Like many fans of ‘high end’ food, I first heard the name Kenny Atkinson when he appeared on the BBC television series Great British Menu, 2009. On the show, he won the starter dish, which went on to be served at a banquet held in honour of troops returning from Afghanistan. The following year, his mackerel and gooseberry fish course, championing local produce, also made it to the banquet.
Soon after GBM, Kenny took a position at the prestigious Rockcliffe Hall – although Kenny had won Michelin stars earlier in his career (one on the Isles of Scilly at ‘St Martin's on the Isle’ and another at ‘Seaham Hall’ in County Durham) a star at Rockcliffe did not materialise.
Of course, it’s not all about Michelin stars but Kenny Atkinson has made no secret of his desire to push for this type of recognition for his hard work. As chef / proprietor at House of Tides (with his wife Abbie), Kenny has the most wonderful setting in which to achieve an ambition to bring stars back to his native Newcastle.
In their usual understated style, Michelin offer a succinct description of the House of Tides as an “Attractive Grade I listed, 16C merchant's house in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge. It has a utilitarian feel courtesy of old flagged floors, cast iron supports and exposed brick.” They also state how the “Modern 8 course menus offer accomplished dishes.” (at a value for money £65).
Appetisers: Oyster Pebble and Lindisfarne Oyster – this ‘Oyster Pebble’ proved to be a little ‘controversial’. When Chef Mark Birchall saw a picture I posted on twitter, he said something along the lines of ‘it’s good to see how we are “inspiring” other restaurants’ with the obvious implication that it may be a little ‘too similar’ to one they serve at L’Enclume
Another ‘detractor’ made a comment about Kenny’s food being heavily inspired by Stockholm’s Frantzén – in the chefs’ world, it seems a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. I don’t know Frantzén’s food well enough to know if this is the case but I do know Kenny is a talented chef and as he and his team progress, his menu will develop and his own style will come to the fore. This has started to happen at Aiden Byrne’s Manchester House, which was initially criticised for ‘copying the Spanish chefs’.
I don’t want to dwell on what may be perceived as ‘chef politics’ – like the vast majority of diners, I visited House of Tides to eat top quality food… and that’s exactly what I got.
Bread & soup: Cumin & sultana bread, spiced carrot velouté – the bread was excellent, good flavour (not too ‘cuminy’ and not too sweet from the raisons) and a delightful thin yet crisp crust. The soup too had good depth of flavour – my one criticism would be the carrot dice within which I found overly sweet.
Signature: Line caught mackerel with gooseberries, lemon & mustard – available as an optional extra, this refined take on a ‘fish finger’ is one of Kenny’s signature dishes that won the Great British Menu. This is a clever way of ensuring that the dish remains on the menu for those wanting to try it for the first time although it also ensures regular diners do not grow tired of it… as if they would!
Today’s catch: Scorched scallop with pumpkin and Parmesan – a beautiful autumnal dish that still had the lightness and vibrant colours of summer. What I liked about this dish was how the pumpkin meat had been included in its squishy natural state as well in the purée. The sweetness in the dish was balanced with acidity in the pickled squash, bitterness from the searing to the scallops as well as salt and umami from the Parmesan wafers.
Ken Holland’s Vallum Farm: ‘Northumberland Moors’ Hare with parsnip, beetroot & wild flowers – I love to eat hare and farmers like to control their numbers so they do not ravage their crops… as a result, this was the perfect dish to show off Ken Holland’s wonderful produce, including his signature beet leaves which are raised in a dark ‘disco’ poly tunnel. As Michelin say, ‘accomplished cooking’.
Butcher’s choice: Pheasant – the pheasant main came in two parts.
Rolled pheasant leg & ham hock terrine with parsley, pear, kale & chestnuts – terrines are typically served with a toast or something similar to carry them; the associated crisp textures here came from crispy kale, parsley and chestnuts crisps and that’s all it needed. A little sweetness came from poached pear and a pear purée.
Poached & pan roasted pheasant breast with Jerusalem artichokes, apple, girolles & truffle – the star of this dish was the Italian autumn truffles which smelt and tasted heavenly; some meats would have been lost under their strength but the gamey pheasant managed to hold its own.
Pastry: Coconut popsicle with mango & passion fruit – both dessert dishes featured classic crowd pleasing flavour combinations. The ‘mini magnum’ element added a touch of whimsy.
Chocolate pavé with popcorn, salted caramel, chocolate crackling – good quality chocolate flavour, salted caramel, popcorn and popcorn flavour… no complaints from me.
Stars or no stars, the House of Tides is a great place to eat - I’m going to continue to watch Kenny’s career and hope to get back on Tyneside to eat there again.