ne4me's picks of 2016
Posted: 21 Dec 2016
Picture: The Lake Poets
There are pizza places aplenty in every city in the country and Sunderland is no different, so to stand out from the crowd you really have to be doing well – and Devito’s is. Right opposite Mowbray Park and the city’s main museum Devito’s has free parking next to it after 5.30pm. You can get Italian dishes other than pizza here but why would you? The pizzas are huge, tasty and not expensive. What more do you need?
Peace and Loaf in Jesmond is a regular lunch-time treat to myself when I'm having my dogs groomed at nearby Posh Pups. With about four hours to kill I always go for the set menu of three courses which also comes with classy amuse-bouches and palate-cleansers. The deconstructed style of cooking is in a class of its own, the staff are great and the service is friendly, efficient but unhurried. And you can park right outside.
I’ve not gone off The Ship Isis near The Sunderland Empire but having nominated it for the last three years I’ll go for somewhere else. The Rosedene on Queen Alexandra Road near the Eye Infirmary in Sunderland, is one of Wearside’s more upmarket hostelries. It’s a large, comfortable pub, with good food every day, live bands on most bank holidays, generally a fairly mature clientele - and for many it’s the place to be seen.
The Bothy Bar at Beal between the A1 and Holy Island is another class act. Constructed from a converted farm building, it has rugged stone walls, a scorching log-burning stove, spectacular views across the sea to Lindisfarne and a wonderful barman called Chris. It also has a great chef who has worked in Spain and likes to add a touch of Iberia to his dishes. Timothy Taylor's Landlord is my favourite beer there. Usually only open Thursday-Saturday.
I’m disappointed in myself as I’ve probably been to the theatre less this year than since I started going seriously over four decades ago. My pick of the year would be the evergreen Tommy Steele in The Glenn Miller Story at the Sunderland Empire in November - a really enjoyable evening.
Get Carter at the Northern Stage in Newcastle was my stand-out show of the year. To my (somewhat biased) eyes, having a Geordie protagonist rather than a Londoner gave the play an authenticity that the famous film starring Michael Caine lacked. The entire cast was excellent and with stacks of action, bad language, humour and tragedy, this show had it all.
If my theatre-going was on the wane in 2016, my gig-going was more exotic than usual: highlights were The Dixie Chicks in Birmingham, Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium and especially Bob Dylan in Tokyo, with my north east choices being Gretchen Peters at The Gala Theatre in Durham in February and The Lake Poets at The National Glass Centre in May as part of the Museums at Night project – magical.
The Unthanks playing at St Mary's church on Holy Island as the headline act in the island's new annual festival was a special night. The atmosphere of the church and Rachel and Becky Unthank's exceptional voices proved a match made in heaven (ahem). And with rock royalty Ray Jackson and actor Don Gilet (star of the fabulous and underestimated North East TV series 55 Degrees North) in the audience, there was showbiz pizzazz to add to the mix.
Sunderland’s home game with Chelsea in May was one of the best five games in the first two decades of the Stadium of Light. Twice behind, Big Sam (whatever happened to him?) led his side to a superb 3-2 win that featured a goal of the season from Wahbi Khazri, an atmosphere so good it demonstrated the old Roker Roar is still there and of course a goal from the man named as the north-east football writers’ player of the year, Jermain Defoe.
It was also great to see England play football and cricket in the north east on the same weekend in May: the football team against Australia at the Stadium of Light and the cricket team in a Test Match against Sri Lanka at Chester le Street. Durham C.C.C.’s enforced relegation has left a sour taste but hopefully they can do what Newcastle United look to be doing and return to the top flight, though their heavy points deduction would make a promotion in 2017 truly remarkable.
This should by rights be a regional event, but I'm going to cheat and nominate Andy Murray winning Wimbledon again. With three BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards under his belt, he is getting the recognition he has long deserved. But that's not what he's about. He has the heart of a lion, a steely resolve and talent oozing out of every pore. Long may he reign.