Restaurateur Andy Hook is bringing disused buildings back to life at Blackfriars, the 13th century medieval friary which is now a restaurant, banquet hall and workshop.
Andy, who has been at the helm of Blackfriars for 16 years, has dedicated the past few years to an ambitious scheme to renovate several empty areas of the historic venue – including the friary’s Parlour and library rooms.
He has also commissioned local craftsmen to painstakingly refurbish the dining room, which served as the friary’s refectory, recreating additional seating and an open kitchen.
Andy said: “We’ve been planning to expand Blackfriars for many years now, so it’s very exciting to see our vision for these wonderful buildings come to fruition.
“It’s been a very rewarding process to give the lesser-known parts of this historic site a new lease of life, and open up these new areas to the public. The rooms are hidden gems, several of which have been out of view from the public eye, and we’re delighted to be the ones to reunite them with locals and visitors to the city alike. We also have a fantastic and flexible space for private and corporate customers to enjoy.
“We’re very privileged to be the current custodians of Blackfriars and its unique heritage which the city should be proud of. Long may it continue.”
The Parlour, which is next to the restaurant, was originally the heated waiting room for visitors to the friary. For many years it was a gift shop, but it has been refurbished by traditional craftsmen and has now been re-instated to its former glory, to create a unique setting where guests can enjoy a drink before or after their meal.
The rooms above the restaurant, formerly the libraries for the Dominican Friars and meeting rooms for the city’s Crafts Guilds, now house a larger 14-seat Cookery Workshop to enable the Blackfriars team to expand the number of workshops, which now average around 250 per year and include Bread Making, Dinner Party cooking, kids’ cookery classes and corporate events, one of the few dedicated cookery schools in the region.
Above the restaurant’s dining room, the team has also opened the former Tanners’ Meeting House as a Tasting Room, featuring antique 19th century seating, which will now cater for a range of corporate and private events including wine, beer and whisky tasting for up to 40 people.
Blackfriars’ Banquet Hall, which hosts more than 300 events per year including weddings, themed events, medieval banquets, corporate events and private parties, now features a brand new toilet block in the former Prior’s Quarter, including disabled facilities, as a very modern addition to the authentic medieval dining space.
The main restaurant has also undergone extensive refurbishment, increasing seating capacity to 90 people with additional booth seating. This historic dining space has become one of the leading restaurants in the region under Andy Hook’s leadership, winning the title of ‘Taste of England’ in the North East England Tourism Awards.
Sarah Stewart, chief executive of destination management and marketing organisation NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: “Blackfriars Restaurant and Banquet Hall is one of NewcastleGateshead’s most popular eateries, attracting visitors from across the country and further afield.
“As well as being a fantastic restaurant, the building itself is historically significant so the fact visitors can experience more of this unique area of NewcastleGateshead is brilliant news.”
The refurbishment has been overseen by Newcastle interior designers, Design Collective.
Director Simon McIlwraith said: “It’s always an honour to be trusted to design listed buildings, especially when they are of ecclesiastical importance such as Blackfriars. It makes our job easier when the backdrop of a building is so beautiful to begin with but the brief was to make the space more functional.
“Everything from the types of timber, the furniture, lighting and fabrics have been carefully considered to reflect the rich history and heritage of the Friary including bespoke stained glass windows depicting the ‘Black Friars’ themselves.”
The refurbishment and developments are significant for Newcastle on a national scale. Stephen Patterson, director of communications at NE1 Ltd added: “Restaurants such as Blackfriars and others in the Hooked-on Group have contributed to making Newcastle the number one UK destination for independent restaurants and have given the city its unique flavour! We’re delighted to see such huge investment in Blackfriars, which is a landmark restaurant and has been one of our key partners in the NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Week initiative since the beginning. We know that the business investment and expansion will pay dividends for the company and for the wider city economy.”
It’s been a busy time for Andy and his team, as last year they opened Blackfriars’ sister restaurants - Hinnies Restaurant in Whitley Bay, and Dobson & Parnell on Newcastle’s Quayside, all of which form the Hooked-on Group.