Oven – Luxurious but Affordable

Tarek Thoma is the man behind Oven, a restaurant that opened in Middlesbrough late last year with the lofty ideal to offer luxury at an affordable price. I talked with Tarek on a rare sunny day and asked about his concept for Oven, and why he has put a green sward onto Linthorpe Road. Then we had a chance to taste the food. What would our verdicts be? Photos by Tracy Hyman

Oven outsideQ: Can I ask you about how Oven started here in Middlesbrough? Didn’t you have a restaurant in Darlington?

Tarek: Yes we have had a restaurant in Darlington for ten years. It is not the same, not this kind of scale, it is a lot smaller. And then I had the idea when I saw the empty building especially with the University behind us and the evolution Middlesbrough seems to be going through at the moment. I thought it was the right time to come and do something a bit different, unique in fact.

The idea was to offer something that was luxurious but affordable at the same time. Many people would do nice food but charge a lot for it. Or you will go and have a bowl of pasta somewhere and it will be cheap enough. What we wanted to do was give the best of both worlds where you can come and have fantastic A La carte food but then you don’t necessarily have to pay that kind of price for it. So you can come and see us more often. Then it becomes more accessible to as wider population as I can. The response has been tremendous. People are discovering it and telling other people. We have exceeded all our expectations. So we are very pleased to be in Middlesbrough.

Q: You have a very eye catching display of plants outside and you are on this prominent corner site of Linthorpe and Southfield Road.

T: That was a very conscious decision. We had a boundary outside and the first thing you think is whatever everybody else does stick a wooden boundary or a metal one with tables and chairs and a couple of umbrellas. I thought it is a tremendous opportunity to do something outside that wasn’t necessarily safe. Take a bit of risk. Despite the warnings I had, people said this wouldn’t survive a day outside, well believe it or it has been over six months now and not even a leaf has been disturbed. If anything people have almost taken ownership of it because they like it, it looks nice and we generally just look after it and there is no littering and there is no abuses to it. It is tremendous.

Funny you should say about it because today is the very first day we have had customers outside (nice, sunny day). We are going to put out a bit more outside. We will put out the big canopies with outdoor heaters. From next week. So, it will look different. It will look a lot more accommodating to sit and eat and have a drink.

But yes we are absolutely chuffed with the outside; people like to look at it as well as the inside. It is doing tremendous.

Q: It was a real welcome flash of green in town through winter wasn’t it?

T: Andy why not and hopefully others in the street will follow suit and try to be more adventurous when they are planning what to do with the outside because I think it is a lost opportunity not to use it.

It is a great boundary. Tremendous footfall. The University is near by and to be honest the community has been fantastic to us. Lots of support for us and I think the town deserves it. Hopefully it is part of something that Middlesbrough can be proud of and also love.

oven diners 2Q: Linthorpe Road is very much a restaurant and cafe quarter and it is great to see so many places full of people out eating and enjoying their evenings out even in winter.

T: I think you are absolutely right. When I saw it first I thought there is nothing different between here and somewhere like Edgware Road in London. Or any other road in London that is famous for food and drink and famous for sitting outside and having a drink in summer. For instance just next door to us Creams has just opened. They have sixteen outlets country wide in London, Scotland etc. It is something completely different to us and is complimentary to everything else around. But there are more investments coming to the road and hopefully that will generate even more and it will chain react to hopefully the better quality restaurants will chose to come here as a location. I see Linthorpe Road in the next 5 or 6 years to be one of the most prominent food streets in the north east.

Q: It is certainly heading that way.

T: I think it is, I really do. Investment coming here is fantastic. We are doing what we do and other people are upping their games. And we respond and up our games and it is only benefiting the town and the customer. For healthy competition to exist in the town we live in can only be to the benefit of the customer. Better food and cheaper food than ever.

oven interiorQ: You mention the north east but we are also in Yorkshire. And on Sunday the Tour de Yorkshire will go past.

T: I know. I didn’t realise but I was made aware.

Q: Exciting for the town.

T: It is tremendous. Even the likes of cocoa cola approached me just yesterday about using the brand on a canopy outside. These people are into investing big money into building this tremendous canopy outside because they are feeling the change as well. It can only good for the town.

