Freya’s Restaurant is part of the Aspers Casino Complex in the hideous eyesore that is “The Gate” in Newcastle upon Tyne. You must be a member to book a table but membership is free and you can join on the spot so long as you have an item of photo ID with you.
The casino chain Aspers belongs to Damien Aspinall (also owner of the terrific Howletts Animal Park in Kent) and the restaurant is named after the daughter he has with Geordie-made-good ex-Byker Grove actress and model Donna Air.
The restaurant is situated on the upper floor which is also where you’ll find the gaming areas. There is a comfortable bar downstairs where you could enjoy drinks before or after dining. We wanted to a book a table for dinner and then have a drink but the receptionist said we needed to book directly with the restaurant ourselves; given the high standards the casino claims to have I was surprised she could call up and do this for us.
The restaurant is hidden away in a corner and I guess that most visitors to the casino miss it in their rush to part with their money on the gaming tables. As you enter there is a tiny reception hatch where a very smiley and pleasant young lady greeted us. On a quiet Monday night only two tables were taken and so when we arrived for our meal we had our pick of the restaurant.
The decor is modern yet quite soft and comfortable, various shades of browns and creams and some huge mock palm leaves made from cream fabric suspended from the ceiling (actually much nicer than I have made them sound). The lighting is muted and, if anything, just a little too dim. I like to enjoy the visual impact of food as well as the taste but just about all of our dishes looked brown.
“Freya’s” serves up a short but varied menu with 10 starters (including lobster linguine with smoked bacon, chili and garlic 6.50, Persian Feta Salad with golden beets, watermelon and tomato 4.50, and minestrone of green vegetables with cannellini beans and parmesan oil 3.00). For 7.95 we could have had half a dozen oysters or a dozen for 15.00. If you can’t choose you can choose four items from the list of entrees; “Freya’s tasting plate for two” costs 11.95.
On this occasion, however, we proceeded directly to the main courses. In the face of stiff opposition from the roast loin of lamb with braised haricots (12.50), I plumped for the pan fried calf’s liver with sage, onions, crispy bacon and Marsala wine; priced at 8.50 it was the cheapest of the mains.
With it I had the meanest portion of potato gratin with thyme and Tallegio; it was tiny but delicious. The liver was perfect very pink inside and it melted in the mouth. The crispy onion rings were divine and the fried sage leaves were a lovely touch. The Marsala sauce was just right the perfect balance between sweet and tangy.
My companion chose from the eight fish dishes available pan roasted sea bass with avocado and parsley salad and grilled courgette flowers. To go with it he picked the garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes; this was a much better portion than my side order. All sides are priced at 2.25. The fish was wonderfully moist but was a very small portion. Sea bass is always a popular choice with us and this is possibly the smallest portion we’ve had served to us.
Other options on the fish menu include pepper-crusted yellow fin tuna with pak choi and ponzu dressing (10.50) through to whole lobster priced at 30.00. Steaks are always on offer; a rib eye costs 13.50, a t-bone will cost you 15.50. All steaks are served with a red wine sauce and caramelized onion compote.
We chose a bottle of Chilean Cabernet/syrah priced at 12.95 and it proved to be a good choice, quite robust but not too oaky and able to cope with the desserts too. I had the tiniest sliver of dark chocolate tart with olive oil ice cream (4.00); I was intrigued by the idea of olive oil ice cream but when it came I was not convinced that it was not just some ordinary, but quite delicious, vanilla ice cream. The tart was rather ordinary and I would have expected it to be quite bitter. The pastry base was a shade too thick.
The other half picked the “artisan” cheese board; there were three English cheeses, one blue, one medium Cheddar and one goats’ cheese with a selection of oat biscuits, celery, grapes and a lovely tangy green tomato and apple chutney. It would have been nice to know exactly what the cheeses were.
Wines started at 11.25 and finished with Laurent Perrier Rose at 68.00.
The service was always polite and friendly but it was hard to get the attention of the staff at times. On a positive note it did mean that the waiting staff were not continually fussing round trying to keep your glass filled and checking you are enjoying every last morsel.
However, when it did matter they were nowhere to be seen and our plates were not cleared until fifteen minutes after we had finished our main courses the main courses that took thirty-three minutes to arrive from the time of ordering! They did not apologize for the length of time it took for the mains to arrive.
Overall “Freya’s” is a stylish and fairly comfortable place to dine but it needs to work a little harder on customer service. The food is just about there and the choice is excellent. If there is one other thing I would change it would be to have a screen between the restaurant and the rest of the gaming area because every now and again you get a whiff from the hot-dog stand and you hear the chink of coins falling out of one of the slot machines.
I will go back to “Freya’s”; the food is good, it’s reasonably priced and I’m sure they can iron out the problems.
Note – prices correct in 2007; menu will differ according to season and chef’s choice
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