Hitting the oatcake trail in Newcastle

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell puts his summer weight-loss plan on hold in his quest for the perfect oatcake…

Did I fancy going up ’Castle and trying out some oatcakes?

‘It’s sort of like a pub crawl but without the ale’ – was how it was sold to me.

Well, it was a tough ask, but I guess someone had to do it.

So the diet went out of the window for the morning as yours truly became chief taster on the Oatcake Trail.

Now, as anyone who knows me will attest to… I can eat.

However, I knew that even I wouldn’t manage portions at 10 of the 12 eateries offering a different take on North Staffordshire’s signature dish.

So I dragged along another accomplished Sentinel ‘foodie’ – Chief Photographer Neil Hulse.
Now before we start, let’s get something straight

Connoisseurs claim that the humble oatcake came about when soldiers returning to North Staffordshire from India tried to replicate the chapatis they had been eating.

Whatever the truth, I am a devout believer that our oatcakes are meant for savoury dishes.

They are not, and never will be, crêpes. Any attempt to put chocolate sauce, maple syrup, ice cream or fruit anywhere near our native dish should be outlawed. It’s against the natural order of things.

Secondly, buying oatcakes from a supermarket is just plain wrong.

Having been weaned on oatcakes cooked by a lovely bloke called Gordon on the hotplate at his terrace property opposite Hanley Central Forest Park, I have certain standards.

Thus I went into this exercise fairly skeptical of anyone attempting to fiddle around with culinary perfection.

That said, for two days only a dozen traditional oatcake shops, cafés, bistros and restaurants are having a go by cooking up their own unique version of the North Staffordshire delicacy as part of the first ever Oatcake Festival.

The event is part of the Shop Newcastle-under-Lyme campaign which is aimed at boosting the local economy.

I soon got talking to former newsagent turned oatcake entrepreneur Martyn Smith, of Foley’s Oatcakes.

Martyn, who owns a shop in Fenton, decided to branch out last November by selling oatcakes from a stall next to Newcastle’s Guildhall.

The venture is going really well. Interestingly, he told me he tried the same stunt in Sandbach, but sadly people there weren’t interested.

If you ask me, the Oatcake Trail is great idea and – if it adds to people’s enjoyment of a day out in Newcastle’s beautiful town centre – then I’m all for it.

Suffice to say that the staff at every single venue were as warm and welcoming as they oatcakes they served up. However, by the time Neil and I reached our tenth eaterie we were both flagging.

He was green at the gills and I was waddling like a lame duck.

So apologies to the Hippy Hippy Shake Company and Hector Garcia but, had we continued along the trail, then there was a very real possibility of one or both of us exploding in the style of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote.

As we headed back to our cars, we mulled over the brie, the roasted cherry tomatoes, the mint and lime chutney, the Yuletide flavours, Spanish spices and even the sea food.

But, in the end, Neil and I agreed that like Anthony and Cleopatra, Fred and Ginger or Hoddle and Waddle – oatcakes have already found their perfect partners.

Bacon and cheese… we salute you!

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