In this day and age, the cynical, jaded, 21st-century people that we are tend not to be surprised by much at all.
And even less frequently is something a pleasant surprise. So I was delighted this weekend to be able to walk away from a restaurant in Alnwick thinking that I have found somewhere to which I will definitely be returning.
Now don’t get me wrong, the town and the surrounding area have plenty of decent places to eat, but if I have guests, as was the case on Saturday, I tend to stick to what I know – the tried-and-tested eateries where I know we will enjoy the evening.
So it was with some trepidation that we ventured somewhere new, both for us and the establishment itself, although I have to admit that this was only after a couple of knock-backs elsewhere with one being closed and the other being fully booked.
But by 11pm when we prepared to exit the cosy warmth of The Art House to return to the bracing Northumbrian winter’s night, not only had we tried somewhere new, but all four of us had eaten our fill of delicious food.
The new couple in charge of The Art House opened it just before Christmas, expanding into the former Gate Gallery, and while I confess I never visited the restaurant in its previous guise, it certainly looks good now.
The staircase up from the entrance hall opens up into the bar area, which has a trendy, laid-back feel, offering tapas and snacks for those wishing to eat.
The place is a bit of a rabbit warren, as you go round back onto yourself before heading through the back into the restaurant area, split into two rooms.
And the art theme remains with pieces of artwork all around, some of it being for sale.
The restaurant was full and the bar was fairly busy for most of the evening and once we had eaten, it was easy to see why.
The menu offers a large amount of choice with plenty of starters, mains and separate grill and burgers sections.
The selection was wide enough that the four of us eating all opted for different first and second courses.
To begin, I went for the pulled BBQ pork flatbread with salsa, Doddington Dairy cheese and sour cream (£5.95).
The most obvious thing to say about it was that it was a giant portion.
Luckily I hadn’t eaten since about noon, but it could easily suffice as a main course or certainly shared between two.
The flatbread was thin and crispy and it was topped with plenty of pork, BBQ-style sauce and sour cream.
Equally sizeable – and tasty – were the nachos with melted cheese, sour cream, salsa and jalapenos (£4.95).
The other choices on our table, which also went down very well, were the salt and pepper squid with lime mayonnaise (£4.95) and flash-fried king prawns in garlic butter with warm ciabatta (£6.95).
To follow that up, I was relieved that I chose the pan-fried fillet of seabass with pea and spinach risotto, fresh parmesan and pea oil (£9.95), not only because it was delicious, but also as it was slightly lighter and fresher than the steak I almost went for.
(However, I will definitely be returning for an 8oz rump with sauce, chips, onion rings etc, a steal at £10.95.)
The seabass was perfectly cooked with soft, delicate flesh and crispy skin while the risotto had the fresh flavours of pea and mint as well as a strong vein of rich parmesan running through it.
Other selections on the night were crispy belly pork with black pudding mash and creamy cider apple sauce (£10.95) and lamb, red wine and rosemary casserole with lamb dumplings (£9.95).
The missus decided to venture into the burger menu, which offers eight choices of toppings on either a 10oz steak burger or a chargrilled chicken burger.
She opted for the Frenchie – brie, bacon and caramelised onion – on chicken (£10.95) and I was impressed when she polished it off as again the portion was very healthy.
As you may have guessed, none of us was left with the appetite for dessert and I didn’t even manage to see a menu, so I can’t comment, but the rest of the meal would suggest good things.
We drank wine with our meal and had a very palatable Chilean merlot (£14.50) off a decent-looking wine list that had quite enough choice for any casual connoisseurs.
However, needless to say, with the bar next door, the range of other drinks is good with cocktails on offer too.
PLENTY TO KEEP YOU RETURNING TIME AFTER TIME
All four of us really enjoyed the food we had at The Art House and you certainly can’t grumble at the prices with plenty of starters under a fiver and plenty of mains under a tenner. I enjoyed what I ordered, but there are many more dishes on the menu that I would like to try.
Plus there’s the likes of Sunday lunches (£7.95), steak night on Thursdays (£25 for two including starters and drinks) and the burger challenge (50oz of meat!).
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Grilled goats’ cheese and cranberry salad £4.95
Black pudding and chorizo salad £4.95
Crispy potato skins with garlic mayonnaise £4.95
Grilled halloumi cheese, hummus and caramelised onion flatbread £5.95
BBQ baby-back ribs with homemade slaw £5.95
Sausage and wholegrain mustard mash £9.95
Steak and Alnwick IPA pie £9
Sizzling fillet fajitas: Vegetable £7.95; chicken £8.95; steak £10.95.
Tagliatelle with king prawns £8.95
10oz gammon steak £10.95
10oz rib-eye steak £15.95
STAR RATINGS (OUT OF 10)
Quality of food 9
Vegetarian choice 7
Value for money 9
Local food 5
Children catered for 7½
Access for disabled 1 (upstairs)
Toilet for disabled No
VERDICT: A wide range of big and tasty options for very decent prices, with plenty to keep you going back for more.
CONTACT: 01665 602607 or search for The Art House on Facebook.