Q: Are you looking forward to restaurant week?

T: Yes it will be good for us to introduce new customers. We will give a really good offer. We need to make it clear that it is really good food to introduce people to the restaurant and it is no gimmick. It will be a week for us where I think we can win a lot of people over.

Q: It will be a good week with lots of visitors into the town for the Tour and also the final Boro game that has been sold out for several weeks.

T: We are all holding our breath. They like to keep you on your toes with these late goals.

oven diners

Q: You are talking about a la carte menu for affordable prices. I suppose some restaurants deliberately want to be exclusive and high end.

T: Absolutely. We are not that expensive but it does feel exclusive when you come in on a night. So you get that feeling still.

Q: It is a lovely environment. Do people feel well looked after when they come in here?

T: Absolutely. It is going to always be a challenge to get things perfect, especially at the beginning. They do need a lot of training. We didn’t have a big pool of people to pull from when we came here. When you go to somewhere like Leeds, Manchester or London what you maybe have is 40 or 50 restaurants of your type existing and having existed for maybe 20 years. So when you advertise for chefs or front of house you have that pool to pull from. When you come to a town that is smaller and less numbers of restaurants of your type. They are also keeping hold of their staff to be able to recruit is almost impossible. There aren’t that many hotels and restaurants existing. We have more fast restaurants, which are very nice but just not of our type. So, that is where the challenge is. Therefore when you do pull people from here you end up with a group of people that you do have to work really hard for at least 3 or 4 or 5 months to develop this group. In the process, you are going to get rid of a lot of people. We are quite specific about who we and thankfully for the last 3 months and they have developed much better place than we were in the first 2 months when we opened I couldn’t see how we would possibly have a team in here.

The differences were tremendous about what we wanted and what was there but we have bridged the gaps and it is fantastic now. So now is a great time to see us what we are about.

Q: Tell us more about the food, please.

T: I have cooked in 1 and 2 star restaurants in London prior to coming here and the food we cook is derivative of their standards. It is the same principles. But we then make it affordable by using more neglected cuts of meat.

oven meal 1So if you were to use for instance cod when you cook. What you are actually doing is you are using a nice well known piece of fish but you are not doing the environment any good. It is not a sustainable fish, it has massive issues. But you can use for instance things like silver hake, you get much better texture in the fish, it is much more popular on the continent, it is in London now, it is much more sustainable, it is cheaper to buy and you can achieve much better results than you could with cod for instance. So then you draw back on your experience and your knowledge to be able to provide something that has very high quality cooking methods and a final finish but without necessarily having to spend a lot of money doing it. Therefore the customer will come and benefit from a tremendous dish that is cooked really, really well. That is good for the environment and also gives the customer better, cheaper products.

oven meal 2So all our food is based on these principles. So we use cuts of meat that are neglected. For instance one of our steaks, flat iron steak. This is something that you now get in London in one or two restaurants but that is a neglected cut of meat that has traditionally been used for pies or mince. We have water baths in the kitchen and we tenderise the flat iron steak in the water bath for two days without actually cooking. So you still have a rare steak that is very tender like a fillet steak but it costs you to buy in about half the price so you can afford to sell the steak for half the price that you would sell a fillet steak but you have much better quality food than even a fillet steak. That just comes from technology that exists for the last 7 or 8 years. It hasn’t necessarily existed in this part of the world because nobody brought it in here. That is what we are bringing in very advanced cooking techniques and methods and vast, vast experience in cooking between Lisa my wife and myself and my fantastic team in the kitchen.

So, the dishes that we have are all what you would call signature dishes. So we do Tagines and a lot of people come back for that. We do the steak that I was just describing for you; a lot of people come for that. The Shin of Beef, again a neglected cut of meat, used in 1 or 2 star restaurants in London because of the water bath technology. It is all very advanced ways of cooking but there is a reason why we use these things. It is not just because it is there and we can use it. It is actually the result which well surpasses anything you can do yourself. You just wouldn’t be able to achieve this kind of result and this kind of flavour and the versatility of what you can do with it in the end is just second to none. That is why the likes of Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay use this technology in their cooking now and use these cuts of meat because it achieves much better, deeper results when you cook.

oven meal 3Therefore all our dishes are what I would call signature dishes and you would not be able to get them anywhere else as there is nobody that does a single dish that we do and that is purely because of how advanced it is the methods we use.

