Let’s get straight to the point, this restaurant is exactly what Alnwick needs.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good quality, affordable, pleasant eateries available in and around the town. But The Bailiffgate Bistro within the new Cookie Jar hotel adds a touch of class that is not available elsewhere.
Those of you who recall the original Blackmore’s restaurant in Narrowgate some 30 years ago will know what has been missing – who can forget the intimacy of the dining area, the anteroom upstairs where menus could be perused accompanied by a gin and tonic, the quality food, imaginative dishes and delightful desserts?
The Cookie Jar is a boutique retreat within a stone’s throw of the magnificent Alnwick Castle.
Formerly St Mary’s Convent, the building has been radically renovated to include 11 luxurious rooms and suites, with more than just a pinch of home comforts.
The furnishing is opulent and eclectic and themed in chic browns and blues, the lighting subtle. It’s a wonderland, with no need for Alice.
The Bailiffgate Bistro serves afternoon teas daily and is now open on Friday and Saturday evenings for gourmet meals.
A gregarious, yet polite welcome greeted us and we were swiftly shown to a small table in the reception area where a small dish of olives and crisps awaited.
Two glasses of sparkling Chardonnay were delivered while we perused the menu and munched on the charming aperitif.
We could tell already that we were going to be properly looked after and made to feel special. The menu itself was limited – three starters, three main courses and a couple of desserts – deliberately so to ensure only fresh, in-season produce is used. So if you’re a fussy eater, it would be a good plan to check what’s available when you book, although the menu changes weekly.
A first look at the menu might put off vegetarians, but I was told there is always a meat-free option available.
Our palates are easily pleased, so we took a chance and struck lucky – some of our favourite ingredients were lying in wait – duck, squid, scallops, prawns, walnuts, spinach and steak.
The wine list took us Down Under, to Europe and South America. We opted for an Argentinian Merlot, Pasarisa Patagonia at £29.50 a bottle. By comparison, the French house red was £5.50/£6.95 a glass or £21 for the bottle.
With mouths watering, we made our selections and sat back to absorb the calming ambience – it was intoxicating. When our first course was about ready, we were led along a corridor to an intimate room at the back of the hotel.
There was a formality about our evening that was reassuring but not intrusive.
Our wine was poured and kept topped up in the proper manner and checks made when appropriate.
Starters arrived. My smoked duck salad, with raspberries and walnuts, looking a delight, if somewhat more substantial than I had imagined – a tidy tower of entwined mixed lettuce leaves, red onion and cabbage, and folds of thick slices of duck breast. A sprinkling of walnuts, raspberries and crunchy croutons combined with a tangy dressing to complement the duck nicely.
Opposite, the salt and pepper squid, with pea shoots and aioli, was delightful. The squid was soft and tasty, a sumptuous start to the meal.
So to the next round. I went for the trio of seafood, with white bean cassoulet. It almost didn’t matter how the chunky monkfish, scallops and prawns were presented, I could devour that combination all day long. But the cassoulet added an interesting and filling base.
The 10oz sirloin steak, with Welsh rarebit mushroom, vine tomatoes and beef-dripping chips caught Mrs L’s eye – you can’t beat steak and chips on a Friday night! Again, it was well cooked, the steak juicy, fresh mushroom topped with a ring of cheese, and those chips particularly pleasing.
With desserts included in the three-course price of £39.50, we had one of each. My chocolate Black Forest was deconstructed and delicious. Mrs L’s crêpes Suzette, with zesty Cointreau, was a splendid way to complete her meal.
STYLISH WITH A FINE ATMOSPHERE
You wouldn’t describe the offering at The Bailiffgate Bistro as fine dining. It’s very good food all right, and expertly cooked, but not delicate enough to qualify as fine dining. Having said that, everything else is in place to take the dishes up a notch if required – the atmosphere is special, some jazz music and a bit of Neil Diamond helped there.
A pledge on the menu to use the finest Northumberland ingredients is a pleasing sight. The Cookie Jar doesn’t rest on its laurels and holds themed nights to vary the offer – for example, there’s a wine dinner on March 29.
OUR MENU - IT CHANGES WEEKLY
3 courses......£39.50; 4 courses......£45
Salt and pepper squid, with pea shoots and aioli
Smoked duck salad, with raspberries and walnut
Pea and mint tortellini, concass tomato, olive oil and wilted spinach
Seafood trio – monkfish, scallops and prawns, with white bean cassoulet
Chicken, chorizo with a vegetable quinoa
10oz sirloin steak, with Welsh rarebit mushroom, vine tomatoes and beef-dripping chips
Chocolate Black Forest
Selection of Doddington Cheese and Biscuits
Star ratings (Out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......9
Value for money......8
Access for disabled......9
Toilet for disabled......being fitted now
Verdict: Stylish, super quality, fantastic service, ideal for a special occasion.
Contact: 01665 510465 or http://www.cookiejaralnwick.com/