I have received several messages urging me to review the latest restaurant to join the growing gastrohub at Amble.
One said: “I don’t often rave about meals out as very often there is something to make them not entirely perfect. One place you should review is The Old Boat House at Amble. Don’t be put off by the outside – I have just had lunch there today and had the nicest fish I have ever had. They do a range of dishes often only found in high-class restaurants from lobster to razor clams and are open from lunchtime through to evening with everything local and fresh.”
Another said: “The Old Boat Shed (sic!) was lovely. Lobster beautiful. Scallops gorgeous. 10 out of 10 for food but service bit wobbly.”
OK, I was persuaded. To be honest, the latest venture of one of Alnwick’s foremost chefs, Richard Sim, was always on my radar, I was just giving it time to bed in.
Perched almost precariously on the edge of the harbour at Amble, Richard and his business partner Martin Charlton have done the best they can with the exterior – it does look a little out of place in a working harbour but should act as a catalyst for more to be done with an area that has massive, thus-far-untapped potential.
Once inside, you are suddenly in a different world. It was like stepping into a wooden beach shack, full of rustic charm, scattered driftwood, blue-washed walls, laid-back atmosphere, big, solid furniture and the wonderful smell of cooked seafood.
I could make a special trip to just stand there and take in the ambience. It reminded me of my most favourite restaurant on the beach at Watergate Bay in Cornwall, which was partly taken over by Jamie Oliver.
The menu is unsurprisingly heavily influenced by the sea, although not exclusively.
While the printed menu is exciting, with a wealth of local references, the specials board was nothing short of spectacular. Get these: Surf clams and mussels with samphire in a tomato and garlic sauce (£7.25, starter); pan-fried pigeon with a spiced sauce and bacon salad (£7.25, starter); trio of crab spring roll, lightly-spiced crab cake and crab fondue (£8.55, starter); whole baked lemon sole with a garlic parsley butter (£18, main); seafood broth infused with lemongrass and ginger (£17.50, main); pan-fried sea bass with smoked bacon risotto and a pea puree (£17.50, main); wood-roasted hake with crab and coriander crust (£16.95, main) ... I think you get the picture!
We were spoilt for choice and so took longer than is polite to make up our minds.
I consulted chef Martin, who pointed through the windows at the very boats that had made the catches on the boards. Fantastic!
So I couldn’t resist the pan-fried scallops with chorizo, garlic and parsley (£10.95) to start and the Nimrod-landed monkfish with chorizo, sunblushed tomatoes, olives and shallots (£20). It was as if both the scallops and monkfish had leapt straight from the North Sea, into the pan and onto my plate. The flavours were exquisite, the scallops so, so sweet.
As the Nimrod bobbed in the harbour and slowly disappeared, ghost-like, in the gathering mist, I tucked into my Spanish-style monkfish. It was beautifully cooked – a spicy fusion of Mediterranean tastes.
A side dish of veg – purple sprouting broccoli, sugarsnap peas and green beans – was as fresh as a daisy and cooked to crunchy perfection.
My wife plumped for the bucket of mussels with white wine and garlic (£6.75) followed by pan-fried local roe venison with spiced beetroot mash and a port and rosemary jus (£16.25). Take a deep, lingering breath of sea air – that was how she described the mussels. And she declared the venison (the deer, we were told, came from somewhere between Belford and Lowick) the best dish she’d ever had.
That’s some accolade. It WAS amazing – succulent, melt-in-the-mouth meat balanced on a bed of pink mash, the beetroot doing the trick.
Our 14-year-old daughter was treated to some home-made bread (made with Gilchester’s flour and baked in Martin’s wood-fired clay stove used to cook his pizzas) with sea trout pâté then seafood fish fingers, with homemade tartare sauce and salad (£8.95). The strips of breadcrumbed fish and chunky chips prompted her to urge me to write a good review.
Desserts (warm, sunken chocolate cake, Martin’s sticky toffee pudding and lemon posset, each £5.50) were all good without reaching the heady heights of the earlier courses.