Tracy and myself were invited to take a table on an evening last week to sample the atmosphere and the back lit wall posters and most of all the food. And the vote from everyone around the table was big thumbs up it really is delicious, full of subtle flavours and you know even after a three course meal it was light enough on the digestive system for me to be able to run a park run first thing the next morning.

oven sweetFor the record I had the spicy French soup, beautifully but not over fussily presented. Then a really succulent chicken dish in a Diane sauce with a baklava to finish off. Perfect. Dave reported that his steak was every bit as good as promised in the text above. He also said his starter, garlic mushrooms were the best he had ever tasted. You can’t get better praise than that. Gill raved about her “posh fish’n’chips” and her basket of tiger prawns were the best she had ever tasted.

Which brings us to the Oven Restaurant Week Offer – and this really is a bargain.


Monday – Thursday, 
5pm-7pm

2 courses for £10

Friday – Saturday, 12noon-2.30pm

2 course lunch for £10

Sunday, 12noon-4pm

2 course Sunday Lunch for £10

Monday – Friday
12.00pm to 2.30pm
5.00pm to 9.30pm

Saturday
12.00pm to 2.30pm
5.00pm to 9.30pm

Sunday
12pm – 8pm

01642 200900

www.ovenrestaurantmiddlesbrough.co.uk

oven staffMiddlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th May 2016

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MIDDLESBROUGH RESTAURANT WEEK SERVING UP FROM MAY 2

Middlesbrough’s Restaurant Week is set to return by popular demand for its third year – with a host of fab foodie offers.

The annual event also boasts the inclusion of some of the town’s exciting new eateries among the 17 restaurants, cafes and bars taking part.

Many also have exclusive offers available for the week, which runs from Monday, May 2 to Sunday, May 8.

The feast of culinary delights has proved a huge hit with diners, who can take their pick of the town’s cosmopolitan cuisine ranging from Indian to Portuguese and noodles to the beloved parmo.

Some of the restaurants are brand new, Bedford Street premises opened only this month and Frango’s just this week. Others are long established favourites on the Middlesbrough scene.

al forno parmoAnd it’s given a real boost to the town’s restaurant trade, with those taking part last year reporting takings up between 10% and 35% compared with the same period in 2014.

Rachel Whitehead, of Pixies Diner on Linthorpe Road, said: “Restaurant Week has worked really well for us. It has given our customers a chance, twice, to try out our new menu, at a reduced cost, which has brought in extra revenue.”

Joanne De Melo, of new Linthorpe Road eaterie Frango’s, said: “It’s a great way for new customers to try all the different array and cuisines that Middlesbrough has to offer.”

Liam Percy, of Al Forno on Southfield Road, said: “An enjoyable event for customers and staff that promotes the towns’ varied restaurants and improves overall awareness of what is available in Middlesbrough town centre.”

oodles mealAnd George Ooi, of Oodles Noodles on Linthorpe Road, said: “Middlesbrough Restaurant Week is about the town celebrating the range and diversity of food offerings we have available for everyone to sample and enjoy.”

The full list of the 17 destinations taking part is:

  • Al Forno

  • Frango’s

  • Oodles Noodles

  • The Oven

  • Pixies Diner

  • Purple Pig

  • De Melo

  • The Nuthatch

  • The Curing House

  • Bedford Street Coffee House

  • Waterside Brasserie (at Middlesbrough College)

  • Holiday Inn Express

  • Eliano’s Brasserie

  • La Pharmacie

  • Kebabish Bar and Grill

  • Khushi Indian Buffet

  • Nando’s

Councillor Charlie Rooney, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, said: “Middlesbrough’s reputation as the area’s focal point for culture and leisure continues to grow, and eating out is a key part of that offer.

We’ve got a thriving multi-cultural restaurant scene, and the week is an open invitation to residents and visitors to enjoy fantastic food combined with some great offers.”

