Considering Harissa is all about fresh healthy eating, it was a surprise to find it located in Sandyford, Newcastle’s student district.
Then again, perhaps it is a genius move, after all, as founder Jamie Sadler says “we really want to educate young people about healthy eating” and so, beginning with students is not such a bad idea.
And by the looks of the clientele, there are plenty of young people educating themselves first hand on Harissa’s Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern dishes.
Sadler’s easy going style belies a fierce passion about diet. A nutritionist by trade, he is striving to change the obesity and diet related health issues in the north-east through his commendable food and nutrition enterprise, Food Nation.
With Harissa, he can actually put his money where his mouth is by producing delicious and inexpensive healthy food as a going concern. “I want to show them how fast food can be healthy”
The restaurant is on a cosy corner, all trendy white washed brickwork, copper piping and bare light bulbs. A simple minimalist look to match the fare on offer.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t about simple food; it’s great flavoursome fresh food, but simply done. It’s exactly the type of street food you would enjoy on the streets of Cairo, or Tel Aviv, or Marrakech.
How can you resist dips like smoked chargrilled aubergine with lemon, garlic and tahini (my personal favourite) homemade hummus with tahini lemon and cumin, fresh labneh cheese with herbs and smoked parika and roasted red pepper with harissa and walnuts, all served with hot flatbread for £11 or £3.80 each.
The sharing plates proved to be equally addictive: spicy lentils with crispy onions, chilli and harissa yoghurt (£4.20) traditional beef and lamb Merguez sausages (£5) or the staple diet of any middle eastern local, piping hot falafel with tahini sauce (£4.50). There were others too, crispy aubergine pieces with sheep’s cheese, date molasses and fresh mint (£4.50), or how about roasted orange and purple carrots with feta and caraway (£4).
Perhaps you are getting the feeling there is a leaning towards mainly vegetarian, then for these starters you would be right.
But thankfully, my meat eating cravings were catered for too with a range of flatbread kebabs from lamb kofte or slow roasted shoulder of spicy pork, to grilled chicken breast (£8.80 each)
Harrisa is an excellent example of how food free from unnecessary fats, salt and sugar can still be delicious and affordable.
It is a tall order to try and change the eating habits of disadvantaged communities in Newcastle, but Food Nation and Harissa opens the window to the possible and at the same time offers some fine food for the rest of us.
All images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Harissa
Harissa, 31-35 Starbeck Ave, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 1RJ
Tel: 0191 261 5501.
Getting to Newcastle
Virgin Trains East Coast runs frequent services to Newcastle from London Kings Cross from £132,70. There are special weekend fare packages.