Middlesbrough’s Sporting Chance

Last week my nephew and niece were over in the UK from Hong Kong. They both are very sporty youngsters and so the week involved a lot of ferrying back and forth to sports venues, the excellent Tennis World and the equally outstanding Top Corner Sports football academy of former Boro player Jamie Pollock. Every day we drove past the new sports village and fed off the buzz from the number of people out on the athletics track, being coached on the astroturf pitches or watching from the grandstand. We just had to ask for a closer look and were very kindly afforded a full tour on Thursday tea time. What a facility, we were not disappointed.

Many thanks to Claire Wordsworth at Middlesbrough Council for asking on our behalf and Duty Manager Dave Morgan for kindly being our extremely helpful and amiable tour guide. Sam, Ella, granddad Neville, young Olivia and Mickala were the very willing participants. An age range of 80 down to 10 and male and female. There was something here for everyone.

It was a tour that started from the comfortable chairs in the light and bright reception area. Striding through the cafe we walked through the children’s play area, the kids eyes lit up and Dave kindly offered the younger members a chance to end the tour in the climbing, sliding and soft obstacle course.

Through the door into the indoor sports hall seating 300 on retractable seating. It was set up for basketball, the long established Tees Valley Mohawks have found a home here, as has the very successful Middlesbrough Futsal. That is the 5-a-side like game that Brazilians grow up on and where they hone their skills. Another increasingly popular indoors sport, roller hockey will also utilise the large sports hall space.

At the back of the sports hall there is a 35 metre long sprint track, no doubt The Teesside Tornado, Richard Kilty will be able to practice his lightning starts here, as he works on defending his World and European indoor 60 metre sprint titles. In one corner is a weights section for the really big super heavyweight lifters. Through the other door WattCycle are busy spinning on their short, sharp, shock work outs.  Joanne Bannatyne and former Royal Marines Commando, Lee Howe have invested £75,000 in this fitness centre.

Upstairs is the big gym room, a far cry from the converted squash courts at Clairville Stadium with lots of natural light and plenty of hi tech machinery. Then it is a short hop to sit outside in the grandstand. Below which British Olympic long jumper, Chris Tomlinson was just finishing a session. The kids were excited to see him. That is all part of the attraction at the sports village where youngsters can be mentored and inspired by local athletes like Tomlinson, Kilty and GB distance runner Matty Hynes, Commonwealth medal winning wheel chair athlete Jade Jones and 400 European Championship metre track star Rabah Yousif.

The track itself is fantastic, having that eighth lane that Clairville was lacking to allow it to be used for more competitions. There are long jump pits and other permanent facilities for field events such as pole vault.

The same pattern of big name but local mentors will be replicated out on the 3G 6 a side pitches when Bernie Slaven, Gary Pallister, Craig Hignett and Curtis Fleming bring their considerable playing and coaching experience and personalities to inspire kids in their new Reds Football Academy. Bernie was coaching the night before, you could tell from the throngs looking on through the fence. There is also one artificial and one full size grass pitch for football. The artificial surface can be converted to two 7 aside pitches.

Just beyond the football pitches is the superb 1km cycling circuit where you can cycle safely without any worries of traffic. Ring ahead and you can use your own bikes on the track for free. For kids it is an excellent place to come and try out equipment here for size before you buy your own in the shops.

But the cycling facilities soon won’t stop here because looming large beyond the cycle track are the high bends of the new Olympic length velodrome. It is a £1 million partnership between Middlesbrough Council and British Cycling and will actually be completed by the end of the summer. These facilities are flying up. Just like the sports village this will be the only facility of its kind in the north east, in fact you would have to go to Glasgow or Manchester to find a comparable track.

Middlesbrough has long been a running town, for a population of less than 140 000 we probably overachieve in most sports really. We were once also known as a cycling town and the new state of the art faculties should help us return to our two wheel successes.

There was just time for the kids to dive back into the play area, notably open to slightly older ages than many of the other play areas in Teesside. But then again kids aren’t allowed to use the gym so they get their workout here and tremendous enjoyment at the same time.