Nandos interiorOffers including exclusive set menus, buy one get one free on dishes and free tables are amongst a variety on offer next week. To keep up to date and to download the special offers visit www.lovemiddlesbrough.com/restaurantweek

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Oodles of Noodles

Oodles has been serving up its noodles for sixteen years. Owner George has seen so much change around him in Middlesbrough and is always a joy to talk to about his views on food and the town. I brought George round in front of his counter to share his thoughts and look forward to next week’s Middlesbrough Restaurant Week.

oodles frontQ: It is the third restaurant week, a different time of the year, May, and I am speaking to you on a lovely sunny day. Hopefully the sun will be shining then, too.

G: Wouldn’t it be smashing if that was the case. And also for the first time we are starting on a Bank Holiday Monday. A long weekend.

Q: There is going to be a big follow up of cycling events from Tour de Yorkshire on the Sunday for more events on Monday so hopefully drawing people in to town.

G: I will be working on Monday and I will be able to let you know. This is a celebration for Middlesbrough, that is the important thing and we will be opening and hoping for the best, for those that are joining in the celebration more than anything.

This is the third year. If you do it well it doesn’t matter when you hold it.

From 12th to 30th May the indie food festival is in Leeds, that is a huge big festival that is taking place. Honestly it would be good for people to go down because Leeds is now the food capital of Britain. They do a lot of food festivals. Every restaurant brings their food to Millennium Square. It is outstanding. But that is what we are trying to do here, at the end of the day.

oodles 2Q: How many years have you been opened here now, George?

G: Sixteen years.

Q: In the last couple of years you must have found a lot of changes. There are a lot more restaurants along Linthorpe Road. Opening as we speak actually.

G: Frango’s is the next one opening. Yes, that is true and there is a lot around here and there are a lot that have changed hands. That is quite good. A lot of them have tweaked under new management.

But Linthorpe Road South, which is this block, is starting to become the eating centre of Middlesbrough. Not withstanding Baker Street and Bedford Street as well, they are only a stone’s throw away.

oodles longQ: People are being drawn into the town now and they are being offered a real choice.

G: There is a reason now to come more than in the past and more than just for the shops as well. You can actually see the traffic footfall on this part of Linthorpe Road as well.

There is still a lot of awareness that needs to be created. Because a lot of the new ventures, like Bedford Street, they are getting a lot of promotion on hard copy and electronic copy etc but it takes time.

Q: A lot is word of mouth, I suppose.

G: Yes. And the word of mouth is spreading. No question about it. So, that is good for everybody. So the more there are food eating places around here it automatically compliments those in existence and also compliments those that are new, coming into the market.

Q: And do you still get a lot of customers coming in from offices etc at lunch time?

G: Yes, we will always do. We have been here so long, everyone knows us. If they want something that is noodle based this is where they will come to. It as simple as that.

Oodles food 1Q: You tell me every year that your are unique in that unless people go on social media on the day they will not know what your menu is until they come in to Oodles and read it.

G: No. They basically come because they know whichever one they pick is going to be consistently good. It is a question of whether they like it spicy today or they want something not spicy today and that is about it, really.

oodles meal 2Q: And they can ask your advice.

G: Yes. And most of the time if they are not too sure, that element of spiciness is a very personal thing, we can give them a bit of a taster.

Q: You serve dishes from right across the Far East don’t you?

G: Yes from right across south east Asia and east Asia as well. We get a lot of Chinese restaurants opening up and that is traditionally what they do, we do something slightly different and that is fine. It helps the town in terms of educating their eating habits too. This is also what Bedford Street is doing, introducing something different.

Q: What is your offer this year George?

