I have to confess there are few pleasures finer than an evening spent at the theatre preceded by a meal out.
Alnwick is lucky to have in its midst one of the best theatres in the county – the Playhouse.
And many of the nearby eating establishments have recognised its potential and are now tapping into this captive audience, as it were, with special theatrical meal deals and discounts.
It is good to see these venues working together to offer attractive packages for evening revellers.
The Playhouse itself has been serving hot and cold food for more than a year.
Its café is open from 10am to 2.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and an hour-and-a-half before evening shows.
As well as a tantalising glimpse into the glamour of the performing arts, it also offers an amazing window onto the passing world of Alnwick, situated as it is slap-bang next to one of the town’s most iconic monuments, the Hotspur or Bondgate Tower, through which a constant stream of traffic passes into the medieval town.
It’s also ideal if you’re nosy like me and enjoy people-watching!
There are other opportunities to immerse yourself in culture, with the frequently changing exhibitions of the Bondgate Gallery on the walls opposite those towering windows staring down on you as you eat.
The ground-floor space is quite public and busy, with box-office customers walking through, but up the quirky spiral stairs (or lift if you can’t manage stairs) you enter another little world, more private and from where you can really spy on folk passing by.
The Playhouse has become a real community venue, with groups using the various spaces for meetings, workshops, gatherings and pretty much anything. So it can get quite busy. On such days, diners can spill into the bar area if necessary.
We bustled in for a quick, snatched midweek lunch and pounced on the last available table downstairs. The menu is adequate for a small catering operation, with a selection of sandwiches (toasted or cold), paninis, plus a varying choice of quiches, pies and the like, and soup that is made on the premises.
Staff endeavour to source everything locally, whether it’s Greenwell Bakery in Rothbury for bread and cakes or Turnbull’s of Alnwick for meat products, Doddington’s for cheeses or even various local Mrs Cannybodys who can bake to professional standards.
A great range of teas and coffees are supplemented by wine and bottles of ale from local breweries Allendale and Hadrian Border and also Alnwick IPA.
Vegetarians have a special place in the Playhouse’s heart – it caters for vegans, serves soy milk and dairy-free cakes, if required.
We had arrived too late to sample the popular soup with a slice of Northumberland stottie bread (£3.50). It had been tomato and red pepper – all the soups are made on the premises.
So I went for a chicken and leek pie (£4) with the same trimmings that accompanies just about everything – salad, root vegetable crisps – while my wife went for cheese and ham quiche. We both opted for warm versions – it was a nippy day! The portions were generous and the plates overflowing.
My pie was splendidly tasty, crammed with luscious chicken and a rich, creamy filling – a Turnbull’s pie, unless I was very much mistaken (you can’t beat a Turnbull’s pie). It even stood up well to microwaving, unfortunately a neccesity in a small café.
A crisp, clean and colourful salad , some equally creamy coleslaw and the root vegetable crisps completed the picture. I wouldn’t say it was a five-star gourmet offering but as a decent lunch at an excellent price, you would be hard pressed to find a better deal.
The quiche was also good quality, with large chunks of ham and “you could taste the homemadeness of it”, as Mrs L put it. We guessed Turnbull’s again.
A warming cup of tea had been delivered to our table before we moved on to the far-too-tempting cake selection (£1.75 to £2.50).
The sight of the huge blocks of carrot cake (£2.50) were irresistible to my wife, while I went for the more delicate apple and almond sponge slice (£2)! Both were a splendid way to finish the lunch, not too sweet and quite light.
The Playhouse offers good fare at very competitive prices in a lively venue.
BOOK A DATE WITH A SPECIAL PLATTER
The Playhouse can offer theatregoers a feast before they settle down to watch a show. Their special platters are a very reasonable £5.95 or £7.95 to share.
The Mediterranean Platter consists of Parma ham, salami, olives, red peppers stuffed with cream cheese, feta cheese served with crusty bread, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The Ploughman’s Platter is sliced ham, a selection of Northumberland cheeses, oatcakes, crackers, pickled onions and a pork pie, served with caramelised onion relish, crusty bread and butter.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Most dishes are served with salad, root vegetable crisps and coleslaw.
Northumberland stottie bread with choice of fillings: Cheese (£3.25), ham (£3.50), tuna (£4) .
Cheese (£3.60), cheese and tomato (£3.80, cheese and onion (£3.80), cheese and ham (£4).
Soup with slice of Northumbrian stottie bread......£3.50
Cream tea (scone with butter, cream and jam; tea or coffee)......£4.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Value for money......9½
Access for disabled......10
Toilet for disabled......yes
Verdict: An enjoyable way to spend lunch or pre-showtime.
Contact: 01665 510785 or visit www.alnwickplayhouse.co.uk.