Omni Café, 12 Front Street, Monkseaton, Whitley Bay NE25 8DF (0191 251 2819). Breakfast dishes £5-£15, lunch and dinner dishes £9-£18, desserts £3.95-£8, wines from £25

Some dish titles do all their own marketing. At Omni, a Vietnamese-inspired café tucked into the end of a shopping parade just outside Whitley Bay, they offer a “12-hour beef shin and peanut curry”. It’s a luscious kind of poetry; a line which deserves to be unpacked word by word. The presence of shin is promising. The more a muscle works, the more flavour it offers. Shins do stuff. But it takes care and lengthy cooking to get the best out of one. Those 12 hours should do it. Being robust, shin appreciates big flavours, so cooking it down in a rugged curry paste makes sense. The addition of peanuts promises serious depth, but also something hinged in that enveloping place between sweet and savoury.

What arrives is all these things but so much more: it’s a stupidly soothing coconut-based stew, full of friendly caramel tones, but with an added slap of chilli at the end. It’s similar to a massaman, but with texture from the peanuts. There’s half a lime for add-your-own acidity and coriander to bring fresh aromatics to the party. It lives up to its own marketing.

‘It takes care and lengthy cooking to get the best out of shins’: beef shin and peanut curry. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

I went to Omni for the beef and peanut curry; I stayed for everything else. Here come spice-dusted shrimp crackers, warm from the fryer, with a shrimp-based sambal, heavy with toasty notes. Here are sweet-sour pickled vegetables, sprightly with fresh herbs. It’s a grey day here on the North Tyneside coast. But I’m in this faux beach shack of a dining room, with its rough-panelled and rough-hewn walls. Trailing plants grow out along the ceiling fairy lights. There’s a mood of steamy warmth.

Omni Café is a product of wanderlust. Chef Corrie Thomas and her husband Lou spent years living in Vietnam and travelling around south-east Asia. They shopped in night-time food markets, and crouched over frond-tangled bowls of broth. They learned how to build the pungent layers of flavour in the pastes that underpin the best of curries. They entertained their new friends with their newly acquired kitchen skills, until a bike accident brought them home, where they decided to see if they could recreate something of what they had left behind so unwillingly. Omni started eight years ago as a tiny one-room affair. Digital archaeology reveals worrying references online to something called “Asian tapas”. Happily, those words are now absent.

‘Warm from the fryer’: shrimp crackers, sambal. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

Not long ago they knocked through into the next shop to create what is now clearly a community landmark, not least because it’s all great value. From 11 until 3 there’s a breakfast menu of feta and chilli fried eggs with jasmine rice, or crispy oyster mushroom sandwiches or omelettes made with that kicking sambal. A bigger menu runs alongside it for lunch, which gets bigger still for dinner. Too much of that menu sounds just too good, so we order recklessly. I depart with five cardboard takeaway boxes. I would therefore like to apologise to my fellow passengers on the 16.29 from Newcastle to London that day who were assailed by the ripe pong of roasted garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar. That was me.

From the specials there’s crispy pork belly, fried with Thai basil, garlic, oyster sauce and fresh chilli and served draped with a crinkly-edged fried egg. The skin belonging to a trio of huge chicken wings has been pulled back so that, when battered and dropped into the deep fat fryer, it fluffs up like a golden taffeta skirt, the better to be dragged through the sweet-sour dipping sauce. Hulking ribs have been braised and chilled before being dusted in spiced cornflour and deep fried to create a lacy carapace over soft, melting meat. Be generous with the gochujang sauce.

‘To be dragged through the sweet-sour dipping sauce’: crispy wings. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

At lunchtimes there’s a selection of banh mi, the famed Vietnamese baguettes. Ours arrives layered with Asian slaw, and the meatiest of deep-fried oyster mushrooms. It is the size of my forearm. I have big forearms. There’s also a ludicrous haystack of squid salad, which rises from the plate like the beehive on Cindy Wilson of the B-52s. While it’s striking to behold it’s a little underdressed, but that’s only when eaten alone. Taken alongside the rangy high-kicks and hoopla of everything else on our table, that mellowness becomes a form of culinary respite care.

A glass cabinet is full of cakes made by a lady called Vicky who used to work here. It’s that kind of place; no one really leaves. Check out the description of the team on the website: Lee, the fully tattooed sous chef with the talent for chatter; Michael, the waiter who can put his whole fist in his mouth and who is really an actor; Jess, who emigrated to Canada when she was a child and who has now returned with her family. She barely raises an eyebrow at our ludicrous order. It is restaurant more as family than business. The best often are.

We have a piece of their sweet frosted Viet coffee cake, the colour of autumn leaves. It’s outrageously soft to the fork. There are also fully accessorised scoops of Di Meo’s vanilla ice-cream. Ours comes showered with peanuts, salted caramel and fragments of halva, to make a barely assembled but very jolly sundae.

Omni was recommended to me by readers and I can see why. Obviously, the food is cracking. There are dishes served here you will suddenly recall long after you’ve eaten them. But there is something else, too. Omni fizzes with good and sweet intentions, all of them realised.

‘The colour of autumn leaves’: coffee cake. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

The night before, I’d had dinner at 21, the flagship Newcastle brasserie of the great chef and restaurateur Terry Laybourne. I’d call him a veteran, were it not a dubious honour. Instead, I’ll just call him bloody good. This 21 is the successor to 21 Queen Street, one of the first places I reviewed when I started this column in 1999. And here it is, still as great as it was back then. Laybourne makes the business of running good restaurants look simple: the water and wine are cold, the bread is warm, the butter is salted, the smoked salmon is perfectly cured, the côte de boeuf is medium rare, the chocolate soufflé is vertiginous and the staff seem genuinely pleased to see you. Omni and 21 have very different price points, but something else in common: they are both rooms in which you will want to linger.

News bites

A few weeks ago, it was revealed that hundreds of new companies had been registered at Companies House with names exceedingly close to those of existing restaurant businesses. One was called ‘Gaucho Restaurantss’, with an extra ‘S’; another was listed as ‘Core by Clare Smythh’ was an extra ‘H’ on Smyth’s name, and so on. The assumption was that these fake restaurant businesses would be used in some form of fraud. Finally, Companies House has announced a phased roll-out of new measures as part of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, including stronger checks, and powers to remove inaccurate information.

All-day dining and coffee business Caravan, which currently has six sites across London, is to open its first outside the capital this summer. It will be in Manchester’s St John’s development, close to the forthcoming Soho House site, and Fenix, recently reviewed on these pages. Caravan Manchester will have 200 covers making it their largest outpost yet, and will apparently be inspired by the trail hiking huts of the founders’ native New Zealand.

The Guinea Grill, the 70-year-old Young’s pub in London’s Mayfair famed for its traditional menu of steaks, pies, devilled kidneys and the like, has almost doubled in size by expanding into a next-door building. The new wood-panelled ground floor dining room has an extra 60 covers and there are two new private dining rooms. The Guinea Grill occupies a site which is believed to have once been home to an inn dating back to 1423.

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