Ponteland has a restaurant problem. There are some decent places to eat there – indeed, some good places to eat – and some great bars (Yolo being a good new-ish example, and the pubs mostly having upped their games in response) but nowhere truly special. Perhaps it suffers from being too close to Newcastle’s thriving restaurant scene to develop its own foodie identity. Perhaps the right people have just never tried. Either way, Branches restaurant, bar and grill has arrived – and with it a new era for Ponteland as an eating destination. We hope.
Arriving on a sunny evening we’re shown past a small bar area into the bright restaurant – think pale wooden furniture, cream leather seating and floor-to-ceiling windows onto the street. There’s also a giant white blossom tree sprouting from a corner – it’s clearly not real, but it’s an effective touch.
We’re seated quickly and order a bottle of still water while we look at the menu (it’s Marlish water from just a few miles up the road – good start). It’s not a huge menu (another good sign), but there’s plenty of choice, from small plates through to hearty grill options.
The first dish to appear at our table is warm rosemary focaccia with roast chicken butter and dipping gravy (£3.50). If you’re the kind of person who could happily lick a roast chicken and drinks gravy from the jug (no judgement) this dish is for you. As the empty board is cleared away my partner announces that roast chicken butter is ‘the future’.
My starter of pan fried scallops with black pudding bhaji, cauliflower purée and curry oil (£9.50) is an eye-opener – perhaps I’ve led a sheltered existence, but I didn’t really know you could make bhajis from anything but onion. These black pudding ones are spectacular – even better than the roast chicken butter. The whole dish is a triumph – as is my partner’s terrine of ham hock with an airy take on pease pudding, pickled shallots and warm stottie-style bread (£6.50).
We’re accompanying all this with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£28) – refreshingly fruity. My main course is two beautifully pink and tender breasts of duck with perfectly crisp fat, confit potato, savoy cabbage, charred pineapple and sherry vinegar sauce (£17). My partner meanwhile makes short work of a chunky pan roasted fillet of beef with dauphinoise potatoes, watercress purée, roast carrot and red wine jus (£28).
Neither of us has much of a sweet tooth, but after enjoying food as much as we did those first courses, I’d challenge anyone to turn down dessert from the same kitchen. Much as we’re tempted by the ‘chocolate garden’ we’ve spotted on a neighbouring table, we plump for caramelised apple tarte tatin with vanilla bean ice cream (£5), and (on recommendation from a helpful member of staff) lemon cream with raspberries and basil meringue (£5). Mine is a disc of crisp, flaky pastry smothered in apples, caramelised until they’re a deep golden colour. Across the table, the lemon posset becomes the second dish to achieve the honour of being described as ‘the future’.
This was quite an evening. The restaurant is airy and pleasant, the staff are just the right amount of helpful and cheery without being over the top, and every course displayed a type of cooking and presentation you don’t see very often outside of the top flight, which Branches is surely about to become a part of.
Branches. It’s the future.
3 Brewery Lane, Ponteland NE20 9NZ