We tried Kafeneon for NE1 Restaurant Week - as it brings sun-kissed Santorini vibes to the Bigg Market
I've been to Greece plenty. Love the place. Island after island, always the same beautiful climate, amazing views and warm welcome.
Little did I know, however, there was a taste of all that this winter, right at the heart of Newcastle city centre. In fact, they've been doing it, hidden in plain sight in the city's party capital, the Bigg Market, for nearly three decades.
Forget the gloomy January outlook and the cold, wet, wintry weather, Kafeneon brings a taste of Greece to the city, with a twist of that Aegean warmth and charm.
And next week - from Monday to Friday - it's offering diners an authentic experience, for just £15 for two courses, or £20 for three, as part of NE1's Newcastle Restaurant Week.
And for starters...
This particular night, eating from the special restaurant week menu, myself and my fellow diner went for the full works - three courses, no messing about. It was a decision I would not regret when it comes to taste and flavour, but my waistband, in need of a favour or two, definitely did not thank me for that decision.
Keftedes, beef meatballs in tomato sauce, was choice one and accompanying that - we shared both, such was our greed and indecision - was some slightly less authentic haloumi fries. The former was just like how I remembered, meaty and succulent balls in a well-balanced tomato gravy. The fries, although beautifully crunchy, maybe lost a little credit for being served with a sweet chilli dip. I get it, that's what everyone expects with them, but a nice Mediterranean sauce, maybe a tzatziki would suffice.
Santorini vibes - nostalgia comes flooding back
Easily the most picturesque Greek holiday I've ever experienced was in Santorini - and yes, I do have the Instagram pictures to show for it!
A good few years back we went for a wedding. And even though the to die-for scenery was the main pull, this particularly trip turned into quite an alcohol-fuelled one. So in and amongst the many fine dining eateries sampled, I also frequented my fair share of Gyros bars. And what Kafeneon offered really brought that nostalgia sweeping back over me.
The chicken, cooked to perfection, with sauces, chips and salad, hit the spot on this cold Newcastle evening.
My fellow diner went for the mixed grill souvlaki, with pork and chicken skewers, which came with tzatziki, Greek salad with feta and breads. Simply done, but specially served, much how Greek is meant to be.
And for afters...
As the Mythos flowed and conversation moved towards a lie down in a food-induced coma, we thought we couldn't go Greek and not try the Baklava.
Rich, honey-laced layers of crunchy pastry full of nutty goodness, all served with whipped and ice cream. What a flourish. The ice cream, in particular, was a real highlight of our final plates.
All in all, this was an experience full of Greek charm, and the service bore all the hallmarks of everything you'd expect back in the homeland, with an accommodating warmth so akin with holidays of old (& new).
So, if you can't trade Killingworth for Kefalonia, Morpeth for Mykonos, or Sandyford for Skiathos - let's face it, who can after Christmas overspends? - then Kafeneon offers as close to the real thing as you'll find this Tyneside winter.
NE1’s Newcastle Restaurant Week returns this January
The first NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Week of 2024 will run from the 15th to the 21st of January.
Over 100 restaurants in the city centre have signed up to take part in this January’s event, offering diners the chance to eat out for only £15, £20 and £25 per person.
Many of the city’s top restaurants will take part in what is one of the most popular events in NE1’s annual events calendar. Last year, the two NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Weeks, held in January and August, broke all previous records for both attendance and economic impact. More than 100,000 diners enjoyed the two events, and the weeks generated over £2 million for participating businesses.
This year NE1 is expecting another bumper year with significant interest already expressed by restaurants which are new to the city and want to get involved, and from the public who are keen to see the culinary event return and make their all-important bookings.
Long-standing participants including 21, Blackfriars, and Dabbawal, who all helped NE1 launch the first event back in 2011, will be back in January together with five new restaurants for people to sample.
Among the new participants is Salparo, a stylish Greek tapas restaurant located on The Side in Newcastle. This is the first city centre restaurant for owner, Aldo Hasani, a former Northumbria University student, who has already made his mark in the North East restaurant scene with the highly successful Paros in Heaton.
Another newcomer is Manahatta on Collingwood Street. The vibrant New York-inspired restaurant only opened in November but was quick to sign up for their inaugural Restaurant Week. Manahatta will bring glitz and glamour to the week with its signature party-bar antics and stylish décor.
Popular sushi restaurant, Sushi Me Rollin’ on Grey Street is also taking part in its first Newcastle Restaurant Week with some amazing £25 per person offers including sushi platters.