Easter weekend tarditionally marks the start of the tourism season, so what better way to spend it than a trip to the seaside.
Seahouses is the biggest resort in north Northumberland, boasting as it does a myriad cafés, restaurants and amusement arcades.
And it’s bright, sunny days like Easter Monday when it really comes into its own. Step out of the car and the smell of fish and chips pervades the salty sea air.
This year, there was a sting in the tail of the dawning of spring. While Seahouses was packed, most visitors were wrapped up tight against the bitter wind, with Easter being so early.
The Bamburgh Castle Inn is slap-bang in the middle of the action. You can sit at the huge windows inside and watch the world go by. It offers amazing views of Seahouses Harbour.
Equally, you can sit in a more intimate, dimly-lit alcove if the fancy takes you. The Inn is extensive and has nooks and crannies aplenty to suit all tastes of dining experiences.
It was very busy when we arrived mid-afternoon – there was real buzz despite there being no background music to jolly the atmosphere along.
I settled down to a refreshing pint of Farne Island (what else!) real ale from the Hadrian Border Brewery and my wife a large glass of Shiraz (£4.95).
As I gazed out over the harhour with the fishing boats bobbing peacefully, I really wanted the menu to be wall-to-wall seafood, maybe paying homage to meat lovers and vegetarians with the odd dish or two. But it was more traditional pub fare, with starters garlic mushrooms (£5.45) and potato skins platter (£6.95 for two) rubbing shoulders with main courses minced beef (£9.75) and chicken and Stilton (£12.95).
I went for the only fishy starter on the menu – Thai prawns in batter (£5.95) and my wife plumped for the farmhouse pâté (£5.65).
My fish fetish was slightly more catered for with the main courses, with a choice of three dishes – that good old-fashioned English delicacy, fish and chips (£9.95), scampi (£9.95), one-pot coley (£10.95) and smoked-fish chowder (£13.95). The former seemed to be the meal of choice all around us, as one after another was paraded past us to expectant diners, which surprised me given the number of high-quality chippies in Seahouses. But it did look ginormous, naughty and nice.
As I had chosen a mini version of scampi for starters and smoked fish is my least favourite variety, I was left with the intriguingly-named one-pot coley.
My wife chose a vegetarian option – brie and cranberry Wellington (£9,75) – among a decent selection of non-meat choices (Roquefort and cherry tomato linguine, £9.25; spicy bean casserole, £8.95; and garlic mushrooms, £8.95).
We had to order at the bar, which, along with the size of the place, immediately gave the impression of a big restaurant chain.
Our starters were beautifully presented and tasty enough without being spectacular. Some of my battered prawns had not been freshly cooked – in stark contrast to those with golden, shiny coating, they were dry and crunchy. The side salad in both cases was crisp and fresh.
The large chunk of farmhouse pâté was smooth and not the rustic, course pâté we were expecting. But the accompanying red pepper and lime chutney complemented the oatcakes and pâté to a tee.
The main courses followed a similar pattern. They looked spectacular but something, albeit small, was missing to elevate them to top marks.
The one-pot coley (which took an extra 20 minutes to cook – a good sign that it was cooked to order) was indeed delicious. The smell when the pot lid was lifted was divine, the fish blending with juices from the leeks, cherry tomatoes, chorizo sausage and baby potatoes.
It was disappointingly small, though – I wanted it to go on forever! The brie and cranberry Wellington was rich and filling, the vegetables cooked just right.
I had room for a dessert and couldn’t look past the homemade sticky toffee pudding. It came with a custard-like caramel sauce and a scoop of Movenpick ice cream and was a bit dry at the edges.
The menu states that ‘the chefs pride themselves on sourcing the finest local ingredients where possible’, which is laudable. Sadly, the only mention of a local produce within the menu was Bamburgh bangers. I would like to have seen more sources listed.
Our lasting impression was of a great family venue and one that we would visit if passing but not make a special trip for.
Star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food 8
Vegetarian choice 8
Use of local food 7
Value for money 7
Toilet for disabled Yes
Access for disabled 9
Overall rating 8
Verdict: Good pub food, without being amazing; quite pricey for the portions; comfortable, welcoming surroundings.
Contact: 01665 720283 or via www.bamburghcastlehotel.co.uk