Newcastle’s artisan restaurant takes inspiration from its cultural setting. SAVOUR editor Georga Spottiswood chats to head chef Andrew Wilkinson about his art
Artisan: a person skilled in an applied art. And that’s exactly what Andrew Wilkinson, head chef at artisan restaurant, is.
“Food is an art form and I’m in the perfect setting from which to showcase this,” said the chef, who believes in simplicity when it comes to his dishes.
The restaurant is owned by contemporary art gallery, The Biscuit Factory, and adjoins the venue.
A sign above the door of artisan, in Newcastle’s cultural quarter, reads: where food is art – and inside this ethos is echoed.
Specially-commissioned work by sculpture artist Stephen Newby and painter-printmaker Mike Moor adorn the walls and a 25ft glass wall looks into The Biscuit Factory’s gallery.
Just like the art, which aims to inspire, so does Andrew’s menu. “We source from fields, fisherman and work with forager Andy Young, too. He gets us wild mushrooms, wild garlic, fruits such as damson and wild sorrel which add intensity,” said the 30 year old.
Menus change on a daily basis to reflect the produce that’s in season.
“We only use the best,” said Andrew. “We’re a fine dining venue but without being pretentious. It’s more of a laid-back atmosphere.
”Dishes such as oysters set in cucumber, apple jelly and horseradish cream; and crab and scallop lasagne with a bisque are designed to delight and intrigue the senses and help people explore new flavour combinations.
“This is my art,” said Andrew. “It’s modern but simple. You don’t mess with flavours,” said the chef, who learnt his craft working for renowned North East chef David Kennedy.
Although he studied catering at South Tyneside College, Andrew believes in on-the-job training.
“I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere with my studies, so I left and got a job instead,” he admitted. “You learn more in a kitchen environment, you learn to cook properly, you learn the attention to detail.”
His first role was at Pacific House, in Newcastle, working under head chef Nigel Rose. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, as he really helped me develop in my career.
“I ended up following him to the Alnwick Suite in St James’ Park. It was the VIP suite, so to speak, and Terry Laybourne was one of the consultants. While everywhere else in St James’ was serving up buffet-style food, every dish in the Alnwick Suite was freshly made – and done so with passion,” said Andrew.
He then went on to work at the Black Door, in Clayton Street, Newcastle – which was formerly owned by David Kennedy. “One of the food consultants at St James’ Park, John Connor, said I’d be mental not to take the job. He made me leave the kitchen, put me in his car and drove me to the restaurant, as I hadn’t even been. When I saw the food on the pass, I just thought yes! The attention to detail was spot on,” said Andrew.
“It was such an inspirational place. I learned discipline, classic dishes, sauces, stocks. It was amazing,” he added. When David opened a second Black Door – which is now artisan after being bought by The Biscuit Factory in October 2013 and relaunched under the brand in March 2014 – Andrew’s career progressed further.
“Although I worked in the new venue for a while, David needed someone to help run his Clayton Street restaurant. I was 22 and running the place, but with a lot of guidance from David. He was always at the other end of the phone. It was such an experience,” he said.
When The Biscuit Factory acquired the premises and relaunched with the artisan brand, Andrew was offered the head chef role. “It was an intriguing concept, to come up with a menu that represented the ‘food is art’ theme, but I’m also big on produce and how we can bring out the intensity of flavours,” said Andrew.
As well as a lunch menu, artisan has an a la carte menu, fish-tasting menu each Friday and a seasonal showcase menu which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.
“We have close links with North Shields Fish Quay and the tasting menu aims to showcase the variety of fresh seafood that’s on our doorstep.
“Our seasonal showcase night features six or seven dishes that celebrate an ingredient, type of cooking or time of year and the a la carte is inspired by the freshest of hauls from our local suppliers.
“I’m told we’re a fine dining restaurant. But what’s fine dining? To me, we’re a place that puts passion into cooking,” said Andrew.
His autumn winter menu features dishes such as rump of lamb with capers, shallots, mint jelly and broccoli; roasted turbot with hand-dived scallops, cauliflower and leek; and custard tart with damson sorbet.
But it’s not just Andrew that’s an artisan, Lauren McKirdy is the venue’s business development manager, who’s reignited the cocktail list. Gingernut Martini, Cherry Mojito and the Southern Sweet Tea are all part of the new offering – and let’s just say that Lauren’s nailed the art of mixology, too.
Artisan’s next seasonal showcase is certain to go off with a bang. Held on November 2, the event has a ‘Bonfire Feast’ theme. The 7-course menu is priced at £42.50 per person, with an optional flight of wine at £28.50 per person.
Throughout December, artisan will offer a set menu that celebrates the festive season, featuring a host of classic flavours and ingredients prepared with a modern twist by Andrew and his team.
Seasonal highlights include pressing of smoked ham hock and black pudding; breast of turkey with winter root vegetables, chipolatas, bread sauce, garlic and parsley; and spiced crème brûlée with apple, blackberry and lemon. Lunch is £21.95 for two courses and £25.95 for three. Dinner is £26.95 for two courses and £31.95 for three.
For more information visit www.artisannewcastle.com, or call 0191 260 5411.