There was a time, in the early 1980’s, when if you were going out for a meal in Newcastle upon Tyne it really had to be Italian. Why? Because that’s all there was. There were plenty of restaurants to chose from, but they were all Italian, okay not quite all, but the vast majority. When I arrived in the North East I was surprised that there weren’t restaurants serving different cuisine, but there were very few. There was a Chinese restaurant on Bewick Street near the Central Station, probably called the Emperor, and there may have been an Indian, but I don’t remember one at all. Paddy MacDee and I once drove all the way to Edinburgh, just for a Chinese meal! How crazy was that.
Then along came a nice man called Alex Chung, who opened a Chinese Restaurant in Stowell Street called the Jade Garden. That was the start of Newcastle’s China Town. The Jade Garden isn’t there any more, but Stowell Street is full of Chinese restaurants, it has the Chinese arch at one end of the street and displays the street name in Chinese as well as English. There are plenty of Indian Restaurants too, some of them quite well known. The Valley, Rumpali, Simla, Sachins and Vujon, among others spring to mind. In fact now in Newcastle upon Tyne you can get food from every corner of the civilised world, and from Wales.
There are also still plenty of Italian restaurants too, so you would think it foolish to open a new one. Not so, if you have the right product, and one man, Marcus Cload did. Although English, Marcus grew up in Rome and developed a passion for food. He, and a business partner, opened an Italian Restaurant that quickly grew into a nationwide chain.
When the expansion of the Eldon Square shopping centre was in its early days, and Old Eldon Square was being revamped, the developers offered Marcus the chance to open another of his restaurants in Old Eldon Square. He did and around the time it was opening, I invited him onto my show on BBC Radio Newcastle; he flew up from London to talk about his passion for food. After the show we went to his restaurant and had lunch, he paid. There was also an official opening for the restaurant, and Helen and I also went to that. It was an excellent restaurant too, with freshly made meals and nice wine. It’s called Strada. Now we’ve been many times. I like it, Helen likes it, even Nick likes it and he’s not fussy about food, not at all.
One of the really nice touches that I like, is that Strada bring you a bottle of fresh iced water when you arrive. It’s filtered tap water. They have a machine, probably like a large Brita water filter jug, that filters the water and chills it. They bring it to you in bottles with flip top caps, they bring more when they are empty and it’s free! Excellent. It’s the little touches that make the difference.
I have trouble with the food though. And the trouble is this, there are loads of things on the menu that I like, but I love their Rossa spicy pizza so much, I struggle to order anything else.
Marcus and his business partner sold Strada a while ago, and it’s been resold again since then. It’s now part of the Tragus Group, who also own Bella Italia, Café Rouge, Potters Bar & Kitchen, Belgo and many more.
Recently the Newcastle Strada went through a revamp. We’ve been in since, once.
On the surface of it, it seemed they had done little more than give it a lick of paint, but there was more. The first thing was that we had to ask for water, it didn’t arrive as normal. When it did arrive it was just a jug of tap water with some ice thrown in. It tasted of fluoride and was luke warm, obviously having received the ice only seconds earlier. I asked what had happened to the filter water and was told that the machine was taken out during the refit. Really disappointing. I guess they were just being cheap, wanting to sell us bottled water instead. Black mark number one.
I ordered a Rossa. Black mark number two. It was nothing like the old Rossa, which had previously been lovingly prepared and cooked beautifully. I always liked the thin crust, but on this one it was so thin that there was a hole in the pizza base about three inches in diameter. The topping was not nearly as good as it used to be with a few raw slices of red peppers sprinkled randomly on top of the cheese and not much else. The worst Rossa I had ever had, by a long way.
Marcus’s passion for quality obviously went with him, and was finally removed from Strada altogether during the refit.
I am so disappointed, I will never go in again, because it’s nowhere near as good as it was. What a terrible waste. If business drops off dramatically, as I expect it will, I hope the owners realise that it is of their doing. If you take a great product, cheapen it, remove elements that people liked, but charge the same money, it simply is not going to work. There are plenty of other restaurants in Newcastle and still an abundance of Italian eateries. Next time I’m in Newcastle for a nice pizza, I’ll go somewhere else, there are many choices, perhaps Uno’s instead. Shame on you Tragus group, if your restaurants do badly, you only have yourselves to blame.