MEAL REVIEW: Lilburns Bar Restaurant, Paikes Street, Alnwick

King prawns with garlic and chilli butter starter.
King prawns with garlic and chilli butter starter.

Restaurants have come and gone in Alnwick over the years, but one that has remained constant – and consistent for the last decade and more is Lilburns.

Almost hidden down Paikes Street at the top end of the Market Place, this bar and restaurant has become a favourite with locals and visitors alike. And it is the former, who, in their droves, keep this excellent business going through the lean winter months.

Craster crab cakes with mango salsa starter.

Craster crab cakes with mango salsa starter.

Rod and Debbie O’Brien have been at Lilburns now for a dozen years, since leaving the franchise at Alnwick Castle, and from day one to day 4,380 (or thereabouts) the quality has always been top notch.

Whether you’re having a snack or lunch in the bar at street level or a more intimate evening meal in the restaurant upstairs, the food and the style is always good.

We have been on several occasions – Mrs L is a frequent visitor – and we have never been let down.

Last Friday evening, we called in on spec to find the restaurant full but decided to take a seat downstairs in the bar – a perfectly adequate, comfortable space in which to enjoy a meal.

Lasagne

Lasagne

Brighter than upstairs, not much has changed over those 12 years – it has stood the test of time and looks as fresh as it did when it was last refurbished before the O’Briens took over.

Light wood and chrome fixtures give it a modern feel – it’s clean and cosy. Some easy-listening soul music eased us into the night.

The service was the friendliest and most efficient you’ll come across.

Access and the loos might be the only issues to consider. The upstairs restaurant is pretty much out of bounds for wheelchair users, although the bar area is a great alternative, and the ladies toilets are in the basement.

Mushroom and asparagus risotto with garlic bread and parmesan crisp

Mushroom and asparagus risotto with garlic bread and parmesan crisp

Despite being on the ground floor, we had the pick of the entire menu. Locally sourced ingredients abound and there were plenty of British favourite, from scampi (£9.25) and cheeseburger (£6.50) to pan-fried duck breast (£16.95) to chicken breast with langoustine tails (£16.95). It’s a big range and challenging for the chefs.

Our meal began with a glass of red wine opposite and an orange juice for the driver (me).

For starters, I went for king prawns with garlic and chilli butter (£6.25), while Mrs L plumped for Craster crab cakes and chilli dip (£5.75).

We had barely taken breath and the dishes were before us, beautifully arranged, like works of art, and smelling delicious.

Lemon ginger crunch

Lemon ginger crunch

My prawns were so succulent and subtly flavoured that I did not want that moment to end. They each sat atop an indulgently buttery slice of soft, warm garlic bread, amid more buttery puddles. Slivers of chilli added a balancing kick.

It was decadence in the extreme, but just what the psychiatrist ordered after a busy, stressful week, even if the doctor was slightly more hesitant!

Put it on your bucket list now.

Gentle purring noises emanated from the other side of the table, suggesting the Craster crab cakes were going down equally well. The crunchy, breadcrumbed exterior gave way to a soft explosion of crab meat inside.

Quite honestly, if we’d left then, we would have been more than satisfied!

But we had already ordered our main courses – for me, it was a dish from the vegetarian menu – mushroom and asparagus risotto with garlic bread and parmesan shavings (£10.50).

Sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

Mrs L was back in familiar territory with her selection of lasagne, served with crispy salad, garlic bread and fries (£8.95). The pattern was repeated – stylish, inviting presentation and tasty, well-cooked food. The risotto was delicious, with the asparagus retaining a delicate crunch that comes with freshness and experienced cooking.

The lasagne expert with me drooled over her dish – plenty of sauce to dip the garlic bread into and oodles of flavour. I would have preferred hand-cut chips, but fries it was!

We were going to pass on desserts but as the sticky toffee pudding was made by Rod, I couldn’t refuse. Both that and Mrs L’s lemon ginger crunch were divine.

FULL VEGETARIAN MENU TO SAVOUR

Vegetarians are pretty well catered for at Lilburns. The menu boasts eight dishes which double up as either a starter (£5.75) or a main course (£10.50), which is a canny idea.

Among the choices are tomato, basil and mozzarella bruschetta; warm asparagus and new potato salad with mustard dressing; baked courgettes stuffed with cheese mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes; roast Med veg and goats’ cheese tartlette with basil pesto; and tagliatelle with tomatoes, basil and red onion.

SELECTION FROM THE MENU

Starters

Smoked salmon pâté......£5.50

Brie & mango parcels......£5.50

Goats’ cheese in parma ham......£5.75

Black pudding & spiced sausage......£6.25

Chicken liver & mushroom pâté......£5.50

Mains

Northumberland sausage......£9.50

Chicken balti or tikka......£9.50

Garlic mussels......£9.50

Battered cod......£9.50

Ham & mushroom tagliatelle......£9.50

Broccoli, mushroom, stilton bake......£10.50

Poached egg/asparagus tartlette......£10.50

Braised lamb shank & leek mash......£15.50

Seabass & crushed new potatoes......£16.95

Prime fillet of beef steak......£22.50

Desserts (all £5.75)

Toffee lumpy bumpy, Eton mess, chocolate amoretto torte, banoffee pie, summer fruit pudding

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Quality of food......8½

Presentation......9

Choice......8½

Vegetarian choice......8½

Use of local food......8½

Atmosphere......8

Service......9

Value for money......8

Disabled access (ground floor only)......7

Toilet for the disabled......Yes (in gents)

Overall rating......8½

Verdict: Never lets you down.

Contact: 01665 603 444 or http://www.lilburns.co.uk/