This is very much a tale of the unexpected.
Who would have guessed that a fish restaurant attached and supplied by one of Northumberland’s most iconic food suppliers was run by a French restaurateur and had a heavy Brazilian and Portuguese flavour?
Certainly not me! But, by George, does it work.
The Brazilian chef has brought her South American recipes, ingredients and ideas across from Rio, so if you want to get into World Cup mood, you know where to go.
The restaurant is within Robson’s smokehouse premises, where the entrance is not the most salubrious, but once inside, the ambience is very French, bijou and elegant – wooden floorboards, simple furniture, whitewashed and stone walls, coupled with the most fantastic views over Craster harbour to the eerie ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.
It was particularly atmospheric on the evening we went, as dark skies yielded a curtain of rain that meant folk scurried past huddled against the elements.
Paintings from local artist Mick Oxley adorned the walls and a low level of background music filled in when the lively chatter occasionally receded.
We received the friendliest welcome from staff and were handed a compact list of well-selected wines, with bottles from Europe and New World countries, ranging in price from £13.95 to £28 and accompanied by concise tasting notes. We chose a fruity Spanish Rioja at £14.50.
A carafe of water and plate of super artisan breads were promptly delivered (shame about the butter in small plastic containers!).
The menu was a fusion of those continental inspirations and the locally caught or cured seafood.
It featured predominantly creatures from the sea – you’d expect nothing less from a fish restaurant perched above a North Sea harbour. There were a couple of meat dishes and vegetarians don’t really get a look-in, but the chef will cater, ad hoc, for all dietary requirements if requested.
The Brazilian influence is palpable – my starter, for instance, was casquinha de siri, a hot crab dish with its origins in Portugal (£6.30).
It was truly divine. Local crab cooked in mellow palm-fruit oil, with garlic, red pepper, coriander and just a hint of chilli, not too much to mask the other more subtle flavours, yet enough to give the crab a nip. Such an amazing combination of tastes simply caressed the palate.
A pot of breadcrumbs and an imaginative salad, complete with blackberries, crisp peppers, grapes, strawberries, olives, cucumber and mixed lettuce leaves, all presented invitingly, made this an exotic way to kick off the meal.
Across the way, an equally impressive dish arrived – trio of homemade fish pâtés served with assorted biscuits and chutney (£6.80) – a meal in itself. The pâtés were salmon, kipper and sardine, but vary depending on the catch, and were chunky, full of flavour and very filling. A good selection of biscuits, the same fantastic salad and a delightful chutney meant this starter was excellent value for money.
The main-course selection made this seafood fan’s mouth water. After much deliberation, I plumped for king prawns and scallops with a puree of butternut squash and coconut (£14.95). The mixture of flavours took my breath away and I was transported to the vibrant streets of Latin America. If I were being critical, I’d say the prawns were over-fried for my taste and too brown, but that would be splitting hairs.
The vegetables – creamed spinach and butternut squash with coriander – were out of the ordinary too and a pleasant change from carrots and broccoli. The chips were also splendid.
My wife was going to choose the peixe a l’escabeche, which is made with cod or haddock, depending on the catch of the day, and is served with basmati rice (£12.90), but instead went for haddock smoked on the premises, served with sautéd spinach and homemade creamy dill sauce (also £12.90). She was torn between the two and it now means we’ll have to return to taste the other dish!
Desserts lean heavily on seasonal fruit, so rhubarb was the main feature during our visit. We just about had room to share something from the small selection – another Brazilian treat, banana pudding, which was like a cross between sticky toffee and bread-and-butter puddings. A great way to wrap up a sublime evening. Expect us back!
GREAT SERVICE WITH MORE THAN JUST A SMILE
One of highlights of the Craster Restaurant is the warm welcome and enthusiastic, friendly service, especially from the Parisian owner and Brazilian chef, who emerged from the kitchen to check at each table whether everyone had enjoyed their meals. First class!
A lunch menu of sandwiches on artisan bread and a selection of more wholesome meals, ranging from homemade soup at £4.50 or dressed Roquefort cheese salad with chicory, walnuts, pear and apple at £6.70 to scampi dipped in special batter at £11.50, is also available. However, the restaurant is not open on a Sunday.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Craster skink soup (smoked haddock, leeks, potatoes, artisan bread)......£6.10
Homemade soup of the day......£4.50
Prawn and crayfish cocktail......£6.80
Roulade of Craster smoked salmon......£6.90
Smoked salmon parcel, goat’s cheese, guacamole, chives......£6.90
Scampi in special batter......£11.50
Tagliatelle with mussels......£11.10
Cold seafood selection......£18
Fish & chips......£11.50
Pan-grilled salmon darne......£12.95
Chicken with mascarpone......£10.90
DESSERTS (all £4.95)
Rhubarb upside-down cake, rhubarb chandelle, Brazilian banana pudding, Mark Toney ice cream selection.
Quality of food......9
Value for money......7½
Use of local food......9
Access for disabled (a couple of steps but ramps available)......5
Toilet for disabled......No
Verdict: A pearl. Splendid food, with a continental twist.
Contact: 01665 576230 or visit www.kipper.co.uk/acatalog/Restaurant.html