I really cannot tell you how excited I am about the sports village. I can hardly believe it was completed in such a short time and to such high standard. There were hundreds of school children bussed in for school sports days all last week absolutely loving the experience. If the Olympic legacy has largely failed nationally we will surely buck this worrying trend in Middlesbrough and on Teesside through this state of the art sports village. It will be a phenomenal legacy that should inspire a new generation to put down their consoles, phones and tablets and take up a sport for leisure, fitness, camaraderie and pleasure. The kids told me that there is nothing like this in Hong Kong. How lucky are we?


Americana on Tees: Pixies Diner Prepares for Restaurant Week

There is a mud pie slice of Americana on the main drag through Middlesbrough. Slink into the colourful high back chairs of Pixies Diner and drink in the 50s rock n roll from the jukebox. Tuck into some chicken wings and sip on a milkshake between all the flashing neon and shiny chrome and you can dream you are in a scene straight from the movies.

With Middlesbrough Restaurant Week fast approaching, starting July 13th I plonked myself at a formica table to chat with owner Rachel Whitehead about the Pixies Diner experience.

Q: I have read about Pixies Diner being a family venture, is that correct?

RW: It is yes, family members work here. It is nice.

Q: It has a family atmosphere as well, I think.

RW: We get a lot of families in here as well. The kids love it. The kids always pester their parents to come back, they like the little pink Cadillac or the yellow taxi.

Q: It is a road side diner in the middle of town

RW: Yes, pretty much.

Q: How did the concept come about?

RW: It kind of evolved into what it is. My dad is really keen on the 50s music and we saw the jukebox and thought I want that jukebox in the business that we open, be it a coffee shop or a restaurant or whatever. But then we saw other things and we thought that would look cool like the chevvy that is on the wall. There were so many things we wanted to get but we wouldn’t have had any room for customers. So we just kept seeing things and adding to it and built it up bit by bit really.

Q: You say kids like it and it certainly is a little bit different.

RW: Yes, it is bright and colouful and hopefully, cheery. Yes, a little bit different from your standard coffee shop.

Q: You got behind the Boro when we were in the play offs and decked the place out in Boro shirts and flags and including the mannequin sign outside.

RW: She is called Trixie and we put a Boro shirt on Trixie. Yes, it was so much fun and a good thing to be involved in as well. We are from here, I was brought up in Middlesbrough, and so it is good to back your local team.

Q: Were they your dad’s Boro shirts?

RW: Yes, my dad’s shirts in the windows. They stunk of burgers when I gave them back.

Q: I bet he thanked you for that (laugh)

RW: I don’t think so. (laugh)

Q: What are you offering for Restaurant Week?

RW: We have got some new items hitting the menu at the beginning of July, so we are showcasing them in restaurant week. So people can have a taste of them, at a little bit of a cheaper price than normally. See if they like them. We get good feedback from restaurant week.

Q: It is good the week being in summer as well, isn’t it?

RW: Yes it is really nice. It feels like a few more people are coming into town just before the summer holidays. It is manic in the summer holidays.

Q: Yes, it is just before, when everyone is getting excited.

RW: Yes all the kids breaking up from school. We will be having some real American/Mexican type food coming on the menu like chimichangas, burritos and things. We will pop them on the restaurant week menu to see how they go down. See if people in Middlesbrough like them.

Q: What are the favourite foods that people order in Pixies at the moment?

RW: We do a stack load of milk shakes. You can hear them now (our conversation was set against the background noise of milk shakes being prepared) our home made burgers are really quite popular. Corn dogs; I don’t think you can get a corn dog anywhere else in town. And our home made desserts. People love the Mississippi Mud Pie and Key lime Pie. They are full of calories but so nice.

Q: A nice thing about Restaurant Week is that there are a lot of different restaurants to try, especially along this stretch of Linthorpe Road.

RW: Yes. I have been looking at some of the offers other restaurants have got on and will definitely be taking advantage of other places and getting fed somewhere else for a change.

Q: Hopefully people will come into town, instead of driving out of town and looking around at how much variety there is now.

RW: Yes I think that is the kind of thing that worked last year which is why we agreed to do it again. We did have a few people that came in straight off the train, from out of town. They had seen it advertised and thought they would come and try somewhere a little bit different. We did get some good feedback from last year.

Q: Oh good, so the week was a success?
RW: It was for us, yes, definitely.

