Saturday, 9 November 2013

The White Lead, Hebburn: Restaurant Review

I've lived in Hebburn all of my life and probably will for the rest of it!  It's home and I love the place for all of its faults!  One of the major faults is a lack of a decent place to eat. Your choices are dreadful pub food, Greggs, Dicksons, various lousy fish and chip shops or Chinese and Indian takeaways.  Until recently Hebburn had only one 'sitty-down' restaurant, Mambo's II; if you've been to Mambo's in South Shields you'll get the picture. Think Sambuca's (1 to 500 or however many they have now!), Uno's and Pinocchios in Newcastle or just think 99% of 'Italian' restaurants in the North East!  So we were delighted and excited to hear of the opening of Hebburn's newest (2nd!) sitty-down restaurant, The White Lead. (I even tried to score an invite to the opening night and failed miserably!)

However, I must admit that later when I realised it was a Sonnet 43 restaurant (part of the Tavistock group) I wasn't going to bother going at all.  I've been to The Rattler in South Shields and Tavistock Italia on the Quayside and, well, they weren't going to get a third chance!  However, a couple of factors changed my mind; proximity and the menu.

We were booked up for lunch at Blackfriars but were a bit anxious about how long it might take to get home if little Sophie (6 months old and still refusing a bottle!) decided she wanted her Mam!  So The White Lead had geography on its side.  Their menu also read very differently from the usual Tavistock fare; they offered rare breed pork and Grand Reserve beef.  I used to be a butcher and we stocked Grand Reserve beef so I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the menu.  Anyway, we decided it was worth a shot!

When we arrived it was clear they'd spent a bit of cash renovating the former Dougies Tavern but it does feel very self-conscious.  Old machinery props and books placed on window sills; Uncle Tom's Cabin on my sill clashing somewhat with the local/British theme they're aiming for and the Union Jack plastered across the entrance!  It's all a bit theme-park (bath tub as sink in toilets etc.) and slightly confused but pleasant enough to sit in nevertheless.

It was when the starters arrived that I knew I'd made a dreadful mistake! An oversized sprig of parsley is sometimes all you need to see to know that you're in trouble!

I'd gone for the rare breed pork belly with black pudding which came with a peppercorn 'jus' poured all over where the crackling should have been!  I'm not sure whether the chef did this to hide the fact that his crackling was crackless or if he just didn't think.  Needless to say the skin was inedible; this was a pity as the pork was good quality (reared by Charlie Hird, the son of Tavistock MD, Mark Hird) and the black pudding was decent enough.  The peppercorn sauce was unpleasant, overly acidic and offered nothing to lift the pork.  This was more an assembly of ingredients than a complete dish but would have been forgivable if that crackling had been crisp!

Mandy had decided on the chicken liver parfait (the joys of no longer being pregnant!) but the waitress checked and returned to tell us that they were waiting on it being delivered (no comment!).  Mandy went for the goat's cheese crostini instead which arrived with 'oversized sprig of parsley's' sister ingredient, the balsamic glaze (shudder!).

The red stuff in the ramekin was said to be chutney but was more like a salsa and the less said about the yellow stuff the better!

As the waitress (who was lovely) took our plates away she asked if everything was ok; I said that it was a pity the crackling wasn't crispy, she replied "ah I know, a bit of crackling is lovely isn't it?" and then left!  Oh well!

I don't really want to go into too much detail about the rest of the meal because I feel a bit like I'm shooting fish in a barrel!  Poor Mandy had ordered pork (3 little pigs) for main which included 'crispy pork belly', you can guess how that one turned out and was accompanied by over-cooked pork loin and dry pulled shoulder.

There's my parsley again!  What's that around the edge of the plate?  Don't say it!

I'd gone for the fisherman's basket (£16.95) which included prawns, sole, salmon and cod in a Sonnet 43 batter which tasted like a pretty standard batter with the addition of turmeric.  The fish was over-cooked and the chips were reminiscent of Hebburn's finest Indian takeaways, big, soft and greasy.

At £16.95 I could've had turbot and chips at Colman's in South Shields and still had change or 3 courses for £18 at Blackfriars in Newcastle!  I suppose that's why this isn't 'shooting fish in a barrel'; when a lunch bill passes the £60 mark (drinks inc.) you expect some value for money and decent cooking.  Any restaurant in Hebburn is going to have to be either cheap or good; The White Lead is neither.

You may be surprised to learn that we stayed for dessert!  We get out so rarely that we wanted to make the most of it!  The desserts were the best of a bad bunch.

I enjoyed my sticky toffee pudding (despite a pretty non-descript toffee sauce) with Beckleberry's ice cream and Mandy's chocolate brownie was ok but the damage had been done!  They were both garnished with a distant relative of 'oversized parsley and balsamic glaze', the lone strawberry/sprig of mint combo (insult to injury!).


So it is with deep sadness and regret that I inform you that Hebburn still has nowhere good to eat!  One day......



  1. Shame. Can't recall ever seeing a square of sauce before.

  2. Dear FoodandFrets, thank you for your review on this blog, that I have read with concern and regret. I am very sorry to read that you did not enjoy dining with us at the White Lead and all of the other Tavistock Venues that you have visited previously. The issues that you raised regarding the quality of the pork starter and the main courses I agree with and have taken steps to improve the quality, like wise with the quality of the chips that have not been "crisped" up enough. With reference to the presentation and the garnishes that we use, these are a matter of personal preference. It would appear that after three visits to our establishments we cannot meet your expectations for which I am sorry and it may be best if do not return if all we offer to you is disappointment. We believe we have a good strong operating ethos that has allowed us to continue our growth plan and this can only be achieved by returning customers who have received good food and service.
    Enjoy blogging and your quest for culinary excellence!

  3. Dear Mr. Graham,
    Thank you for your comments. I agree that presentation and garnish are indeed personal preference. I also agree that it is for the best that I don't return to your establishment; as I highlighted it is possible to receive vastly superior food at a comparable price elsewhere. Just a pity none of those places are in Hebburn!

  4. 100% crap I love this place not only is it a breath of fresh air for hebburn it is a absolute pleasure to dine here...

    You may think of your self as a food critic but as MR public i can't say how much me and my family love coming here.

    Mr T.Robson

    Lover and supporter of local business for local people.

  5. Dear Mr. Robson,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my review. I am delighted that you and your family have found somewhere you enjoy dining in Hebburn; I was truly hoping to feel the same way but sadly, this was not my experience.

    In terms of thinking of myself as a 'food critic'; I would argue that everybody should be a critic. How do you make decisions about where to dine in the future without discussing what you like and dislike about a venue? I have simply published my thoughts on this venue on my blog.

    I can assure you that I do support local business and am passionate about local produce. However, this does not mean that I will support a business where I feel the quality of delivery is lacking and the price too high.

    You will notice that I began this reply with 'Dear Mr. Robson'; your alternative greeting of '100% crap' is a new one to me but certainly one which I shall consider using in the future!

    Best Regards,


  6. Dear FandF,

    Let's just leave it at that but I hope when people read this review they take two sides into consideration.

    Best Regards,

    Mr Robson