Grannies, Narrowgate, Alnwick

ONE of the aims of the Alnwick Food Festival was to encourage and promote local food producers.

A strong advocate of the local food movement is Grannies in Alnwick.

It is a small, almost poky, shop and caf that is packed to the gunwales with jars, boxes, tubes, bottles and packets of culinary treats.

Grannies is a foodie's heaven – a sort of gastronomic Old Curiosity Shop, every shelf spilling over with interesting oils or cheeses or dressings or sweets!

It is cramped but that just adds to the character of the place.

We decided to pop down from the Market Place during our break from food festival duty. In fact, we enjoyed our lunch on the Friday that we went back for more on the Sunday!

The menu bristles with local offerings, mainly Northumberland cheeses, smoked salmon from Craster, Alnwick Rum derivatives and Doddington's ice cream.

But it is plainly a lunch-time selection, dominated by sandwiches in different forms – filled buns (3.45), baguettes (4.45), hot rolls (4.30), ciabattas (3.80), toasted sandwiches (4.75), club sandwiches (5.20), paninis (5.40), tortilla wraps (4.80) and good old, ordinary sandwiches (4).

If you're feeling particularly peckish, the Grannies Open Sandwich (5.20) in a variety of filling combinations will no doubt soothe the hunger pangs, if not banish them for the rest of the week!

Sandwich fillings show a good imagination – prawn and avocado, brie and grape or cranberry, Stilton and pear, chicken and honey mustard, prawns in garlic lemon and black pepper mayonnaise, Northumbrian smoked cheese with tomato and black pepper, Emmental and mango chutney melted ... and so on!

There are also baked potatoes, salads and various specials, including fisherman's platter (7.20), which sounded splendid!

Our first visit was for more like brunch than lunch. We chose to sit downstairs in the main seating area. There is just one table upstairs, by the front window.

The lower floor is just as intimate as the shop. But it oozes character, with exposed brick walls and arched alcoves giving it a real Dickensian ambience. You're never very far from someone else eating, so if you prefer to spread out or have appalling table manners, Grannies is not for you.

Farmhouse kitchen furniture, positive lighting and a yellow and blue theme, including paper serviettes, brighten what could otherwise be a dark cellar.

We both ordered a bacon and egg hot roll (4.30 each) and mug of coffee (1.50 each) from our chirpy and helpful waitress.

The buns arrived with an accompanying salad that showed great attention to detail and great colour and variety – grapes, radish slices, crispy and fresh lettuce, grated carrot. There was copious amounts of bacon, which was a bit salty for my taste but went down well across the table.

We both licked our platters clean and vowed to return amid the frenzy of food festival Sunday.

On the second visit, we sat upstairs in the window seats and watched the world go by (the world watching us devouring our food!).

The menu on the Sunday was exactly the same so it didn’t take us as long to plump for our choices.

Again we both opted for the same meal – this time the smoked salmon stack (5.70), described on the menu as: ‘Local Craster smoked salmon on a bed of lettuce topped with cucumber and king prawns served on bread with dill sauce and lemon.’

It was indeed a substantial ‘stack’ – no scrimping on the smoked salmon nor the prawns, plenty of salad and given the same due care and attention to presentation as the previous offering.

The only disappointment was the lack of desserts on the menu. Doddington ice cream (3), knickerbocker glory (3) and a variety of cakes (50p). Neither of us are particularly sweet-toothed, but more options would have been nice.

We thought our bills of 11.60 and 14.40 were very fair given the quality of food on offer.

As a lunch option, you can’t go far wrong with Grannies. It’s exactly the sort of place you hope to discover while away on your holidays.

It is won several accolades, including a silver medal in the Taste of North East England category of the 2006 North East England Tourism Awards run by One NorthEast.

From the evidence of the weekend, this was fully deserved.

Grannies is open from Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm; and Sunday, 10.30am to 4pm.