Q: It was later in the year in 2014; I think it will have a different feel, Middlesbrough Restaurant Week being in summer.

RW: It does yes. People tend to eat different types of food as well in summer to winter. People will probably be getting a lot more milk shakes and ice creams than the home cooked burgers and hot chocolates.

Q: Unless the weather is like it has been this week.

RW: It was like this morning, it was freezing but it is nice and warm in here.

Q: How long have you been open now?

RW: It is our second birthday on the 4th of July. So we are having an Independence Day party. So I will have all the American flags up this time round rather than all the Middlesbrough flags.

Q: So are you a fan of Americana?

RW: I like the retro stuff. Obviously a lot of people haven’t been to America but everyone has this concept on American diners and it is just about trying to fit that concept really. It is a little bit different, a novelty, which I like.

Q: It is nice not having to travel out of town to go to a roadside diner.

RW: Yes I have been to that diner (up the A19) and it is nice. There are a few hidden gems here, there and everywhere and it is about travelling out of town or into town to find them.

Q: Hopefully you might get some new patrons in Restaurant Week.

RW: Yes, we might get a few new regulars out of it. We have got a lovely regular customer base. You know what day they are coming in and at what time. We can get their coffee ready for them.

Q: It is a nice touch that you remember what customers want.

RW: Yes, it is something I have picked up over the years.

When you go into somewhere you don’t want to feel that you are not welcome. So we try and treat the customers how we would like to be treated ourselves.

Q: Are there any other things that people like about the diner?

RW: We do private parties, engagements, weddings etc. We have got quite a few booked in. We have got a big 1950s party coming up. We get kids wanting to dress up as Grease and we put the Grease sound track on. Or we get people maybes in their 50s and 60s wanting us to put Dreamboats and Petticoats on the jukebox and reminisce about what they used to listen to. So there are different age ranges. We do a lot of children’s parties.

Q: I bet that is fun.

RW: Oh it is. I love doing children’s parties. We do little milkshakes and mocktail/cocktails and the little kids love it. We have dancing up at the front near the jukebox.

Q: Do you get kids coming in after school.

RW: We do yes and you see a few first dates as well after school.

Q: Oh really…

RW: Yes, with milk shakes and sharing pancakes…

We do a few offers with Groupon as well. When we first opened we did a buy one and get one free breakfast. We sold over a thousand of them. It was crazy. We couldn’t get them out quick enough. So that was really good, people getting to know us. So we sometimes do a few offers with them, it is something to look out for.

Q: I hadn’t asked you about breakfasts..

RW: Yes, we do American bacon pancakes with maple syrup. Have you ever tried them?

Q: I haven’t?

RW:  You must. It is so, so good.

Q: They sound like opposites to me.

RW: They are lvely.

We are doing some buy one get one free English and American breakfasts leaflets at the moment, for the quieter times in the mornings. We are starting to do a Pixies twist on afternoon tea as well. Instead of scones and sandwiches we do sliders and Mississippi mud pie.

It is always thinking of something different.

Pixies Diner

176 Linthorpe Road

01642 243807


Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 13th – Sunday 19th July 2015



The Purple Pig Gears Up For Restaurant Week

It is less than a month now until Middlesbrough Restaurant Week and along Linthorpe Road The Purple Pig is looking forward to a bumper week in the sun. Last year was the first week of offers around the town’s eateries and although The Purple Pig was a relatively new restaurant it was a very popular haunt with diners. Open the front door and you can feel the atmosphere as well as smell the gorgeous aromas of the food. It is definitely a fun place to eat out as The Purple Pig’s, Grace told me in a short chat by the busy till.

Q: Middlesbrough’s second restaurant week will be in July in summer time. Was last year’s first ever week a success for you?

PP: It was actually. I have only been working here for a few months but the first restaurant week it really kicked off in here and it is already going down well this year. We have had the little marketing stands on the tables and we have had a few people saying we are going to come back on that week. So that is definitely helping and I think there is a bit more marketing going on this year. I especially think it helps that it is in summer time as well. A lot of people are going to be off work from now on as well. Which gives us a bit more scope really. So I definitely think it will be busier than last year’s week and that was a success.

