With wintry weather here and the softies in the south making a big fuss about some snowfall, it seems an odd time to be talking about café culture.
Sitting out on a terrace with a coffee, cocktail or cold beer while enjoying the warm rays of the sun may be pretty far from your thoughts right now.
But if you think back, very carefully, you may remember that even up here in north Northumberland, we sometimes do get some pretty nice weather, certainly good enough to sit outside for a time.
That’s why I think that the cafés which front onto the Market Place in Alnwick have a significant advantage, albeit one which may not be able to be exploited all year round.
But now that the parking in the square is largely under control, people sitting enjoying food and drink on outdoor tables contributes to a very pleasant streetscape in the centre of the town.
One of the venues which is situated in the Market Place is the one now known as Caffe Piazza and which, for whatever reason, has seemed to change ownership or name fairly regularly in recent years.
I don’t know what lies behind these switches, but to my mind, the people there now are doing the right thing by trying to offer a much more extensive food offering, rather than just drinks and cakes.
Eating there recently meant we didn’t wish to brave the elements and sit outside, but a table by the window still allows you to look out over the square and watch the world go by.
Inside, the café isn’t large, but the tables are spaced so that you don’t feel crammed in or that others are sat on top of you, while the décor contributes to a warm and welcoming feel when you enter.
The menu offers a very decent selection of lunches these days, ranging from traditional favourites to Italian-inspired dishes in line with previous incarnations of the eatery and more interesting options.
For example, you can have a fresh crab sandwich (£7.95), a Tuscan tuna hot-pressed ciabatta (£5.95) or an onion bhaji and raita wrap (£5.95).
The menu also reassuringly opens with the line: ‘Please note all our food is cooked fresh to order so this may take a little time, especially during busy periods.’
It is split into five main sections – sandwiches and wraps, hot-pressed ciabatta, jacket potatoes, light bites (quiche or arancini for example) and salads, or there are more substantial options such as chicken arrabbiata (£7.95) or beetroot risotto (£6.95).
There is also a children’s menu, which offers fish bites, chicken bites, a mini pizza, pasta with marinara sauce, sausages or macaroni cheese for £3.95 each.
A month or so previously, we had eaten there and both chosen ciabatta – I the Tuscan tuna, with sun-dried tomatoes, capers and mozzarella, and my wife the classic, with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, baby spinach and mozzarella (both £5.95 and very tasty) – so we decided to go for something elsewhere on the menu.
I opted for the antipasti board which is available for one at £6.95 or to share at £9.95. I must say that the individual made for a quite substantial lunch, although not so large that we couldn’t force down a portion of delicious homemade chips (£1.50)!
There was a selection of Italian meats, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and peppers in olive oil, some salad leaves and toasted ciabatta rubbed with roasted garlic.
I enjoyed it a lot and it has the benefit of making you feel virtuous for having a lunch very much in line with the much-praised Mediterranean diet.
Mrs O also went for a board, but hers was inspired by these shores – Ploughman’s lunch (£6.95), which coupled a variety of cheeses with bread, chutney, pickled onions, apple and a Scotch egg. It too was a decent portion and it too went down very nicely indeed.
Having visited twice in as many months and being impressed both times, Caffe Piazza is now firmly on our list of lunch spots.
COFFEE AND CAKE IS NOT IGNORED
While I praised the fact that the food menu at Caffe Piazza is wide-ranging and sure to attract a decent lunchtime crowd, it remains the case that for any café, its bread and butter, so to speak, is coffee and cake. Happily, it hasn’t taken its eye off the ball on this element.
After a bit of a breather, we found we had space for a little more, to be washed down with a flat white. The coffee was good and well-priced, while a slice of carrot cake and cheesecake (£2.50) were very much what the doctor ordered. The likes of tray bakes and scones are also available.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Sandwiches And Wraps
Fish finger stottie......£5.95
Chicken, bacon and avocado......£5.95
Grilled cheese and ham......£5.95
Bacon, brie and cranberry......£5.95
Cheese and beans......£4.25
Prawns in Marie rose......£4.95
Soup of the day......£2.95
Crispy potato skins......£2.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......not mentioned, apart from crab
Value for money......8
Caters for children......Yes
Toilet for the disabled......No