Since the Gazette relaunched its food reviews way back in the middle of 2012, the team has visited and eaten at scores of places across Northumberland and beyond.
I have been to scores myself, plenty of which I probably wouldn’t have visited if I wasn’t on a quest for new fodder for our criticism.
This means that more than four years down the line, there are not many places that have escaped our combined attention, but the Salt Water Café at Beadnell had gone under my radar until I found it online a few weeks ago.
And after a Saturday night there, I was very pleased indeed that I was the one from the Gazette team to have discovered this hidden gem (to us, at least).
I have to admit that I went there relatively confident of good things, having read the simple but reassuring write-up on the venue’s website:
‘Our chef Ian Kersten showcases the wealth of quality ingredients found on our doorstep to create a truly memorable dining experience. Seafood from Beadnell Bay and nearby Seahouses harbour, meat from Bamburgh butcher Carters, including the famous Bamburgh Banger sausage for breakfast, and local game from the Cheviot hills regularly feature on our menu.’
Given the fact that it is a café, which serves food all day, before switching to bistro dining in the evenings, it will not surprise you to hear that this modest eatery does look like a café.
But it is a smart and upmarket café and the likes of the wood on the walls and the tartan banquette make it a cosy, welcoming and relaxed option for an evening out.
I have no problem with informal surroundings so long as you remain serious about the food.
And that’s certainly the case here – even before we tasted it, the focus was clear when there was not only a specials menu, but additional specials which the waitress listed for us.
To me, this shows a clear commitment to serving the food that is in season, available and worth cooking, rather than doggedly sticking to a set menu.
Both of our main courses came from the special specials – ham hock and venison (£16.50 and £17.50) – while there was also fish on offer, including turbot I believe.
With game for main, I turned to the sea for my starter and the crayfish and smoked salmon parfait (£7.50), which was served with toast and a side salad.
It was delicious and I liked the fact that the crayfish were still whole inside the pâté-like consistency of the salmon.
Across the table was the fresh asparagus, wrapped in hand-cut pancetta with beetroot relish (£7.50), which went down very nicely as a lighter option with as tasty a bacon as I have tried anywhere.
Both our main courses came served on mash with vegetables – carrots, sweetcorn and green beans – but we were told we could have some extra chips or new potatoes if we wanted.
My venison was good – I perhaps would have preferred it pinker, but the quality of the meat was obvious. It came with a sauce that I think had prunes in.
I may have been wrong, but whatever it was, it was rich with a nice touch of sweetness that went well with the game.
The ham hock was a triumph and the sauce was even better – a hearty gravy laced with sage and chunks of apple, making you reminisce about some of the best roast pork dinners you’ve ever had.
Dessert is very hard to resist as there is a chiller cabinet sat in the middle of the room, tempting you all the while you eat your savoury courses.
Despite the hearty fare, the lure proved too much and we both opted for one of the tasty-looking cheesecakes on display (£5.95). There was also the offer of a couple of hot desserts, including sticky toffee pudding.
I went for the cranachan cheesecake, based on the famous Scottish dessert made of cream, whisky, honey, raspberries and toasted oatmeal.
I really enjoyed it as it wasn’t too sweet or heavy and it was nice to have a different take on a cheesecake.
A little richer, but served in a more modest portion was the stairway to heaven cheesecake, which consisted of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate of various shades and flavours. Luckily, there was some left for me to try and it was delicious.
OPTIONS FOR ALL HOURS OF THE DAY
While we went for the evening bistro experience, there is no reason to think that the breakfasts and lunches at the Salt Water Café wouldn’t be top-notch too.
Indeed, taking a sneak peek at the blackboard with some ofthe lunch options on, I was quite tempted to head back during the day some time soon. The lunch dishes looked to be fairly good value as well, because if I did have a criticism, it would be that the prices are at the high end for this type of dining.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day......£5.50
Potted Seahouses crab and brown shrimp......£8.50
Roast avocado and quail egg......£7.50
Pan-fried pigeon breast......£7.50
Paupiettes of lemon sole......£17
Christon Bank lamb shank......£16.50
Chicken stuffed with haggis......£17
Spinach and ricotta ravioli......£15
Char-grilled tiger prawns......£21
Blackened Cajun-style Salt Water seafood medley......£18
Hot seafood platter for two......£30
Fine bean and mushroom stroganoff......£14.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......9
Access for the disabled......8
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: Decent food with an admirable commitment to fresh, local produce.
Contact: 01665 722899 or http://www.saltwatercafe.co.uk
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed The Victoria Hotel, Bamburgh. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.