I can’t place *exactly* where I was, but it must have been somewhere between Alnmouth (for Alnwick) and Newcastle (for Newcastle) when I had not one, but two epiphanies: firstly, that travelling 130-odd miles for a kebab was immensely tragic, and secondly, isn’t 35 a bit young to be having a mid-life crisis in any case?
I looked out the window, staring into the beautiful North Sea on a crisp autumn day, and immediately rejected both these thoughts. Firstly, it was a Sunday morning. What else was I going to do? Watch Andrew Marr? Take the dog for a walk? (Note: this would mean I’d have to buy a dog). No, I was doing something equally as pointless, but far more fun. And as for mid-life crisis, I have always maintained that a mid-life crisis isn’t a proper mid-life crisis until I leave the moped shop three grand worse off.
It does beg the question though: Why am I going a very long way with the sole purpose of eating, then subsequently writing about travelling then eating, a kebab? I mean, I have been down to London a couple of times and reviewed shawarma/kebabs there, but that was as an adjunct to doing something else, like visiting friends or watching the football. This time, this was the main aim. So why do it? To explain, here’s a photo I nicked off Facebook:
That there photo (cheers David Henderson) is of the Glasgow branch of Döner Haus, the highly anticipated yet running massively late gourmet kebab restaurant. At the time of visiting and indeed writing, they have yet to open their doors. More on that towards the end. However, the long and the short of it is this: the menu looked amazing, I was getting hungry, and I had other places in the Tyne and Wear region I’ve been meaning to get round to visit, so why the hell not?
I arrived at Newcastle station at about 11.40 – connecting trains were off until 12.15 due to engineering works, so I went to the pub. A mistake as it turns out – the once quiet Union Rooms on Westgate has apparently been sold by Wetherspoons, and as the third hen party arrived in the bar shortly before mid-day, I necked my pint and ran for the metro. I was happy to wait on the platform, I figured.
Half an hour or so later, I was in Sunderland. Döner Haus is about a five-minute walk from the station if you know what you’re doing – alas, my phone doesn’t have a compass, and my sense of direction is piss-awful, so it was a further 15 minutes before I arrived. Quite a grand affair inside – plush couches, with a central island bar covered in tiles with the names of various streets and districts of Berlin. You know how in Subway, they have those old style New York subway maps adorning the walls? It was a bit like that, only without the U-Bahn lines.
“Have you ever been to Berlin before?” asked the waitress. “Umm, not for a while…” was my reply. Technically, “No” would have been a more accurate answer, but I didn’t want to look like the massively uncultured idiot that I am. “Well, the kebabs we do are based on the Berlin style, so hopefully these will bring back some memories”. The seal had been broken. I’d already fibbed about my going to Berlin – was I going to dig myself deeper? Was I going to tell her about the time David Hasselhoff and I double-handedly reunited the city in 1989? Should I tell her about that time I went on an all-night rave in a bierkeller much to the annoyance of Helmut Kohl? Should I go the whole hog and tell her that I was, in fact, Violet Berlin off of Children’s ITV’s mid-90s computer games show “Bad Influence”? “Umm… I’m sure it will”, was my reply.
“Can I get you any starters or drinks?”. The starters looked pretty good to be fair – the olives and garlic pida bread would have been ideal, however, I was conscious of the fact that I was going elsewhere after and I didn’t want to eat too much lest it spoil my appetite for later on. A drink though… why not? In true Berlin style, they offered steins of German lager, as well as good old fashioned UK pints and craft beers. Feeling massively unadventurous, I got a can of Brewdog’s Punk IPA. She left me with the menu, but I knew pretty much what I was getting straight away.
“I’ll go for the Berliner, please!” I said possibly a little bit too excitedly. “Ahh”, came the reply, “ze Berliner!”. I just assumed that this was just a humorous oh-don’t-the-Germans-sound-funny-when-they-say-the thing on the menu, but no, that’s how it’s pronounced. Despite the temptation to reply, “Ja, Ich möchte ein ze Berliner bitte”, I just nodded and said “yes please”. “And what sort of bread would you like?” As you can just about make out on the menu where I’ve scribbled over it, there is a choice of two sorts of bread – the Pida which as far as I can make out is halfway between a pitta bread and a panini roll – long, thin and squishy, and the Fladenbröt, which is a flatter, crispier, sesame seeded affair. I went for the latter, as is sounded similar to the bread they use at German Döner Kebab, which was very nice indeed.
So what was it like? Well, the service was pleasantly speedy – the waitress bought over a whole load of sauces that I could add at table, Nando’s style – I ended up adding the chilli sauce for a bit of kick, and some garlic mayo to balance it out.
This was the end result:
My first impression was simply this: “wow”. I don’t usually care about presentation – if I did, I wouldn’t eat kebabs – but this looked special. Compared with your regular high street fare, this was a class above – the fresh red cabbage, the spinach, onions, the feta cheese… wait, the FETA CHEESE? Since when does that go on a kebab? I took a bite, and suddenly it made a whole load of sense. Feta cheese should be on more things, and kebabs are no exception.
The taste, or “ze taste”, I guess, was similarly amazing. The guys at Döner Haus have clearly done their homework. The bread was thin and crunchy, so like GDK’s offering, robust enough to contain a whole load of meat and sauce without disintegrating, whilst being thin enough to not make the whole meal taste of bread. The garnish was superb – not your usual kebab topping but instead a mouthwatering combination of fresh salad and amazing sauces – their “Haus Mayo” worked well on this – think either thousand island dressing or burger sauce guys.
The one thing which I didn’t know would work or not was the meat. They’ve gone for doner meat, shaved off a spit, which is fine, but unlike most UK kebabs, commonly made from lamb, they’ve elected to make it from “prime cuts of turkey and beef”. The result? Actually not all that bad. The kebab was near enough greaseproof – not one bit of cow or bird oil dripped onto my shirt, for which I was immensely grateful, yet the meat itself wasn’t particularly dry either. Don’t get me wrong, the taste was different to what I’m used to, but it was still good notwithstanding the fact it wasn’t lamb.
All in all, a very good meal. Pricewise, well, it’s pricey for a kebab. There’s no getting away from that, I’m afraid, but given these guys are right next to Nandos in Sunderland, they are at least priced for the market that they’re looking to compete with.
As I left, I was given a loyalty card with a stamp on it – a nice touch – buy five, get your sixth one free. I explained that as I wasn’t likely to come back on a regular basis (the commute’s an arseache, I’ll be honest), but that I’ll probably be frequenting the Glasgow one when it opens. Now, she didn’t know whether or not that this could be used in other branches (and, I dare say they’ll be further expansion no doubt) so this leaves me in an interesting position – I’m either the first person in Glasgow to have a loyalty stamp for a restaurant that’s yet to open, or I’ve got a completely useless bit of cardboard in my wallet. Either way, she did say that the Glasgow branch is due to open soonish, and that there’s going to be an exciting new menu for Glasgow.
Which means I’m going to have to visit again in the next couple of weeks.
Well, someone’s got to, I guess….
Döner Haus, West High Street, Sunderland.
ze Berliner, £7.75, Punk IPA £4.50, tip £2