Q: Coming in here there is always a real buzz about this place and you can even sense it just walking past on the street. I guess that is a big part of what you are doing here.

PP: We like to create a good vibe for everybody. We feel like we can cater to everybody. We cater to the families with children but also the groups of adults and the big parties and people just coming in for cocktails, just drinking on a weekend. I really do feel we do cater to the mass of people. We do get a real age variety, little kids to over 60s and everyone seems to enjoy themselves all the time. So it is really great that we can do that.

Q: I can see people people eating with friends at tables now but you can also mix in with people on the long benches can’t you?

PP: Yes definitely, especially on a weekend when we are open until 1am when we have a DJ in and a lot of people do congregate around that table when they are drinking. Everyone seems to chat and get on. It also gives the managers the opportunity to walk round and speak to all the customers as well. Then on a weekend we do tend to push away some of the tables as well to create a bit of space for a dancefloor for where the DJ is, so it is a really great night.

Q: You have had a few big events here as well, haven’t you?

PP: Yes we had Martha Reeves here about a month ago and Craig Charles was on the week before that.

Q: What was Martha Reeves like?

PP: It was amazing. She was a bit of a diva.

Q: She has earned that.

PP: It was surreal seeing her live at a really intimate gig but everyone really enjoyed themselves.

Q: Was that in this room?

PP: Yes, she was in the corner, on the level with everybody else. There was no stage or anything. There was nothing around her. Just people really close to her and it was a really great night.

Q: A great privilege to be up so close and personal with such a big star.

PP: Yes definitely. I made her a cup of tea. It is my claim to fame now.

Q: Coming here you can eat some quite quirky food in quirky ways can’t you?

PP: Yes. As you can see we serve things in little bowls and we have got hanging kebabs as well, with a hanging kebab stick in the middle. We have also got the picnic table, which is a selection of burgers which comes served on a mini park bench. That looks great when it comes out.

We also do the trough which has a selection on it, a pork slider, chicken wings, corn, chips, steak, jalepeno slaw, onion rings and dips; a little bit of everything on there. That comes served in a dustbin lid. When it comes out of the kitchen everyone turns around and says what’s that? Then it really kicks off. People come in and we point them towards that and it sounds amazing and they get to try a bit of everything as well, especially if it is their first time. So it is a really good opportunity to showcase what we have as well.

Q: You are open long hours so I imagine you will get people coming in for a snack a well as a meal.

PP: We now have our lunch menu on as well, that launched with the new menu a few weeks ago. We have quite a few people coming for lunch; it is £5 for one course…

Q: You struggle to get a sandwich for that these days..

PP: I know and it is £10 for three courses. So, it is a really great deal. We do get a lot of people coming in for lunch. With working lunches, people think it is so cheap it is amazing. The new menu has also kicked off very well.

We do get people coming in drinking as well and having a few snacks and nibbles from the starter menu. We always said we would cater for if you just want to come in for a little bite to eat and also if you want to pig out, basically.

Q: I spoke to the first manager last year and he told me that you have a really good relationship with Sticky Fingers (music bar) next door.

PP: Yes, we do. We bounce off each other as well. I will ask people whether they are going out when they are paying the bill, “where are you going guys?” They might ask if we recommend anywhere. I tell them we are open until 1am but also next door there is a great night out as well. So we do always help each other out.

Q: A great thing about Middlesbrough Restaurant Week is that it maybe opens peoples eyes to what is around them. Sometimes you are walking to work and you don’t really notice all the restaurants, new cafes and bars. It doesn’t always register, does it?

PP: A lot of people do say that. When they come in they ask how long have you been open. We have been open 13 months now, since May last year. It will be nice because it will bring more people in as well. But I think people are starting to really notice us, we are getting a lot of new customers in, especially recently as well. The Restaurant Week promotional material is helping. A lot of people are saying they are definitely going to come back for that week as well.

Q: Do you know what you will be offering for the week?

PP: We are doing a phoenix chicken burger or a meadow burger and a beer for £10 and I am sure we will think of something else to put on the side as well.

Hopefully it will be a really great week and will really kick on, especially for here and the other businesses as well. Let’s hope Linthorpe Road will be buzzing for that week and it will carry on throughout that week once people realise and notice that there are great restaurants on their doorstep. Hopefully, it will be a really good week.


