The Union Rooms, in Newcastle, underwent a major refurbishment late in 2018. The pub and restaurant reopened during November. I headed to the premises that once housed a gentlemen’s club for dinner on a blustery Friday night in January.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to dine with a guest at the Union Rooms to facilitate a review and retained full editorial control of this article, which was not reviewed or approved by the Union Rooms.
My guest was initially hesitant when I suggested dinner at the Union Rooms — she thought it was still part of the JD Wetherspoon chain of pubs. That, though, hasn’t been the case since early 2017.
A change of ownership
Since February 2018 the Union Rooms has belonged to the Cyclone Leisure Group, which operates the San Lorenzo restaurants, serving Italian cuisine in Gosforth and Washington, and The Blackbird in Ponteland.
The continued use of the Union Rooms name means that many people are unaware that the business has changed hands and that there’s more of an emphasis on food than during its previous incarnation.
The menu’s focus is on comfort food. The portions range in size from tapas-style small plates, including paprika dusted potato skins and devilled whitebait, through pizzas to sharing boards. Those include fajita chicken and a 36-ounce tomahawk steak. There are several options suitable for vegetarians, including a loaded hummus sharing board.
Also, reflecting the growing popularity of veganism, a section of the menu outlines vegan options. The choices include Malaysian mock duck coconut curry, served with udon noodles, and a vegan burger.
Meat eaters, don’t despair. Steaks plus burgers made from beef and chicken also feature on the menu.
A building with Victorian heritage
The Union Rooms is a couple of minutes’ walk from Newcastle’s Central Station, meaning it’s well located for whiling away time before a rail journey and a handy option as a city centre meeting place. It stands next to the monument to George Stephenson, the civil engineer whose name is so closely linked the evolution of steam locomotives.
It’s worth taking a moment to look up and take in the building’s impressive façade. The grand premises were built in the 1870s and formerly hosted the Union Club, whose membership included Members of Parliament, businessmen and industrialists such as Lord Armstrong, the engineer who designed the Swing Bridge.
The building’s broad staircase, domed ceiling and ornate, high-ceilinged rooms with fireplaces have been retained. If you get a chance to pop upstairs, look inside the library, which has snazzy wallpaper and a ceiling lamp with an antler-like form.
We were shown to table for two at the back of the ground-floor dining room, beneath a framed menu, dating from 1924, that was discovered under floorboards during the building’s restoration. Next to that was a framed document listing the members of the Union Club in 1862-63, when it occupied premises on Clayton Street.
Dinner at the Union Rooms
We decided to share a couple of starters before ordering our main courses, selecting the fashionable halloumi fries and Scotch egg.
The halloumi fries had a crisp exterior and morishly chewy middles. They were drizzled with yoghurt and sprinkled with pomegranate and chopped mint.
The Scotch egg was beautifully presented. The soft yolk was cocooned in lightly spiced smoked haddock kedgeree featuring peas and crisp golden breadcrumbs.
To accompany the starters, I chose a pint of Staropramen Czech lager, which is pumped into the shining copper vessels that sit above the bar. Had I preferred a craft beer, I could have opted for one of the regularly changing selection of locally brewed ales.
The mains and desserts
For my main course I chose from the pizzas. The stone-baked pizzas are designed by San Lorenzo’s chef and topped with pecorino and fior di latte cheese. The salsicca Njuja, topped with sausage, pepporoni and fresno chilli proved spicy and filling.
My guest, meanwhile, went for the tandoori masala marinated king prawn skewers. Served with a basket of chips, onion rings, rocket plus a creamy coleslaw and raita dip, the sizable king prawns were tender and tasty. Her only criticism was that there were just four of them on the plate.
However, that meant room for the attractively presented cheesecake, served in a long-stemmed glass with a scoop of ice cream and wafers.
Meanwhile I opted for sticky toffee pudding — ideal, surely, for a winter evening? Surrounded by a caramelly, butterscotch sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream it proved deliciously spongey and wasn’t overly sweet, just the way I like it.
The service was personable and attentive throughout the three courses of our meal.
For well-presented pub food, the Union Rooms somewhere I’d consider stopping by again. Maybe I’d opt for a couple of the starters next time then finish with the sticky toffee pudding.
The Union Rooms is at 48 Westgate Road in Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1TT (tel. 0191 261 2226). It’s possible to make a table reservation via the Union Room’s website or by calling.
The Union Rooms also has a breakfast and brunch menu that’s available between 9am and noon from Friday to Sunday. It includes the likes of eggs Benedict and traditional English fry ups. The Sunday lunch menu, available until 6pm, includes roasts. Wraps and sandwiches are served until 6pm.
The Union Rooms is one of the restaurants that participated in the January 2019 Get Into Newcastle NE1 Restaurant Week.
Thinking of planning a weekend break in Newcastle? See the NewcastleGateshead website for ideas about things to do and see on Tyneside. Here’s a look some of the things to do during a walk in Newcastle.
The photographs illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which is based in the north-east of England and can be contacted by calling 07947 587136.
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