Tapas, the Spanish style of sharing plenty of small dishes, has really taken off in this country over the last few years.
Having said that, people wishing to eat good-quality tapas at a reasonable price can sometimes struggle to find restaurants, even in the larger towns and cities.
Luckily Alnwick, despite being a long way from sunny Andalucia or the Catalonian coast, has its very own offering.
The Tapas Bar on Market Street is a small intimate venue with wooden tables and barrels.
They seemed to have developed the tapas feel of the place as when I visited last year, it felt more like a daytime cafe that happened to serve food in the evenings.
Now it has a warm and authentic atmosphere – a huge improvement.
But be warned, the restaurant is relatively small and it seems unlikely that you will be able to eat on a weekend evening without booking.
We ate on Saturday and it was full, with several people having to be turned away.
This in itself would appear to be a recommendation, and our party was certainly not disappointed.
The guests I ate with visit Alnwick fairly regularly and together we have eaten in most of the main establishments in the town.
We first took them for tapas about a month ago, but their first choice upon returning this weekend was to go back again – a hearty endorsement, especially from one who doesn’t eat much seafood and usually tends to insist on meat and three veg!
I lived in Galicia in the very north-west of Spain for five months and I have travelled and eaten quite widely sampling the cuisine in everywhere from Barcelona and the east coast to Seville in the south.
While it was great for a food fan, it has meant that visits to chain tapas restaurants in this country have left me underwhelmed.
The Tapas Bar offers no such problem as the food is excellent, served by cheerful and helpful staff.
You get a warm welcome, with a selection of mini snacks while you peruse the menu.
As expected, the food served is tapas, with a good range of both hot and cold dishes.
There tend to be several special tapas up on the board each night, but these can go quite quickly.
There is also the option to have paella, although 24 hours’ notice is required.
The beauty with tapas is that the more of you eating, the better the experience as you get to share more dishes and sample more of the food.
We opted for a varied selection with everything from hot dishes to salads and bread.
The Spanish omelette (£4.40) was excellent and certainly not inferior to those I ate in Spain, while the bacon and spring onion croquettes (£4.90) were a tasty treat.
For seafood fans, the gambas pil pil (prawns with chilli, garlic and white wine, £5.50) are a must, with a nice background heat, while meat-eaters will polish off the chicken fillet marinated with chilli, paprika, garlic and lemon (£5.50) and the albondigas, or Spanish meatballs (£4.90).
My possible favourite, though, is the chorizo cooked in cider with onions and garlic (£4.90), which offers a soft tender sausage, quite different to when eaten cold or in sandwiches.
Accompaniments such as the patatas bravas, roast potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise (£3.90), are recommended, as is the deceptively simple-sounding bread with garlic mayonnaise and crushed tomato (£3.70) – truly delicious.
With all that richness, a bit of greenery offers a bit of variety and the salad with goat’s cheese and serrano ham in a sherry vinegar dressing is great and the portion size offers plenty to share (£5.50).
As is customary, the food comes in stages so as something runs out, another dish comes to replace it, and there is every opportunity to order more dishes as you need them.
Desserts are homemade and appear on the specials board – when we ate, there was a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake and a trio of mini desserts (both £3.80).
We didn’t have pudding but another diner on the night said the cheesecake was excellent.
In keeping with the Spanish theme, to wash down the tapas there is a selection of Spanish red and white wine, Spanish lagers – both well-known in the UK, San Miguel, and less so, Cruzcampo – and sangria.