursts of pomegranate seeds. The sweet potato was described as roasted on the menu, so I might have expected it to be a bit less biting for the larger cubes, but it was a lovely and unusual dish nonetheless.

When the new branch opened, Cafe Andaluz officials promised to “transform Gray Street into Ole Street”.

The lemon paprika breaded cod quickly convinced me I wasn’t getting ripped off with five generous chunks of fresh, meaty fish. These were loaded with flavor inside the light batter, warm spices pairing with tangy citrus, ready to be dipped in a nice strong mayonnaise.

The baked goat cheese topped with homemade orange and chili marmalade was a revelation and remains one of the best things I have eaten so far this year. Very often goat cheese is paired with sweet-sickly jams and chutneys, but here the oozing soft cheese was perfectly offset by bitter marmalade for a simply amazing combination.

Again the portions are generous, you get a whole thick round of cheese stacked with marmalade. I was glad I ordered bread to pick it up, although my eyes got a little watery at the price – £3.90 for a rather stiff basket of bread, although it was good quality.

I was a bit less excited about the butifarra negra (Catalan black pudding), though it may just have suffered from the comparison of being another big salty disc topped with jam that wasn’t as amazing as the cheese . Here, the rich, earthy black pudding is topped with a very sweet apple puree. The pudding was good, but a large slice turned a little bland with little else, while I couldn’t detect much of the onion or spice promised on the menu in the apple.

The lamb tagine was a solid example of the form, a sweet apricot sauce flavored with cardamom surrounding the soft lamb. The patatas bravas were again good, if not outstanding, soft crispy roasted potatoes in a rich tomato sauce.

The Serano ham and cheese croquettes were crispy and incredibly flavorful, full of smoked ham flavor and deliciously gooey with the cheese.

Prawns pil pil – large succulent jumbo prawns with garlic, chilli, parsley and lots of olive oil – were spicy, lightly smoky and made me glad I ordered lots of bread to mop up the excellent sauce.

Hearty prawns and a sauce just waiting to be mopped up with some good bread

With much larger portions than you get at many tapas places, we really didn’t need to order as much as we did. Nonetheless, we felt we had to sample a few desserts, just for research purposes.

A raspberry cheesecake with white chocolate sauce, mixed opinion. I loved the subtle, fragrant raspberry flavor, but found the texture of the cheesecake itself a little claggy – however, my mate declared it “ideal” (he’s a fan of a fixed cheesecake, so that I’m more of a baked cheesecake girl, which may explain the discrepancy).

Meanwhile, a lemon posset was so strong and tangy that it made me laugh with delight. Sweet, light and refreshing, it was the perfect way to end a meal.

The raspberry cheesecake had a subtle flavor – but the texture divided opinion

This feast wasn’t cheap – we spent £85 (including a tip added to the bill) for a meal for two and two drinks, although we certainly could have ordered a lot less, and the lunch offer and Early evening of three tapas for £16.95 would have made it a bit more affordable.

But was it worth it? In this reviewer’s opinion, absolutely.

The portions are generous, the ingredients clearly of good quality. Some dishes are unusual and really exciting, while the classics are well executed.

I would also be remiss not to mention the beautiful interior. It is a wonderful place to enjoy an evening, it is a beautiful building which has been decorated in warm colors and colorful tiles which could easily make you think you are on holiday in Andalucia.

If you’re looking to treat yourself to a gourmet meal in the city center, you could definitely do a lot worse than heading to Café Andaluz.

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