Atmosphere is an integral part of any good meal out – you may be eating the finest food known to man, but if the restaurant is empty and you feel uncomfortable, it sucks the joy out of being out with friends or family.
Luckily, I decided to eat in Alnmouth on the Saturday of the village’s arts festival, meaning both the streets and the restaurant were full of people in good spirits.
And what better way to follow up a day perusing the art than an aperitif at one of the village’s several fine watering holes and a fortifying meal?
Bistro 23 is a cafe during most of the week, before opening as an evening dining establishment on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
This, to me, seems an excellent way of doing things as it means the restaurant is more likely to be full on any given night, meaning a better atmosphere.
On top of this, together with a relatively concise menu, it makes it easier to keep local fresh produce on the menu; the right amount of food can be ordered in each day.
Inside, the decor is relaxed but warm and welcoming, and on a busy night such as when we ate, offers a great atmosphere.
It isn’t too big, which means that while there is plenty of room to accommodate a larger party, service is attentive but not fussy.
The menu offers a classic three-course selection, but be warned, the desserts are excellent, so those of a less greedy disposition may have the difficult choice of picking between starter and pudding.
It also doesn’t overwhelm – five starters and mains, with a mix of meat, fish and vegetarian options.
To begin, I chose the kipper pate (£5.95), the fish coming from a little way up the coast at Craster, and it was delicious – a no-frills pate with a good amount of thin toast.
The others in my party opted for the crab, even more local, from Boulmer (£6.75), which I was reliably informed was great as it was polished off, and the terrine (£5.95), which I managed to sneak a taste of, was packed full of meat, dotted with olives and very tasty.
While the lemon sole was a tempting offer for the mains, the three of us took the carnivorous route, ordering the beef, pork and lamb.
My Northumbrian beef (£13.90) was braised and came with mash and red cabbage, and while not the most exotic combination, it was an excellent example of how to serve unadulterated local produce with classic side dishes.
I managed to get a sample of both the Cheviot lamb and the tenderloin of pork (both £13,90), which were also very nicely done.
To my personal taste, the lamb was not as pink as it could have been, but I do veer towards the bloody end of the rare-well done spectrum.
The croquette of lamb shoulder that came with the chops was an interesting little addition, adding some texture.
The pork was lifted by the intriguing filling of cheese and pistachio nuts, which filled the tenderloin with rich, sweet and salty notes.
And the presentation was dainty too, in contrast to the beef, which was not the most exciting dish to look at.
With our readers in mind, and following a peer at someone else’s dessert coming out, I was determined to finish our evening on a sweet note.
The chocolate torte (£5.25) was exceedingly extravagant and my favourite dish of the night – raspberry coulis and a salted caramel hazelnut topping added some delightful extra flavours.
Another intrepid diner also managed to find space to tuck away a pud and selected the creme brulee (£5.25), which was flavoured with lemon, a new one on me and the rest of my party.
But it works very well – creme brulee can occasionally be a little sickly but the citrus background taste makes it more rounded and balanced.
The drinks offering follows the food, with enough, but not an excessive, number of options.
Wine is available in four or five different varietals per colour with prices ranging from £12.95 for house bottles up to £17.95.
Bottled beer or lager and a variety of soft drinks are, of course, also on offer.
Overall we had an excellent evening and enjoyed the food and the ambience of Bistro 23.
The prices are not cheap, but for a Saturday evening out it’s very reasonable, bearing in mind the food is primarily fresh and local, and the portions are hearty.