Hanging out at the Monkeys for a totally locally taste
It was Hallowe’en weekend and the pubs of our towns and villages were awash with ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night.
Even in the one bar in Alnwick where you can see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, there were some curious creatures great and small dressed in black with bolts through unimaginable places.
Of course, the scary revelry at the 3 Wise Monkeys was all in the best possible taste, as was the event upstairs, where cauldrons full of sumptuous stews and tables laden with artisan breads signalled a new venture – a banquet of local food.
We had to hot-foot it across town after watching the Northumberland Theatre Company’s final production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Playhouse – in itself a magical, mystical tour de force.
The setting for the forerunner of an Eat No Evil dining experience on Saturday was very Gothic – dimly-lit, draped curtains, dark, rustic colours, contorted light-shades dangling on long wires from impossibly-high ceilings.
Flickering candle flames reflected in mirrors propped in the windows to send light dancing across the walls and round the tables. Music from the guitar of Jim Railton added to the occasion. It was the prelude to the latest venture held at the 3 Wise Monkeys, following in the wake of the Hear No Evil live music events once a month.
Eat No Evil is a celebration of local produce, with ingredients sourced from as far away as Alnwick Farmers’ Market, The Alnwick Deli in Paikes Street and even Lindisfarne.
North Northumberland is becoming known for its quality food producers, thanks partly to the Alnwick and Berwick Food Festivals and the various spin-off events throughout the year.
The food had travelled the minimum distance, a carbon footprint so small it could have been made by an ant.
The concept was forged by Emma Whittingham, author of a recipe book featuring Northumbrian game. And game featured heavily on the first menu.
Our taster meal started with oysters from Lindisfarne and a chunky crab pâté from Duaine Patterson at the farmers’ market. I could have stopped there and been satisfied. The crab in particular was delicious and the selection of breads from the Running Fox bakery at Felton complemented it perfectly.
There was white sourdough, wholemeal sourdough, herb and cheese spiral, rye and caraway seed, sun-dried tomato, mozzarella and basil flatbread, garlic mushroom flatbread, sweet chilli and red pepper flatbread and, my favourite, mixed olive loaf.
Taste any of them and you will be turned off mass-produced, preservative-plagued supermarket bread for life.
The main courses were all stews of one kind or another and, of course, accompanied by those delicious breads.
Venison casserole with haggis was first on our taste-test. The meat was from Northumberland Estates Game and the haggis from Hardiesmill, also regular visitors to the farmers’ market. It was as rich and dark as the ambience in the room and tasted luxurious, with more than a hint of red wine.
I wasn’t as keen on the haggis balls, which were more like white pudding – an acquired taste that I haven’t yet acquired.
Our next taster was rabbit stew, with meat from the same stable as the deer. This was my favourite dish. Everyone compares the taste of rabbit to chicken. It is similar in texture but has a more subtle, gamey flavour. The creamy stew would normally be served with mashed potato and vegetables, according to our host – she’d do the mash, she’d do the monster mash (continuing with the Hallowe’en theme)!
More comfort food, lamb chilli, was served up next, with meat from Jimmy the Lambman. This was a more spicy dish, the kick quite warming on a chilly October evening.
We did not get round to trying the vegetable curry before the dessert – chocolate pots with shortbread biscuits – was brought out. They were splendidly indulgent, rich and extremely chocolaty – great for the chocoholics among you.
As a taster of the full menu to come, the evening was most enjoyable. I’m sure we’ll book to dine properly soon. If I had one criticism, it would be that the sauces and casseroles masked the delicate flavours of the local meat and the actual menu should include some more simple meat dishes, particularly Jimmy’s lamb, which is simply divine.
Sources of the taster menu
Oyster bar Lindisfarne oysters
Crab pots Duaine Patterson (AFM)
Lamb chilli Jimmy Bell (AFM)
Venison casserole N’umberland Estates Game
Haggis Hardiesmill (AFM)
Rabbit stew Northumberland Estates Game
Vegetable curry Turnbull’s of Alnwick for the veg
Bread The Running Fox, Felton
Condiments The Mad Jam Woman (AFM)
Chocolate pot home-made
Cheese The Alnwick Deli
(AFM = Alnwick Farmers’ Market)
our rating: 8
Seasonal changes to the dishes on offer
The plan is to open the restaurant every Friday and Saturday from 3pm until 9pm. As the policy is to source the food locally, the menu will change with the season and availability of produce. Meals are advertised at around a tenner for two courses, which is great value for money. Cocktails and local beers will complement the food. As we only experienced a sample buffet, it is difficult to judge the quality of the service but we received a warm and attentive welcome. I applaud the extensive use of local food and wish the venture well.
Quality of food 9
Vegetarian choice 7
Use of local food 10
Value for money 8½
Children catered for 7
Access for disabled 2 (upstairs)
Toilet for disabled No
Overall experience 8
Verdict: A feast of local produce.
To book: Tel: 01665 510177 or 07849595043