MEAL REVIEW: Caffe Tirreno, Bondgate Without, Alnwick

Cannelloni di mare at Caffe Tirreno, Alnwick.
Cannelloni di mare at Caffe Tirreno, Alnwick.

Cards on the table – Caffe Tirreno is our guilty pleasure.

Long, taxing days at work require quick, relaxing remedies.

Homemade limoncello shots with the bill

Homemade limoncello shots with the bill

That doesn’t include queuing up in a shop to buy provisions before slaving over a hot saucepan or two.

No! More often than not, we will pop across the road from the Gazette office in Alnwick to the long-standing, intimate Italian restaurant Caffe Tirreno. It’s not a case of anything to avoid cooking, this place produces authentic cuisine at prices that won’t break the bank.

Meals are freshly prepared and cooked, which can mean a bit of a wait at busy times, but with a lively, friendly atmosphere, the time flies.

The only drawback is its popularity. There is often no table to be had and, with no booking facility, it’s a just a case of waiting.

Salmone e gamberetti starter (Scottish smoked salmon parcelled with Icelandic prawns on a bed of mixed leaf lettuce, garnished with lemon and Marie Rose sauce)

Salmone e gamberetti starter (Scottish smoked salmon parcelled with Icelandic prawns on a bed of mixed leaf lettuce, garnished with lemon and Marie Rose sauce)

We have become experts at avoiding the crowd. Our trips over the road tend to be restricted to off-season, early week or very early evening!

It might be wise to leave it until to later on Playhouse nights – the combination of an Italian meal and a night at the theatre is pretty intoxicating.

So why is it so appealing?

It has to be the winning formula of well-cooked food at prices people can afford that make cooking for yourself barely worth the hassle.

Mozzarella impanata starter (bread-crumbed and deep-fried mozzarella wheel on a pool of garlic and tomato sauce)

Mozzarella impanata starter (bread-crumbed and deep-fried mozzarella wheel on a pool of garlic and tomato sauce)

Pizzas are £4.95 to £6.95 for 9-inch and £6.95 to £8.95 for 12-inch, depending on the toppings. And they are genuine homemade pizzas, no frozen bases here.

Pasta dishes are £4.95 to £6.95 for starter size or £5.95 to £8.95 for main courses.

See what I mean? And the meals are ideal for children, too. The menu is extensive with a range of antipasti (starters); bruschette (toasted bread), focaccia (pizza-style bread) and pane (rustic breads); the aformentioned pizzas and pastas with any number of toppings; risotto dishes; and steaks, chicken or seafood concoctions.

We are creatures of habit and tend to order the same every time we go, to the point where the serving staff know our order before we are even seated.

Prosciutto e piselli tagliatelle (sauteed with diced onions, prosciutto pieces, peas, butter, grana padano cheese, cream and parsley)

Prosciutto e piselli tagliatelle (sauteed with diced onions, prosciutto pieces, peas, butter, grana padano cheese, cream and parsley)

Mine is not very adventurous – prosciutto e piselli tagliatelle (sautéed with diced onions, prosciutto pieces, peas, butter, grana padano cheese, cream and parsley, £6.25).

Somehow that combination of finely cut ham, peas and a lightly creamed pasta hits the right spots with me.

Each time, though, it is slightly different because it does not emerge from a bulk-made packet.

Mrs L generally plumps for cannelloni (pancakes filled with ricotta cheese, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes oven baked with bechamel sauce, basil and mozzarella cheese au gratin, £8.95).

We also request a side pizza-style garlic bread with cheese (focaccia al formaggio, £3.95) – delicious and perfectly complementary to both dishes, but usually eaten before the main course.

This week, we decided to go for a starter as well.

Cannelloni at Caffe Tirreno, Alnwick.

Cannelloni at Caffe Tirreno, Alnwick.

For me, it had to be salmone e gamberetti (Scottish smoked salmon parcelled with Icelandic prawns on a bed of mixed leaf lettuce, garnished with lemon and Marie Rose sauce, £7.95), despite it being more expensive than my main course! Opposite, it was mozzarella impanata (bread-crumbed and deep-fried mozzarella wheel on a pool of garlic and tomato sauce, £4.95). They were delightfully presented and a fresh, if filling, way to start our evening.

Both were quite substantial and meant we didn’t quite leave clean plates at the end, as we would normally.

It was another worthy visit, capped by a complimentary shot of delightful, homemade limoncello.

Last week, the specials board caught our eye and we both opted for the recommended cannelloni di mare (fresh pasta filled with cod, peas, spinach, mozzarella, parmesan and mascarpone, served with white wine, cream and pink peppercorn sauce on a bed of wilted rocket, £9.95).

It was a fine dish, delicious, one of the best we’ve been served at Caffe Tirreno. The flavour of the fish, the crunchy peppercorns bursting with warmth, the sweet peas and spinach, all brought together in a creamy, cheesy sauce, was heaven itself.

THERE’S NOTHING PRETENTIOUS HERE

They’ve got the tone just right at Caffe Tirreno. The welcome is always with a smile and they really value their regulars.

Nothing is pretentious – the decor and furnishing may be plain but it suits the ambience of relaxed, Mediterranean dining. There are even tables and chairs outside – if only the weather lived up to that expectation!

We have never had a dessert there – in all honesty, we’ve been properly full by that point. On the board during our last visit, though, was tiramisu, Malibu and lime cheesecake, panna cotta and different flavoured ice-creams.

SELECTION FROM THE MENU

Starters

Calamari fritti......£5.95

Seafood salad......£6.95

Prosciutto and mozzarella......£6.95

Deep-fried potato skins......£3.95

Pizzas (9” or 12”)

Margherita......£4.95/£6.95

Vegetariana......£4.95/£6.95

Ham & mushroom......£4.95/£6.95

Ham & pineapple......£4.95/£6.95

Pescatora (seafood)......£6.95/£8.95

Pasta (spaghetti, penne or tagliatelle)

Carbonara......£5.95

Bolognese......£5.95

Tuna and black olives......£6.25

Smoked salmon & prawns......£7.95

Lasagne......£6.95

Other dishes

Mushroom risotto......£8.95

Pollo (chicken) Diana ......£10.95

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Quality of food......8½

Presentation......8½

Choice......9

Vegetarian choice......7½

Use of local food......none mentioned on menu

Atmosphere......8

Service......9

Access for the disabled......5

Toilet for the disabled......No

Overall rating......8½

Verdict: We love it!

Contact: 01665 605455

Garlic bread with cheese

Garlic bread with cheese