An instant, cheery smile from behind the bar was the first signal of things to come.
In fact, nothing was too much bother throughout our visit and it left a lasting impression.
And that is saying something when the amazing, eclectic decor is such an assault on the senses as soon as you walk through the door.
From the outside, The Black & Grey is all white, nothing special. It’s right on the very busy Newgate Street, the main route into Morpeth from the north, and looks like a regular town-centre boozer.
A few chairs on the pavement seemed to be the refuge for regular smokers, although they were a veritable suntrap on the glorious Thursday afternoon when we descended.
But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover – step inside and you’re in another world – one discovered by Alice in her Wonderland, perhaps. Barely any of the furniture matched, but it gelled in a bizarre fashion – retro clashing head on with art deco, country and modern – I loved it!
Dark leather sofas in a lovely, relaxed corner, sit alongside wooden farmhouse seats around oak tables and white high-chairs at the bar. The wallpaper is the loudest you’ll ever see – all birds, flowers and bright colours. Then there’s mirrors aplenty (all different), chandeliers, pot plants, cushions ... and a piano!
The music was equally diverse – Prince, Luther Vandross, a bit of Simple Minds, even A-ha crept in – it was very easy on the ear.
We had missed the lunchtime rush and were too early for the evening serving but nonetheless were given an enthusiastic, endearing welcome – quite a contrast to the ‘we stopped serving at two’ brush-off we’d received at another venue in the town at nine minutes past two.
The menus looked fantastic, as unexpected as the decor – a good variety of meat, fish, seafood and vegetarian dishes.
We were given extra time to soak up the options and the extraordinary atmosphere, accompanied by a pint of Hobgoblin and a large red wine, then eventually plumped for tempura king prawns with a sweet chilli dip and a lemon-garnished salad (Mrs L) and homemade pork and haggis soft-yolk Scotch egg with toasted artisan bread, piccalilli and fresh garden salad. This was going to be a cut above your average pub grub, wasn’t it?
And then Mrs L tested their patience (and mine!) by choosing her main course from the sandwich menu (served noon to 5pm). Curiosity got the better of her as she eyeballed the homemade meatball and cheese panini (£5.50). Interesting! She also ordered a side of hand-cut chunky chips (£2.25).
My choice was far more predictable, I’m afraid – pan-fried fillet of sea bass on minted pea puree, buttered chorizo and spring onion served with browned sauté potatoes (£11.95).
I always like to see this kind of pledge on the menu: ‘All our dishes are cooked fresh to order using fresh, locally sourced produce.’
While we were waiting, a man came in, sat at the piano and played the most delightful blues refrain. If only he’d been the resident pianist!
My starter lived up to all expectations – it was delicious. From the moment I dipped my tasty artisan bread in the soft yolk to my last mouthful of pork and haggis Scotch egg, I was in heaven. The piccalilli was suitably chunky and a perfect foil. It was a lovely way to start proceedings.
Across the table emanated equally positive noises. Mrs L is a stickler for ungreasy tempura batter and her wish was their command. The prawns were chunky and not watery. And she was impressed with slices of both lemon and lime.
Time to soak up the rays coming through the window.
My sea bass was perfectly cooked – it was moist, with a crispy skin – and the subtle taste combined nicely with the sautéed potatoes and the kick of the chorizo and spring onion.
The panini also worked, surprisingly, despite not being a concoction that would normally spring to mind. The accompanying homemade coleslaw was lush.
And those chips, mmm!
AN AFTERNOON OF NICE SURPRISES
So that was the story of the first two courses. It had been a pleasure. The menus were extensive without being cumbersome. An excellent range of burgers occupied their own page.
And so to desserts. There was a choice of four, plus a cheese board. We were quite full so decided to share the homemade sticky toffee pudding drizzled in butterscotch sauce, served with vanilla ice-cream (£4.95) – or custard. It was moist and full of flavour – splendid and a fitting finale.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Homemade soup/artisan bread......£4.50
Piri piri spiced potato skins......£3.95
Goats’ cheese croquettes......£5.50
Textured smoked salmon duo......£6.50
Beer-battered cod & chips......£11.95
Bangers & mustard-spiced mash......£9.95
Floating pie of the day......£9.95
Beef fillet medallions......£14.95
Pepper, mozzarella, red onion frittata (v)......£9.95
8oz beef burger + toppings......£10.95
Chicken breast + toppings......£10.95
Goats’ cheese & falafel (v)......£9.95
Locally sourced cheeseboard......£5.95
Quality of food......9
Access for the disabled......8
Toilet for the disabled......No
Verdict: A sign above the bar says it all: ‘We don’t sell fast food – we sell food as fast as we can.’ No ordinary pub grub this!
Contact: 01670 517807 or www.facebook.com/blackandgreymorpeth