Bracing – that’s the best description I can think of for a walk along the Northumberland coast on most days at this time of year.
It was certainly thus on Saturday when we took heed of the advice in this newspaper last week to get off the couch and spend at least 10 minutes a day on Shanks’ pony.
After a brisk trot along one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, the chilly sea air banishing any cobwebs, we strolled into Alnmouth, itself one of the most stunning villages Britain has to offer.
Even on a dreary February afternoon, there is something intrinsically appealing about the quaint higgledy piggledy buildings, the little lanes, the unbelievable views across the estuary and the myriad gift shops, cafés and hostelries.
Among the selection of eateries is a refined deli called Scotts of Alnmouth, although there was no sign to say so – presumably a work in progress. A few tables and chairs outside, somewhat ambitious in the winter drizzle, gave a clue to what lay within.
Scotts has taken full advantage of a Leader grant to refurbish what was quite an old-fashioned shop. It is now fresh and clean with modern chillers and cabinets, yet retaining a country-cottage feel. Local and homemade delicacies abound and you could be forgiven for making your purchases and heading off to the beach for a sumptuous picnic.
But, through a brick arch and down four quite steep steps is a small, rustic-style café with half-a-dozen tables that turned out to be an exquisite hidden gem.
We sat ourselves in the far corner, conveniently next to a wood burner that helped warm our cockles. It was homely and comfortable, particularly on the padded bench seat. Some gentle acoustic ballads added to the calm ambience. Our only gripe was the lack of windows to add natural light and watch the world go by.
A vase of fresh flowers adorning each table was a lovely touch - by my reckoning each vase contained two hyacinths, two roses, two tulips and two small daffodils.
The menu wasn’t extensive but catered perfectly for the breakfast, lunch and snack brigade. Plus, reputedly efficient wi-fi is ideal for dot-commers.
Breakfasts, served from 10am to 11.30am, were stylish and continental rather than full English fry-ups – croissants, toast, porridge with homemade seasonal compote (£4) and oak-smoked bacon brioche. The most substantial dish was probably the avocado on sourdough toast with either smoked salmon, Columbian scrambled eggs, oak-cured smoked bacon or feta and seeds, for £6.
The lunch menu had a similar foreign flavour – Spanish brioche (grilled Spanish chorizo sausage or halloumi on brioche with sweet piquillo pepper and rocket) or Moroccan tartine (hummus, cherry tomato, sliced radish, rocket and seeds with a side of pickled cauliflower) among the options. We had skipped breakfast before leaving for our jaunt along the coast, so were pretty scranny.
Therefore, it had to be a Jarvis Pickle Pie for me. This Eyemouth-based company produces some interesting flavours, such as cauliflower curry, spinach and goats’ cheese, and Moroccan lamb, as well as the more traditional chicken and leek or beef and ale. I plumped for pheasant and pancetta. The pies were accompanied by a salad, chutney and coleslaw (£7). Mrs L had a BBC toastie (brie, bacon and chilli jam in malted brown bread, £6) and, for an extra £1, she pushed the boat out and added a side salad and coleslaw.
We ordered back in the shop and were swiftly delivered a coffee, with liberal sprinkling of chocolate powder, and a pot of Yorkshire Tea.
My pie was extremely tasty and packed with pheasant meat and Italian bacon in a piping hot, creamy leek sauce – a quite luxurious combination. The pastry was quite hard but at least it hadn’t been microwaved into soggy submission.
The salad was fresh, imaginative, crunchy and colourful, with radishes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red grapes, cress, rocket and mixed leaves. The homemade coleslaw was equally elegant – cabbage, carrot, radish and red onion in a lush mayonnaise.
Opposite, the toastie was hitting the right spot, too. The chilli jam gave it a kick that was most welcome on such a miserable day.
In general, the quality of ingredients and attention to detail had shone through.
WE LEFT ROOM FOR SOMETHING SWEET
That walk had built up our appetites, so we had room for something sweet. The cakes and traybakes were as inventive as the pies. I couldn’t decide between the orange and almond cake with added homeycomb or the butternut squash, date and pecan cake, so Mrs L took the reins and ordered the latter, while she had a chocolate muffin. Mine was delicious, moist and not too sweet; even the creamy topping had a pleasant tang to it.
The muffin was a bit more sickly-sweet, particularly its gooey centre.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Breakfast (10am – 11.30am)
Croissant or Danish pastry......£2.50
Toast and jam......£3
Lunch (11.30am onwards)
Savoury muffin, salad, coleslaw......£6
Homemade sausage roll......£7
Smoked salmon tartine......£6
Toasties (sourdough or malted brown bread)
Reuben (pastrami, house cheese blend, red onion, plus bacon or ham)......£6
Traybake, £2.50; cake, £3.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Use of local food......8 (Jarvis Pickle Pies (Eyemouth) and lots of homemade items)
Value for money......7
Access for disabled......2 (those steps)
Toilet for disabled......No
Verdict: Fine quality, good service.
Contact: 01665 830997 or www.facebook.com/Scottsofalnmouth/