156-158 Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 3RB

Tel: 01642 232 785


Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 13th – Sunday 19th July 2015


Middlesbrough Restaurant Week: La Pharmacie

Every Boro home match I walk past La Pharmacie and the atmosphere sounds and looks outstanding. It is part of my matchday experience and if I wasn’t selling fanzines I might well be stepping through the doors myself. But I did eat there recently on an old school reunion on the evening before the final home match of the season. The food was superb and I was impressed by the manager taking the time to come over to our table to explain how the meals were cooked. The service was spot on and the atmosphere helped make it a very memorable reunion evening indeed.

That manager was quite new at the time, Salvatore. I sat down with Salvatore one lunch time amongst the brass Chemist signs and verdant foliage to look ahead to Middlesbrough Restaurant Week at La Pharmacie, Monday 13th – Sunday 19th July 2015.

Q: What are you offering customers for Middlesbrough Restaurant Week?

Salvatore: Restaurant week we will have our Mon to Friday lunch menu – £10 for 2 courses. It will be hand made with local products, local cheeses or our version of the original parmo as well, which is made from pork. Everybody else does it chicken but that is not the original. That is what I want to focus on.

This is our first year with Restaurant Week and with every year I want to progress and do something original every time.

Q: Salvatori, you yourself have only recently become manager but how many years has La Pharmacie been open now?

S: Four years.

Q: La Pharmacie is a very popular location for dining both on an evening and food at lunchtime. Is this somewhere where people can come and enjoy a more leisurely lunch?

S: This is an area of the town is not focused on the shopping centre or shopping so the people actually come to visit us for our quality of food and service and obviously we have to be a little bit different in this side of town really. We keep it a little bit more quality and quantity and consistency as well.

Q: You are not far from the Thistle (Middlesbrough) Hotel here.

S: They colaborate with us 100%. We do a lot of business with them.

Q: I have been in here eating on a night and it is a really good atmosphere.

S: Yes, in my opinion we have one of the best barmen, not only in Middlesbrough but the whole area, in Mario, a well known figure around the bars in Middlesbrough. He is Portuguese. I myself am Italian. I have a very good English chef. So there is a good mix of cultures and food.

Q: The décor in the restaurant stands out.

S: Obviously the Faulkners is not a new name in Middlesbrough. We own The Empire, Medicine Bar, we have a very successful business in Norton and we are always looking to business adventures but he is a man who knows what he is doing when it comes down to business.

Q: Yes, like The Empire it is very ornate and lavishly furnished.

S: Visually we have the look of a very good business; it is not done on the cheap, you can say that (laughs).

Q: For meals on an evening what are the sorts of things people enjoy ordering?

S: For example, apart from the matchday example with the parmo, the fact we don’t do it chicken. I think it attracts a different kind of person as well. Younger people can be more attracted to chicken because they don’t know the pork. But a little bit older people they know about pork, about everything.

We attract a different type of people. We have a Morrocan, local sourced lamb with cous cous, we have a different cut of beef, like a fillet, we have a tender steak, we have ribeye steak, 250gm fillet steak. We range from fresh fish, from mussels, to sea bass, to pollock and haddock. We try to source locally. We try our best to represent fine food in season.

Q: I remember when I was eating you came across to tell me about the fish I was eating, how it was smoked.

S: We use lots of techniques in the kitchen. We have American style beer in the bar and we have an American smoker in the back. The smoker we use for our salmon and the duck. Duck dishes are always very good. For even the vegetables we changed recently to a local veg man. Good veg from not far away from here. Fresh. That is the point the restaurant should be based on that. With this size of restaurant we can only get better.

Q: You mentioned the football on a Saturday and as you walk past to the match it always looks like a great atmosphere inside.

S: It is always a good atmosphere. Now, I want to break the mentality of one side that don’t want to be at a football-orientated Saturday lunch but with 20 000 going to the match, we have young people, all sorts of people and our atmosphere is great. We have for example a group of 24 that reserve the window area every match. We have loads of families. We have people coming in to drink, which we allow, we don’t want our other customers have a problem going to the toilet, so it is drinking in moderation. But we welcome the majority of people to have a good time, definitley because if you have a good time you might think I’ll come back with the wife on the night for a meal.

