There’s nothing more British than a quaint, country tearoom. And Northumberland is teeming with them.
The tourism hotspots in the north of the county are a tearoom lover’s utopia.
There’s barely a row of shops nor a village without the ubiquitous café. They are so ingrained in the fabric of our society that life would be threadbare without them.
Come rain or shine (and that’ll be mainly the former whenever I’m off work!), the tearoom is there to shelter us from the elements or provide us with a picturesque al fresco spot in which to enjoy the world’s most popular beverage. So it must be a daunting experience setting up a new venture among the well-established venues that have passed through generations or been around for eons.
All the more remarkable then that The Old Stables has already established a fine reputation and loyal following barely a year after opening.
It has been done without really shouting about themselves. You’ll notice – just – a discreet A-board outside, but that’s about the sum of it.
The Old Stables is located at Broom House Farm on the roundabout on the old A1 about a mile north of Alnwick. It’s actually on my favourite route into the medieval town via the Lion Bridge and the Peth. The view of Alnwick Castle from that road is breathtaking.
So what are the secrets of the café’s success so far. Well, I think it’s a combination of factors. The location is splendid – out of town but not too far out – it’s a decent hike or a short drive and easily accessible from the A1.
The owner Avril Mills and her family have started modestly and not bitten off more than they can chew. It’s small and cosy and the menu is limited but caters for most tastes and needs. It doesn’t pretend to be a top restaurant serving haute-cuisine meals. No, this is more home-cuisine snacks and light lunches.
Another factor is most of the produce – the cakes, bread, scones, soup, quiche – is homemade and, as we discovered, they sure know how to bake. Outside is a courtyard where salad items and vegetables are grown to be used in the dishes. Local ingredients cannot be beaten for taste and freshness.
Then there is the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff – so important in a customer’s overall enjoyment.
Finally, you can’t quibble about the prices – sandwiches with coleslaw and crisps for £4.50 or toasted teacakes for £1.75 and the cornerstone of light lunch or afternoon tea, the cuppa, a very reasonable £1.50. Add those ingredients together and you have a recipe for growing a regular customer base.
We trotted along to the Stables for a gentle midday nosebag last week when the weather was glorious enough to sit outside. It was just as well because the small area inside was busy, although not quite packed to the rafters.
The entrance by the side of the large farmhouse is a little curious, even unwelcoming, and there is another route in for wheelchair users to avoid a couple of steps. But once inside, there is a homely feel to the ambience.
The menu is light – a selection of sandwiches and a couple of savoury salad dishes and soup, before the avalanche of cakes, scones, tray-bakes and teacakes start.
I opted for the quiche with salad and coleslaw (£4.50). I chose bacon and onion flavour quiche ahead of the other option, mushroom and leek, which is suitable for vegetarians. It was delightfully presented, with crunchy coleslaw; red, orange and green peppers; beautifully sweet cherry tomatoes; salad leaves; and cucumber slices with every trace of skin removed.
A generous, thick slice of quiche was packed with bacon (a bit salty for my delicate palate!) and very moreish.
My wife went for the pâté (£4.50), which was accompanied by toasted, homemade bread and the same, colourful salad. It was quickly demolished before I had chance to give it a taste, but I took her word for it that it was delicious.
And so to the main event – the cakes. Flavours included cappuccino, almond and orange, raspberry and lemon mascarpone Victoria sponge and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Although we could also have plumped for the Malteser tiffin (£1.50) or raisin flapjacks (£1.40).
We decided to share a slice of the Victoria sponge (£2.50) and the chocolate cake (£2). The portions were huge and the cakes themselves light, moist and not too sweet. Washed down with a pot of marvellous Northumberland Tea, our lunch was complete.
IT’S HEAVEN IF YOU HAVE SWEET TOOTH
Regular visitors to the Alnwick Food Festival will know Avril, the owner of The Old Stables, from her days standing behind a stall selling fudge as Truly Scrumptious. She still makes the fudge and sells it in the tearoom, along with a wide selection of local crafts and gifts.
Her new venture is only open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 10am until 4pm, although summer opening times may vary.
We found our visit very relaxing and we’ll have to pop back to sample the serrano ham with Parmesan and pine nuts swirl in an olive oil bread (£1.75) – sounds and looked heavenly!
Quiche, salad & coleslaw......£4.50
Pâté, salad & homemade toasted bread......£4.50
Sandwiches, selection, served with coleslaw & crisps......£4.50
Scones (cheese or fruit), with butter/jam......£1.40
Toasted teacakes, with butter & jam/marmalade......£1.75
Cakes (selection)......£2 to £2.50
Tray-bakes......£1.40 to £2
Northumberland Tea for one......£1.50
Filter coffee, small......£1.40
Filter coffee, large......£1.60
STAR RATINGS (OUT OF 10)
Quality of food......9
Value for money......9
Children catered for......7½
Use of local food......8½
Access for disabled......8½
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: I really enjoyed our visit – excellent quality and a very good price.
Contact: 01665 602915 or online at www.theoldstables.jigsy.com