It took me right back to my childhood days – long, hot summers, car packed to the gunwales and heading off to the coast, or sitting in a local café, riding out a storm and eating cake.
The Milk Bar at Wooler, run by Doddington Dairy, is as traditional as they come – a wooden shack dressed up like a roadside diner, serving quality local produce at reasonable prices and some spectacular homemade ice-cream.
Three generations have run the dairy in the Glendale Valley, where they have always aimed to produce ‘quality produce from the best ingredients’.
The Milk Bar itself has had quite a history, having been built in the 1930s by a neighbouring dairy farmer.
It has become a popular pit stop, particularly since its revival this time last year by the Maxwell family from Doddington.
The relentless flow of customers on Sunday afternoon, albeit a bank holiday weekend, was proof – youngsters and old folks enjoying take-away ice-creams, bikers parked up outside and popping in for a refreshing milk shake and slice of traybake, or visitors like us just fascinated by the quality of food served in such a small place while watching the world pass by on the A697.
The menu states: ‘We care deeply care about the production and provenance of food and, with this in mind, every effort has been made to source only the very best products, either handmade by ourselves or produced locally by people who share our passion.’
Now, I certainly approve of those sentiments.
As you walk into the Milk Bar past the stools on one side and diner bench seats and tables on the other, you are drawn to a cabinet rammed with a glowing treasury of homemade cakes.
We stood, transfixed, like a couple of kids in a candy store – Bakewell tart, Oreo cheesecake, banoffee pie, rocky road, pecan pie blondies, chocolate brownies, fruit scones, flapjacks – mouth watering yet? – muckle slices of fresh cream, lemon curd and raspberry sponge cake, sticky rhubarb and ginger cake ... wow!
We had arrived with tummies rumbling and so decided to start with something a bit more substantial and savoury. I went for a baked jacket potato with Doddington’s own Berwick Edge artisan cheese, homemade coleslaw and side salad (£5.25). Other toppings were chilli beef and cheese (£6.50) or line-caught tuna and sweetcorn (£5.75).
I have to say I was nearly swayed by the cheese-based platters, but stuck to my guns. Mrs L was taken by the Well Hung and Tender beefburger served in a roll with salad and coleslaw (£5.50) on the specials board.
The range of Pumphreys coffees and Ringtons teas looked impressive, and we plumped for a pot of English breakfast tea for two (£1.90 each).
Despite the steady stream of people and the full picnic benches outside, our wait was surprisingly brief before the plates were delivered.
My baked potato was smothered in cheese, the Berwick Edge living up to its name with a bitter edge to it. Extra foiled butter pats were also welcome.
The crunchy coleslaw, comprised of white and red cabbage and slivers of carrot, was splendid, while the salad was colourful and fresh.
Opposite, the meaty burger, from another local producer, Well Hung and Tender, was thick and juicy in a soft roll with lashings of cheese. As snacks go, we couldn’t fault either.
We returned to the counter to select a dessert – mine, a wonderful looking Mars bar crispy cake and Mrs L’s, the millionaire shortbread.
Neither were too sweet, nevertheless naughtily indulgent and a snip at £2 each.
The teas came with a mini milk churn and a small cube of fudge – a nice touch.
We had actually popped in a couple of weeks earlier on a recce mission.
Then, we’d had a Malteser traybake and the aforementioned sticky rhubarb and ginger cake. They, too, were delicious.
If we’re not careful, this could become a habit!
Somehow we managed to leave on both occasions without partaking in the array of ice-cream flavours. Excuse, if one were needed, for a return visit to Wooler.
START THE DAY WITH A HEARTY BREAKFAST
The Milk Bar opens early (from 7am) to catch the breakfast trade, serving until 11.30am. A hearty feast called the #Route 697 tradtional Northumbrian breakfast sounds just the ticket to send you on your way – free-range fried egg, a rasher of bacon, local pork sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans and black pudding for £5.50. The vegetarian option – free-range fried egg, two meat-free sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash brown and baked beans – costs the same.
There is a toilet next to the café, which is unisex, suitable for disabled patrons and has baby-changinging facitilies.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Breakfast (until 11.30am)
Route 697 traditional Northumbrian breakfast......£5.50
Bacon or sausage sandwich......£3.50
Fruit crunch sundae......£3.50
Filled rolls......£3 to £5.50
Homemade soup of the day......£3.70
Toasted pannini......£4 to £5
Dairy platters......£5.50 to £7.50
Toasted Great Northumbrian Bread Company teacake......£2.40
Doddilicious cheese scones......£2.20
Well Hung & Tender burger......£5.50
Roasted vegetable pannini......£4.50
Quality of food......8½
Children catered for......9
Access for the disabled......7
Toilet for the disabled......yes
Verdict: A quaint roadside gem with a real focus on local produce.
Contact: 01668 283010
The Gazette’s previous Eating Out column reviewed a fine-dining evening at The Sanctuary Restaurant, Alnwick Castle.