Q: So on a night you have people eating and also using the bar as well.

S: Like I said, Mario is a well loved figure in Middlesbrough. Not only an entertainer but a very, very good barman as well. We have a range of products here, there are seven different types of vodka, seven or eight types of gin.

Q: Where you are positioned here, you might not be near the main shops but you are next to the big car parks.

S: Car parking, cinema. I want to bring down the ideas that maybe because the restaurant looks so good people might feel a little bit afraid to come in. You should not. We are people persons and a customer related business. Plus we have a ten pound menu which you will see on Middlesbrough Restaurant Week. We showcase as much as we can for ten pound with super fresh salad. Obviously you can’t have lobster but you can have an original parmo or pasta. It is there. You can have it for ten pound.

Q: So the week is an opportunity to welcome new customers in July, come in and try the restaurant.

S: Of course. Everybody new and old we will treat the same and will be welcome. For all the restaurants we can showcase our names and hopefully people will choose us and if they have a good experience they will come back. It will be very good for the town.

Q: I am sure you must have people travelling into Middlesbrough to eat at La Pharmacie.

S: We get lots from around Middlesbrough. We have quite a reputation. But every year is a new challenge especially with a new manager like me. I set my bar very high. So in a restaurant you never stop. You think you arrive and you sit back and you decline. So you never stop creating food, or creating an experience.

La Pharmacie

Monday to Thursday 11.30am to 2.30pm ~ 5.00pm to 9.30pm

Friday and Saturday 11.30am to 10.30pm

Telephone: 01642 222250

or email:info@lapharmacie.co.uk

72-80 Corporation Road, Middlesbrough TS1 2RF


Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 13th – Sunday 19th July 2015


In Search of Lemon Tops Burning Hell Return to Teesside

The last time Canadian band The Burning Hell were on Teesside they were treated to a whistle stop tour which included an initiation to the culinary masterpiece that is the lemon top. That was last summer playing as a duo at the Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe but on Monday they will playing as a full band at the Westgarth Social Club. I cannot wait to see the energy and drive they will add to the epic narrative’s of singer Mathias Kom.

The Burning Hell are described as being loosely from St Johns, Newfoundland, constantly touring back and forth across Europe and the world they probably cannot be said to be from anywhere these days. I chatted over a dodgy phone line to Ariel the clarinet player from the band as they were driving through the Black Forest criss-crossing Germany. Our discussion quickly centred on lemon tops. What else?

Ariel: We are on the road right now on our way from Augsberg from Berlin. Not sure exactly where, somewhere in Bavaria. It is very hot. What’s it like in Middlesbrough?

Q: It is warm here too. You were on Teesside a couple of times last year I saw you play at the Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe.

A: Yes. Oh yes. We love Teesside. We have been there the two times last year and it was great and we got to travel around and see all of the sites. We got a guided tour of the Teesside area and ate some lemon tops.

Q: Did you like them?

A: They were amazing. Can’t wait for the whole band to taste some lemon tops. I could really use one right now we are in a van with no air conditioning.

Q: You do an awful lot of touring.

A: Yes. We did a lot of as a duo last year. We have been enjoying it playing the smaller stages. But now we have actually been working on new material with a full band.

Q: I am looking forward to seeing you as a band I imagine it is a very different experience with the band.

A: I would say it is, the band is pretty high energy and it will be a lot of fun. Fun for the audience.

Q: There are so many words for Mathias to remember in just one song.

A: Yes that is true. I am amazed every time he remembers but he has forgotten a couple of times. One song in particular.

Q: With the band having a lot of energy. It sounds like there will be a lot to see and hear and it will not just be all about Mathias and yourself.

A: Oh no not at all. There is a lot going on. Each member of the band has personalities of their own. We are very lucky to have this band, we all get on so well. They are great performers.

Q: Mathias talks about his magnificent dancing in his lyrics, will we see any evidence on Monday?

A: We will definitely be dancing. Sometimes we find it is a non dancing crowd but I hope there will be dancing on Monday.

It is a great line up at the Westgarth on Monday 15th June





 Westgarth Social Club


7.30 doors

£7 in advance