I love the concept of Experimental Diner - joining fellow foodies for an evening of fantastic food prepared by some of the region's finest chefs in weird and wonderful locations across the North East. It's not every day you get to enjoy roof top dining at a Medieval Castle!
Unfortunately the week of the event brought some crazy weather conditions where Newcastle seemed to plunge from mid Winter to the height of Summer in a matter of moments. We had it all - blazing hot sun, high winds and torrential downpours. I spent most of the week obsessing over the weather and hoping that it would be kind for our evening at the castle.
The day arrived and I was so excited to be spending my evening eating food in one of my most favourite places in Newcastle. With my husband in tow, I knew that this was going to be a date night to remember, surely there's nowhere more romantic to dine than a fairytale castle in the city I love!
With a very mixed weather forecast I turned up to Newcastle Castle with half of my wardrobe - jumpers, waterproofs and sunglasses! I was ready for an evening of food, beautiful views and, of course, the chance to pretend to be a princess, albeit a slightly unglamorous one wearing boots and a rain mac!
With Prosecco in hand we were free to have a little wander before being called for dinner.
Taking a little stroll round the Gaol, I had goose bumps as we explored.
If those walls could talk what stories they would tell! It's hard to believe that back in the 1800s Newcastle almost lost its castle with the arrival of the railways, something you're reminded of frequently when the trains rumble past right next to the building. I just can't imagine Newcastle without it.
A real shame, but soon completely forgotten about when we made our way into the Great Hall for dinner.
The Great Hall looked stunning, glowing in the warm light of the beautiful candles scattered round the room and with the most beautiful coloured flowers decorating the table.
We were seated on one long table set out in a square with the oven and kitchen equipment in the middle, giving everyone a great view of the food preparation.
Our chef for the evening was Simon Hicks, Head Chef at the beautiful Lord Crewe Arms in the North Pennine countryside of Blanchland, somewhere we've never been but is very much on our staycation wish list. Having heard wonderful things about the food at the Lord Crewe Arms we were very excited to see what Simon was going to create for us and, how on earth he was going to put together a menu inside a medieval castle!
Simon was the perfect host, chatting away as he prepared our dinner and telling us wonderful stories of how an Aussie came to live and work in the North East and tales from his kitchen at the Lord Crewe Arms.
Open and friendly, it wasn't long before guests were firing questions at him which he happily answered. It's not often you get the chance to quiz the chef and it was great to hear about his favourite produce and get a few cooking tips along the way.
Our first course was soon in front of us, Crewe-cured Smoked Salmon with Lovage potatoes. A popular dish at the Lord Crewe Arms, the salmon is rubbed with Alnwick Rum and molasses and has the most beautiful flavour.
My husband and I are both huge fans of salmon and it's a dish that we definitely would pick if we were visiting the Lord Crewe Arms - it was so good we're still talking about it a week later!
As we tucked into our food we got chatting to the people around us. Experimental Diner is a great place to meet new people and at both events I've been to I've found myself surrounded by people who love food as much as me. Nothing beats a chat round the table sharing favourite restaurants, chefs and exchanging North East stories.
We were so busy chatting with our new friends and drinking glasses of delicious red wine that we barely noticed when the lights suddenly dimmed and the oven switched off! Cooking a four course meal in a medieval castle is definitely a challenge and with all the appliances working at capacity we'd managed to overwork the electricity system at the castle.
The Experimental Diner team leapt into action, busily rushing about the castle to sort out the problems whilst we were treated to a short history of Newcastle Castle by an authentically dressed guide who completely took our mind off the lack of electricity.
With the fabulous entertainment, our new friends and a glass of wine in my hand, the problems weren't a big deal, but I can imagine those behind the scenes must have been slightly worried for a few moments.
Minutes later and we were back up and running and the smell of our next course hit our noses, this one was definitely going to be worth waiting for!
Rump of Brookfield Farm Veal with Baked and Smooth Onions was next, a best seller at the Lord Crewe Arms, but probably not something that we ever would have thought to order if we were visiting. It was absolutely perfect, the meat was so tender and the vegetables were fresh and the perfect accompaniment. If only vegetables tasted this good when I was a child I wouldn't have argued with my parents about eating them as much!
The showstopper of the night for us had to be dessert, Ronnie 'n' Phil's Apple Pie and Bakewells. We had one of each pie to split between us and a huge dollop of cream to fight over (I won of course!)
Sharing a dish of food may seem a little alien to some but it's a little nod to Sunday lunches at the Lord Crewe Arms where guests are presented with three starters, mains and desserts which they share with the rest of the table. It makes for a very sociable affair and, as far as I'm aware, a food fight is yet to happen!
The pastry on the pies was easily the best pastry I have ever tasted, we were lost for words as we tucked in and ate every last mouthful with great enthusiasm. Simon Hicks hosts lunch and demonstration at the Lord Crewe Arms teaching people how to create the perfect pastry, I have to say I'm quite tempted to sign my husband up to one if he can come home and make me pastry like this!
The food was absolutely fantastic, some of the best we have ever had and we have definitely moved the Lord Crewe Arms to the top of our foodie wish list. I can't wait to experience even more of Simon's food!
After our meal we were welcomed to the pop up bar where we could select an after dinner tipple to take with us up to the roof of the Castle where we'd been promised some surprise entertainment. I opted for an Amaretto and Coke and began my climb up the stairs to the roof of the castle.
As we popped out on the top we were offered blankets to snuggle under but the excitement of the evening (and my alcohol jacket!) meant that I didn't even feel slightly cold, I was just eager to get out and see those views.
I've been lucky enough to climb to the top of Newcastle Castle a few times in the years that I've lived in Newcastle but nothing has ever compared to the view we had that night.
The sun was just beginning to set turning the sky a beautiful shade of pink, and a rain shower had blessed us with an almost perfect rainbow that formed directly over the Tyne Bridge. It took my breath away and I had one of those "I love Newcastle" moments where I just felt so thankful that I moved my life to the North East.
The views from the top of the Castle are easily the best in Newcastle, looking down the Quayside across the Tyne to Newcastle's famous bridges and for miles beyond, it's crazy to think that so many people in the city don't know that these views are here for all to enjoy!
After we'd had some time to appreciate the views (and take lots of selfies of course!) the entertainment began. An authentic sword fight on the roof of Newcastle Castle! With plenty of swipes, clangs and bangs it was a real fight to the end between the two fellas who really put their all in to giving us a brilliant show. Such a fantastic end to a brilliant night.
Having enjoyed the Experimental Diner event at Alderman Fenwick's House so much I wasn't sure if they could top it, but dining in Newcastle Castle was a real "pinch me moment" that I will remember forever and it feels so special to be one of the few people to have dined in the Great Hall. I have no idea what Experimental Diner have got up their sleeves for next time but I'm so excited to find out.
We left Experimental Diner with some new friends, a real obsession with Simon Hicks at the Lord Crewe Arms (we've been studying the website ever since) and, I'm not going to lie, feeling ever so slightly tipsy!
Dining with Experimental Diner is something that I think every foodie in the North East needs to experience. To find out more about Experimental Diner's future events be sure to check out their website or give them a like on Facebook to keep up to date. Also, if you've never been to Newcastle Castle be sure to pay them a visit and enjoy the beautiful views for yourself!
I'd love to hear if you've ever dined anywhere a little weird or wonderful and if you have any ideas of where Experimental Diner could host a future event!
We received complimentary tickets to Experimental Diner but all enthusiasm is very much our own. We had the most fantastic evening!