“It’s Geordie but a little bit posh,” whispered Vicki Steele as she prepared to look at the menu of Newcastle’s newest bistro. “We do exist, there’s just not many of us. In fact I’m not even a posh Geordie but she is,” she said, pointing to her sister.
Steele is an early customer at a pop-up Parisian-inspired fine dining experience – Bistro Greggs in the city’s historic Fenwick department store.
For one month only customers will be able to order a steak bake. But it will come with truffled dauphinoise potatoes and almond-garnished green beans. They can also have a yum yum. Here it will be accompanied by caramel sauce and macadamia brittle.
Steele’s brother-in-law Johnny Heath did not even need to look at the menu. “I know what I’m getting to be honest,” said Heath. “Just the name … Greggs Benedict. It’s genius.”
The Greggs Benedict is indeed, the Guardian can confirm, a fine breakfast dish. It has rectangles of smoked ham, perfectly poached Cacklebean eggs – laid by rare Arlington white hens – and a rich hollandaise sauce. It sits on a Greggs sausage, bean and cheese melt.
Heath said as soon as he heard of the idea, he knew he wanted to come. “It’s a really good idea. Greggs and Fenwicks are both synonymous with the north-east.”
The roots of the collaboration date back to 2018 when the never publicity-shy Greggs reflected its logo on to Fenwick’s famous Christmas windows. It attracted lots of unexpected publicity.
“We thought it was hilarious,” said Fenwick’s store director, Kieran McBride. “Since then we’ve always spoken about how we should do something together.”
Greggs’s history dates back more than 80 years with the first shop opening in Gosforth, Newcastle, in 1951. Today branches of Greggs seem as if they are everywhere and in October it overtook Subway to become the UK’s biggest fast food chain.
Fenwick dates back to 1882 and the department store is still regarded by many as the beating heart of Newcastle city centre.
McBride said Greggs and Fenwick were two powerhouses of the north-east so it made sense to link up. “This seemed a perfect opportunity to do something fun and different and vibrant. It is the culmination of months of thinking and talking. There was no agenda originally, it is just an amalgamation of ideas.
“It’s fun. It is about surprise and delight. Everyone is smiling, everyone is laughing.”
The detail in the pop-up is impressive, from the Fenwick green banquettes, to the Greggs blue cushions, to the toile de jouy wallpaper that includes images of the Angel of the North, the Tyne Bridge and pigeons eyeing up a Greggs sausage roll.
It is an undeniably swish experience as dishes are served under silver cloches with, in the background, string quartet music. It is also Newcastle not Paris prices, with the Greggs Benedict a reasonable £8.50.
Fenwick’s head chef, Mark Reid, has taken the challenge of creating a Greggs-themed fine dining menu extremely seriously. “I like Greggs … so that helps for a start,” he said. “It is about finding a balance. How can we elevate the products? How can we make it an experience?”
The finished menu has been through lots of revisions and includes a Greggs sausage roll with a piccalilli dressing, pickled carrots and a cauliflower and cucumber side dish.
Inspired by Eton Mess, the Greggs caramel shortbread mess – with meringue and chantilly cream – has been made from shortbread offcuts. “It is a good story of sustainability,” Reid said. “The desserts were probably the biggest challenge to be honest because I’m not a pastry chef. It has been nice to do something a bit unusual and challenging.”
It was treacherous weather in Newcastle on Friday but the bistro was busy by mid-morning and is fully booked for the weekend.
Sisters Jacqui and Lesley were Christmas shopping in Newcastle and came in on a whim and were delighted they did. “It was absolutely delicious, I’m very impressed,” said Jacqui. “You can see it’s Fenwicks but you can see it’s Greggs as well. It’s a bit of both.”
“It’s posh Greggs isn’t it,” said Lesley. “Eating a Greggs with a knife and fork … I mean, you don’t normally do that, do you?”