Enjoy high cuisine? Stuart Forster is strapped into a chair for a dinner in the sky over Newcastle and Gateshead.
I’m securely strapped into a high-backed seat and my heart is pumping with increasing rapidity as we’re winched ever higher. Yet this isn’t a ride at a theme park, I’m at a lunch sitting of Dine by the Tyne next to the Sage Gateshead.
Twenty-two of us sit around a table that will eventually come to a halt 100 feet above the ground. Most of my fellow guests for this dinner in the sky are laughing and chatting together. I wish I could relax too. This shouldn’t be a white knuckle ride but I notice the skin on my hands is taut as I grip the edge of the table.
A view of the Sage Gateshead
I’ve been placed on a corner seat. When I peek to my left have a stunning view over the arched roof of the performing arts centre designed by Foster and Partners, the architecture bureau of the Pritzker Prize winner Norman Foster. I’ve photographed the curvaceous building many times since it opened, back in 2005, but this is the first time I’ve viewed it from above.
The reflective panelling of the Sage Gateshead is gleaming in the spring sunshine but it’s surprisingly nippy, due to a wind that feels markedly more robust 100 feet above the ground. Beneath my feet, a seagull glides elegantly inland from the River Tyne.
A gust picks up a serviette and whips it across the table. Our host, from the Hawthorns restaurant (Hawthorns at the Crowne Plaza Newcastle; tel. 0191 5623333), reacts like a ninja and grabs it before it flutters away. Two of the team from the Hawthorns’ kitchen will be preparing Executive Chef Chris Wood’s creations. Over the next 45 minutes, a three-course meal will be served.
Chefs from top Newcastle restaurants
Until today I hadn’t realised that chefs from a number of Tyneside’s leading restaurants were participating in Dine by the Tyne. Bob Arora from Sachins, my favourite Indian restaurant in Newcastle, and Dave Coulson, from the Peace and Loaf modern British restaurant in Jesmond, are among those participating. The team from Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill will be serving Champagne high tea later this afternoon.
Illogically, I fear that my seat will fall to the ground if I sit back into it. I’d hoped that my fear of heights wouldn’t kick in; after all I know that I’m safe. Nonetheless, my tummy muscles are aching and tight. Nervously, I take a sip of sparkling San Pellegrino mineral water and, simultaneously, grip the white table with my left hand.
Our host and the two chefs from Hawthorns stand in the centre of the platform and are connected by safety harnesses. Along with 21 other guests I’m sitting under a canopy looking into the area where they work.
Despite the blustery wind, there’s surprisingly little movement. The table remained remarkably stable even while we were being hoisted upwards – so I have no idea why I’m feeling so nervous.
Dressed in high fashion
The ticket mentioned that the Dine by the Tyne dress code was smart casual. I’m wearing a chic, flower-patterned shirt but, unfortunately, nobody can see it.
During the safety briefing ahead of our flight a member of the Events in the Sky team told us we should wear our coats. Geordies might be renowned for nights out wearing revealingly little, even in deepest midwinter, but everyone here today is wrapped up like they’re southern softies.
Wine from Newcastle’s Bonbar
Our host offers me a choice of South African white wine or French red. Normally I make meticulous notes when I dine but, frankly, I’m shaking too much to contemplate jotting down details about the vineyards or vintages. If I did reach into my pocket there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to hold onto my pen and an innocent onlooker, 100 feet below, might be speared by the tip of the ballpoint.
Given the circumstances, I take a deep gulp, rather than a delicate sip, from the red wine that I’ve chosen. Two or three mouthfuls later I begin to relax into the flight. Maybe it’s that I’m becoming accustomed to the experience and starting to enjoy the view? It could also be Dutch courage kicking in.
This must be high cuisine?
Our host announces the starter is ready. A gin and juniper carpaccio of Northumberland roe deer with tiny sliced gooseberries, horseradish meringues and hazelnuts is served on a slate platter. Despite the adrenalin that’s coursing through me I appreciate the tenderness of the venison and the delicate flavours.
Between courses, we spin around. The sun is shining onto Newcastle. We have views over the Tyne Bridge and Quayside that, normally, only seabirds can enjoy. Feeling ever more comfortable looking around, I swivel on my seat to capture a handful of cityscapes with the camera that’s strung around my neck.
Spring lamb is served for the main course, alongside wild garlic, fresh peas and heritage potato. As soon as I’ve eaten I turn to photograph the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
We’re lowered to be served dessert, featuring rhubarb with aniseed, meringue and a creamy dollop of vanilla custard. As I tuck in we’re again hoisted upwards for the final ten minutes of the flight.
Despite my fear of heights causing my early apprehension about this experience, I have enjoyed Dine by the Tyne. The food and wine have been good and the views truly spectacular.
Dine by the Tyne was organised by Events in the Sky (Rex House, 4-12 Regent Street, London; tel. 020 33562843).
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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