No matter how you approach the most iconic Northumberland village, Bamburgh, one structure dominates the landscape.
The colossal castle, perched on a basalt outcrop and peering imperiously down on the North Sea and the distant Farne Islands, is both ancient and relatively modern.
Its history is as impressive as its appearance, from an initial written mention in the year 547, through its destruction by the Vikings and rebuilding by the Normans at the turn of the first millennium.
Various owners renovated the fortress during the 18th and 19th centuries until Victorian industrialist William Armstrong completed the restoration.
Meanwhile, nestled in its shadow, the village of Bamburgh, surely one of Britain’s finest, has flourished.
The Copper Kettle Tearooms, at the heart of the community, has an impressive and intrinsically-linked history of its own.
In the early 1700s, a row of six cottages were built as accommodation for the labourers at the castle. Part of that building is now the Copper Kettle.
I first visited some 30 years ago when the focus was more on the gift shop (if my fading memory serves me correctly!).
The ambience of the place seems barely to have changed – the phrase ‘olde worde charm’ could have been invented specifically for the Copper Kettle. It’s all mahogany panelling and dark-wood furniture but complementing the historic surroundings perfectly.
The current owner Annabel Dobson took over in November 2002 and doubled the size of the café by converting the existing living area.
It is evident from the menu that locally-sourced produce and homemade food are important ingredients in the philosophy of the venue – manna from heaven for me.
Marine produce comes from Swallow Fish at Seahouses and meat from Farm to Freeze at Wooler. I was suitably impressed by the local references on the menu.
We landed at opening time (10am) on Sunday, hoping for a breakfast banquet.
The Copper Kettle is more geared to elevenses, lunches and tea, with an amazing range of hot and cold sandwiches, baguettes, baked potatoes and light meals, although there are three brunch options – scrambled egg and locally-sourced bacon (£4.95); scrambled egg and smoked salmon (£6.25); and Swallow’s kipper in a bun (£4.50).
My wife jumped straight in and went for the egg and smoked salmon, while I plumped for another local option with Swallow’s kipper pâté served with salad leaves and toast (£5.95).
But first two veritable buckets of splendid coffee (£1.95) arrived to cure any lingering post-Saturday-night lethargy.
The plates, or in my case a slate, were not far behind. Freshly-cooked scrambled egg, topped with a generous portion of smoked salmon on a bed of warm toast infused with melted butter – Christmas had arrived early! This combination has been a festive treat for a number of years in our household and it certainly did the tradition proud. Everything was as fresh as a daisy and tasty to boot.
My pâté was equally as joyous, very tangy, with a weight of lemon juice and rind that might not suit all palates. The salad leaves and toast complemented the pot of pâté to a tee.
We continued on to the extensive cakes section of the menu.
The fruit scone (great value at £1.95) took my wife’s fancy and it arrived straight from the oven, with accompanying butter, jam and a pot of clotted cream – delicious. The scone was homemade and so fresh, having come straight out of the oven – it did not leave her mouth with a nasty coating of bicarbonate of soda as manufactured scones so often do.
I continued my tangy theme with lemon drizzle cake (£1.75) which was equally fresh, moist and zingy.
I could appreciate why there was a steady stream of customers buying cakes from a takeaway counter.
My two large slices, also escorted by a pot of fine clotted cream, set me up nicely for the rest of the day.
The Copper Kettle is certainly a worthy winner of the Gazette’s Café of the Year competition.
CORDIAL WELCOME AWAITS AT THE KETTLE
The friendliest welcome awaits at the Copper Kettle. Nothing was too much bother for the staff, who were chirpy and warm. They had obviously been trained in old-fashioned values.
There is an acute awareness of allergies, with gluten-free and dairy-free options available.
A children’s menu is also at hand to satisfy little appetites.
Apart from the two rooms indoors, a patio garden can also be used, when the weather permits.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Scrambled eggs + bacon......£4.95
Swallow’s kipper in a bun......£4.50
Quiche of the day......£8.95
Steak and ale pie......£6.95
Chicken, leek, tarragon pie......£6.75
Smoked salmon/cream cheese......£6.50
Scones and cakes
Moist apple cake......£3.75
Maple and pecan slice......£1.75
Sticky toffee pudding pie......£3.95
STAR RATINGS (out of ten)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......9
Children catered for......yes
Disabled access......6 (help offered)
Verdict: There’s an endearing quaintness and high quality of food that will lure you back for more.
Contact: 01668 214315 or visit www.copperkettletearooms.com
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed The Highlander, Belsay. and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.