G: Every year I try to do something different. This year we are going to offer people who are taking out or sitting in. A lot of our customers when they come in and try the food for the first time always take some of the food back for somebody else. Like a loved one or family etc. For example. Ooh the food is really good, let me take some back for my husband who has never tried it before. So this year what we are doing is if you are sitting in or taking out, we will 25% off on our regular take out. So rather than £4.80 you can get a take out for £3.60. People can say take one home and let aunty have it, or mum have it etc. Which is quite good. Obviously it is going to help the customer at the same time with the discount but more importantly is going to be applicable for the new customers. The existing customers are going to capitalise as well because it is a deal that is worth going for. We are not restricting it, it is applicable to all. You cannot restrict it because at the end of the day, you celebrate with the existing ones. Thank you, here is a discount. For the new ones because for £3.60 these days what you can you get? You can’t get a panini in town.

oodles mealI like to think about the offers and have a reason behind it. This is something that is becoming more apparent that loads of people are coming from out of town and shopping in Middlesbrough because of what Middlesbrough can offer. Then they find this place and they say Oh. If I am going back to Whitby, which is quite a way, I am going to take a couple of portions back. That is how the ideas come about. We do have a lot of customers from Darlington.

The customer that comes every week, that is the furthest is from Berwick. The family lives in Sunderland but he works in Berwick. So, when he is visiting his parents he will phone me up at 9 o’clock Friday morning. I say why do you ring me at 9am? Why don’t you just come in later on. He says I didn’t tell you that I am coming from Berwick. He drives all the down from Berwick to Middlesbrough, picks the food up and then he drives to Sunderland and drops it off to his family and then he goes back up to Berwick again, every Friday. He would come and buy four to five portions.

oodles sign

Photos Tracy Hyman

136 Linthorpe Road
Middlesbrough
TS1 3RA

tel: 01642 243 809

Mon – Sat 9am – 8pm

www.oodlesnoodles.co.uk

restaurant week

Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th May 2016

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Make a Restaurant Week Date at Nando’s

Middlesbrough Restaurant Week is only one week away and one venue that will top many people’s list will surely be Nando’s. As you will read there will be a very happy surprise in store for some of the diners at the ever popular Middlesbrough Leisure Park peri peri chicken emporium.

I met up with manager, Marcus, one lunchtime last week. The place was absolutely packed. Looking around me there were tables of families, students, all ages in fact. Everyone was tucking into their food and soft drinks and really enjoying themselves. It is certainly a very upbeat eaterie.

nandos signQ: What will your Restaurant week Offer be please?

Marcus: What we are going to do is at random 2 tables during the day and 2 at night will be completely free for the entire week. We have done that in previous restaurant weeks and in terms of comparing it with an offer across the board I think it is quite nice to surprise people. It is maybe rewarding the people who do eat out in Middlesbrough quite a lot as opposed to enticing people to come and eat out that week. So it is a nice treat for those who aren’t really expecting it.

Nandos 2Q: We are here on a lunch time. It is a nice sunny day outside but it is really busy. Is Nando’s always like this?

M: Yes we do quite well. That’s why we have got the ammunition and the reason to build the new Nando’s that is going to be opening on Teesside Park at the end of the year. The people of Middlesbrough like chicken. Unfortunately we don’t serve parmos, then it might even be more full.

Q: If that was possible. At the start of Restaurant Week we will have the Tour de Yorkshire and at the end of it hopefully Boro will get promoted. It is going to be a really buzzing week, isn’t it?

M: Yes. We do do quite well when the matches are on. Obviously we have got a lot of people going past the restaurant. We are going to be doing some promotion that week as well where we are offering free half chicken burger, pitta or wraps to the passing trade going to the match. It is like a bounce back to take away over the summer. So when the Euros are on for instance people are going to be able to redeem these vouchers for a free take away.

nandos 1Q: It is going to be a big summer with the Euros in June.

I think last summer when Restaurant Week was on you were getting a big refurb. at the time. I must confess I haven’t been in since and I can see you have completely transformed the space.

M: Yes, I am glad you think so. We obviously were really impressed. If you go to any other Nando’s that are quite new, genuinely they are quite breath taking. We have gone from a quite simplistic, stripped back design to one that is a lot more funky and a bit more going on. So, yes we are really proud of it. I think we were one of the most successful re-opens after a refurb that the company has ever had in that we went from our average week to almost doubling it when we first reopened. Obviously it helps being the only Nando’s in Middlesbrough. So say if we one of the Newcastle Nando’s closes for a refurb there are a few others you can go to. We got the feeling that the people of got the feeling that the people of Middlesbrough missed us a bit.

Q: People know the name and look out for Nando’s.

