31 – 35 STARBECK AVENUE, NE2 1RJ
WED – FRI 11:30 – 14:30 and 17:00 – 21:30 | SAT 10:00 – 21:30 | SUN 10:00 – 17:00
I first saw Harissa whilst walking at night through Sandyford and on towards Byker. In the middle of Starbeck Avenue, Harissa stood out in accordance with its address – through the large windows which wrap around the front and sides, candles within twinkle happily against the dark street. We both immediately stopped and longed to go inside, but consoled ourselves with the promise of a return trip at some other point as we were already en route to another restaurant. The return trip finally occurred in the summer, in a very different setting. Bright sunshine and blue skies threatened to take away from the candlelit appeal that I’d first noticed Harissa for – yet fortunately they didn’t at all, as the restaurant’s aesthetic fares just as well (if not better) in summer as in winter. Their light, airy room has a Mediterranean, nautical feel thanks to its sunny décor of blue and yellow painted wood. It’s delightful, and they pop tables and chairs outside when the weather is warm. Besides, the food would make a visit worthwhile even if the place were a dump inside.
Harissa calls itself a Mediterranean kitchen, and it does stalwart justice to its claim. It was a sunny day towards the end of university when we went, so we got two cocktails to start – a lemon martini and a chilli daiquiri. Both perfectly offset sweet flavours with a sour twist and a spicy kick respectively.
We then had a Muhamara dip (chargrilled red peppers, harissa, walnuts and pomegranate molasses) and whipped labneh (a soft cheese made from yoghurt) with a selection of flatbreads and crudités. They tasted as good as they look in the photos. The menu then offers an excellent idea, in which you choose your base ingredients and request whether you’d like them turned into a wrap or salad.
We got one of each – grilled tomatoes, falafel and pork sausage in the salad and grilled halloumi, bacon and tomatoes in the wrap. Both came served with aioli and garnished with herbs and pomegranate seeds. They were really very good – generous servings where the quality of the individual ingredients and the exciting flavours within them made what could be dull dishes delicious and interesting.
We were so stuffed we didn’t go for pudding, although their freshly baked cakes and sweet treats continue loyally to the Mediterranean theme with options such as orange blossom pudding with date syrup and pistachios, and a tahini and almond brownie with blood orange ice cream.
Their dinner menu serves slightly larger plates, such as monkfish and king prawn kebabs and chargrilled lamb neck with crispy aubergine, for those wishing to witness the candlelit twinkle. There’s also brunch served on weekends. An added bonus of Harissa is that they are a social enterprise; they invest their profits back into the community via their sister organisation Food Nation. So you can justify stuffing your face with the knowledge that money is going to a good cause. I couldn’t recommend Harissa more highly.