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Food & Drink Reviews

herbgarden.jpg The Herb Garden

Since opening its doors a few years ago, The Herb Garden has carved for itself a tasty niche in laidback, hipster dining for Newcastle’s hungriest and most beardy pizza lovers. With its ‘roll up and grab a table’ policy, its open kitchen and smiley staff, this place is perfect for easy mid-week treats, chilled Saturday nights and Sunday brunching alike.

It was Sunday morning when my friend and I visited, suitably peckish having just moved all my belongings from one house to another. We were there to sample the restaurant’s new breakfast menu, a neat selection of four pizzas (two sweet, two savoury, all £7) designed with the bleary-of-eye in mind.

I went for the Shaksuka, a daring combination of hummus, fried eggs, sardines and chermoula, which is a luscious Middle-Eastern blend of herbs, garlic, lemon and spices. I urge you to forgo the margarita and give this pizza a go. It’s delicious, frankly - lightly spicy, packed with goodness and hearty enough to see you through to dinner.

If you like to play it slightly more safely, how about the Twisted English? This was my friend’s choice and she was presented with a pizza that wore its flavours with real (national) pride. Good meaty sausage and chestnut mushrooms took centre stage on a dish with a lovely fresh chorus line of perfectly cooked fried egg, a delicate scattering of ricotta and a herby rocket and parsley finish.

I’ve never had a bad meal at The Herb Garden, but this was the best so far. If you’ve a sweet tooth, the other half of the ‘breakfast pizza’ menu will certainly appeal. Breakfast in Bed is an indulgent smorgasbord of chocolate, hazelnut and banana, honey and vanilla ice cream…

Then there’s the Fannie Farmer. It’s probably best not to ponder too long on the name, but the toppings are pecan nuts, salted caramel, maple syrup, and vanilla ice cream. Whether you’ve a hoard of sugar-starved kids to entertain or you never outgrew your own cravings for the white stuff, these two desserts-cum-pizzas are just the ticket.

After our meal, another friend joined us with her little boy, Dylan. Dylan was clutching a plastic egg, home to his alien, which lives in a strictly controlled acid-green slime environment. The slime was soon smeared all over the freshly laundered napkins as Dylan tackled a ‘very bananary’ Banoffee Pie milkshake (£4) and turned a side plate into a ‘special bath for the alien,’ complete with fragrant bubbles made using handwash from the ladies loo. Parents take note: the Herb Garden’s staff couldn’t have been kinder or more accommodating with children. In fact, they were very nice with the grown ups too.

The Herb Garden is nestled in a Victorian railway arch, with a life-size plastic horse lolling in the doorway, an industrial-chic vibe and a wall of transparent barrels, each one its own private eco-system where fresh herbs grow. So, yes, from its polished concrete floor to the bewildering number of lampshades hanging from the ceiling, it is achingly cool, but it’s also simply a very good choice for people who appreciate great tasting, affordable, sometimes intriguing, always satisfying, food.

The Herb Garden, Arch 8, Westgate Road, Newcastle. 0191 222 0491. www.theherbgardenuk.com