M: Yes. There are quite a few places to go now. It is not like 12 years ago when we first opened when we were the only place doing Peri Peri. Now there are a few more options, especially along Linthorpe Road. But I think people do see us as the original. People have maybe built up a relationship with the restaurant. They enjoy the experience.

Q: I can see this is very much a family friendly place to eat and there is a real atmosphere as well and on a lunchtime as well, that isn’t always the case at lunch time.

M: Yes, exactly. I think we can be more attractive to younger people but we definitely try to cater for everyone. I think the menu says that. We have got a lot of family friendly items on the menu, like smaller meals for the under 5s or 6s. Or platters to share for big families. That’s definitely part of the Nando’s vibe to be family friendly.

nandos mealQ: You spoke about chicken but what would you say were the more popular items that people come in to order?

M: We have got quicker bites where people grab them on maybe a lunch time. For example you have a chicken breast fillet that could be in a burger, a pitta or a wrap. But then we have also got, maybe on a weekend and especially on a Sunday, our whole chicken platters are quite popular. But then we quite popular with people that are a bit more health conscious or maybe looking for protein, with being around the corner from the gym. Those people might like butterfly chicken, two chicken breasts together. I don’t think there is a most popular item. It is depending on the time of the day or time of the week.

nandos saucesQ: You have the big car park, the cinema, the gym, the football ground and the town centre. You have a lot of things going for you here, don’t you?

M: I think a few of the staff joke about the Middlesbrough date where you go to the cinema and then for a Nando’s. Its like the two go hand in hand. We do see a lot of young people especially doing the Middlesbrough date. It’s the two things.

Q:Hopefully the sun is shining like today for Restaurant Week when somebody is going to get a great surprise, aren’t they?

Nandos interiorM: Yes, definitely. We would encourage people to share it as well because we want people to know that this is what we are doing. So, as I said, it is not necessarily about enticing more people to come to Nando’s, it is more about rewarding the people that have been going and ensuring still do come.

Will you make a Restaurant Week date at Nando’s?

Photos Tracy Hyman

Nandos outwww.nandos.co.uk/eat/restaurants/middlesbrough

Middlesbrough Leisure Park,restaurant week
North Ormesby Road,
Middlesbrough,
TS4 2AG

01642 250 007

Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th May 2016

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Enjoy the routes of yesteryear on vintage buses

Teesside travellers can step back in time and eold bus smallnjoy routes of yesteryear as part of an annual celebration of vintage buses.

The 16th annual Teesside Vintage Bus Running Day takes place this Sunday, April 24 from 10.30am-5pm with the main event at the Tees Transporter Bridge.

More than 20 vintage buses are expected to be in attendance, both local vehicles and others from across the country, dating from the 1950s to 1990s.

The buses will also be picking people up from Middlesbrough Bus Station and Stockton High Street at 10.45am and taking them to the Transporter Bridge.

old busAt the Bridge visitors are welcome to admire the buses and then travel on them free of charge on routes around Teesside.

trolley bus 2A special event for 2016 will be the marking of the 30th anniversary of the closure of the former trolleybus depot at South Bank.

Buses will leave from the Transporter to tour North Ormesby, Cargo Fleet, South Bank, Grangetown, Eston, Normanby and Teesville, sticking as closely as subsequent road developments allow, to the original trolleybus route.

vintage bus depotOther routes will be the former 0 service from Middlesbrough Bus Station to Stockton High Street via the Wilderness Road and the 47 service which is the same but which continued onto Yarm Town Hall.

Another will go over Newport Bridge and through ICI to Billingham, then past the Red Lion at Norton to Stockton High Street and the final route will be similar but through Billingham old town rather than the industrial area.

trolley bus1Inspectors will also be on hand at each main interchange point to explain what to expect on the next service.

The event is free and stalls with related memorabilia will also be sited at the Transporter Bridge. The Teesside Vintage Bus Running Day is a taster for Middlesbrough Local History Month, which starts officially on May 1st.

David Hunter from the 500 Group will be following up the Running Day by giving a free talk on a century of public transport in Teesside at Teesside Archives at 2pm on Thursday 19th May.

For more information email details-500Group@ntlworld.com, call 01642 782796 or visit 500 Group on Facebook.

vintage bus depot 2

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