Posted: 29 Jul 2010
A warm welcome – and a cut above
Since last December I’ve thought of Vujon as a bit of a lifesaver.
One Sunday evening in that bitterly cold month, after days of being snowed in at home, my husband and I ventured out to see Sting at the Sage.
It was an inhospitable night and the streets of Newcastle were slushy and deserted, pubs were either closed or empty and the chances of getting a decent pre-gig meal – or any kind of food at all – seemed forlorn.
Until we stumbled upon Vujon on Queen Street, that is, and found it not only open but warm and inviting with staff only too happy to serve us quickly so we could make the start of the concert on time.
In the flurry of relief at finding somewhere we could eat, getting served promptly, wolfing down the delicious food then whistling over the Millennium Bridge to the Sage I’ve forgotten what we had to eat.
So a more leisurely visit was definitely in order.
Since our last visit Vujon has celebrated its 20th anniversary in Newcastle and has had something of a makeover, both in décor and the menu. Nothing too major, though, as there’s no point in tinkering too much with what is clearly a winning formula.
The feel of the place is much the same – classy and fairly formal without being intimidating. There’s a plush waiting area at the front of the restaurant and the dining area is enclosed by high windows and sumptuous, draped curtains in chocolate brown, cream and gold.
The tables are laid out in an open area without any nooks and crannies which gives the option of pushing tables together for large parties or dividing them up for those dining á deux.
On the evening we went there was a conference group of about 20 people in the middle of the room with smaller tables dotted around but, because of the floor space and high ceilings, the large party never overwhelmed the rest of the room.
A glance at the menu showed that tried-and-tested Indian favourites such as chicken jalfrezi were still in place but boosted by some more unusual dishes such as pheasant, venison and monkfish. Modern flourishes on the contemporary menu included sea bass Goan-style.
We decided to try a bit of both, opting to share a starter of bhatti ka chooza (£7.90) – succulent chicken cooked in a tandoor. It was tasty, tender, carefully spiced and actually quite enough for two as an appetiser along with popadums and pickles.
For mains I went for the Goan-style sea bass (£14.90). Three fillets which had been marinated in herbs, lemon zest and garlic were pan-cooked and served on a bed of pak choi with a gentle but intense sauce around it. This was recommended by the waiter and he obviously knows his stuff: it was delicious and delicate and more than enough for me (although I ate every morsel). The pak choi was an interesting touch and it really complemented the fish, rather than making for an uncomfortable fusion of styles.
My husband chose his long-standing favourite of bhuna gosht – his benchmark dish at Indian restaurants. This was spot-on. The lamb was melt-in-the mouth, the sauce intensely flavoured (ginger came through particularly) with the browned onions adding richness and depth. Again, the portion was large and proved more than enough.
He chose aloo gobi (£3.90) as a side dish and I opted for ‘begun’ – a slightly tart and scrumptious aubergine dish (£4.90) which, on a diet day, would have been sufficient on its own. I’m going to need a few diet days if I keep on visiting Vujon.
What the owner has to say
Owner Mahtab Miah, who put £250,000 into the latest refurbish to mark the restaurant’s 20th anniversary earlier this year, said: “We’ve tried to keep all the elements that have made Vujon a success down the years but also respond to the more international impact of consumer demand.
“Fusion food is very popular at the moment so we have tried to diversify while keeping our high standards.
“Indian food has really come of age now – it’s not a case of popping out for an ordinary curry and some rice any more.”
Mahtab chose the Quayside as the venue for his restaurant before it was the thriving, buzzy area that it is now, and clearly he made a good choice.
“In the early days Terry Laybourne was the pioneer with 21 Queen Street and the whole area has gone from strength to strength,” he said.
“It’s always busy and we have a lot of famous people coming here, from leading politicians and sportsmen – especially footballers – to comedians and musicians. But we are discreet here – we respect their privacy.”
And finally, what’s Mahtab’s favourite dish on the new, revamped menu? Again, he’s the soul of discretion.
“I like everything,” he said. “And if I didn’t it wouldn’t be on the menu.”
So there you go – a class restaurant in a prime location for top people with everything on the menu personally sanctioned by the owner. And it’s open on a Sunday night. What more could you ask for?
Expect to pay around £60 for two with wine.
Vujon, 29 Queen Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 3UG
Telephone 0191 221 0601