When you live in a town with a wealth of pubs like Alnwick – despite the recession hitting some hard – it’s sometimes a little difficult to work out which is the closest.
I have the great pleasure of living within walking distance of a wide selection of watering holes with the differences in what they offer starting to grow too.
As I live to the west of the town centre, perhaps one of the closest is the Shepherd’s Rest, sitting high and proud up on the edge of Alnwick Moor, although the uphill position renders the walk rather more onerous than heading in the other direction. Or is it best to have the downhill trip on the way home?
Nonetheless, prior to a recent Saturday night, I had never been, apart from one attempt a number of years ago when the pub was closed at a time when no pub should really be closed.
This had the effect of ensuring I never bothered trying again, but the relatively recent takeover piqued my curiosity and I finally made it the weekend before last.
As reported in the Gazette, the Rest closed in October before being taken over and reopened in December by Susan Martin and Graeme Willis, known as Buzz, who also run the Oddfellow’s Arms on Bailiffgate.
At that time, Susan said: “We have to do things step by step. I’ve run a pub long enough to know that. We’re really excited about this new venture.
“Because we have had the Oddfellow’s for seven years now, we know that you can’t make a lot of money, but what we can do is bring back the customers.”
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but first impressions are important and my snap analysis would be that the pair are doing a good job, particularly just six months on from the takeover.
By the time we left at around 9.30pm, we had eaten well and a lively Saturday night atmosphere was developing in the bar.
When you go into the pub, you enter the cosy bar area, which has a traditional feel to it, with a number of tables and a television.
Heading further in, past the smallish bar on the right and a pool table on the left, you enter the modestly-sized dining room, which is in a bright and airy conservatory at the back.
I’m not sure what that would be like in the depths of winter in terms of temperature, but it was rather pleasant when we were there with the sun setting across the moor.
The pub, which started off doing Sunday lunches but recently expanded into the rest of the week, does accept reservations, but also walk-ins, which is what we did to no issue.
There was one other table eating which left not long after we arrived, but that didn’t affect our enjoyment as the pub is relatively small so there was a background buzz from next door.
The only time I felt a bit hard-done-by was when the music in the dining room was James Blunt (not a fan), but I could hear the Jackson Five and other Motown hits from the bar!
And finally onto the food. As luck would have it, we arrived in time to take advantage of a new offer. From Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm to 8pm, two people can eat two courses for a grand total of £20.
This includes all of the starters off the ‘real’ menu and most of the mains, only excluding a few specials and the steak, so offers a real bargain.
I went for the homemade Thai-style crab cakes with sweet chilli sauce (£6.25), which were definitely handmade as you could tell the bread-crumbing had been done in the kitchen. They were tasty, but if I had one complaint, they were a little heavy on the potato at the expense of the crab.
On the other side of the table was the potato scone with asparagus tips, poached egg and bacon lardons (£5.95), which was daintily presented and went down very nicely.
For main course, we both opted for the curry with rice and chips (£8.95), whose meat varies. On the night in question, it was chicken, served whole interestingly.
The menu described the curry as mild and it certainly wasn’t hot, but it had very good flavour and spicing.
While we were waiting between courses, there was an apology for the wait as ‘all the food is cooked from fresh’.
Well, the wait wasn’t too long and there’s no need to apologise for cooking things properly – it certainly paid off in the tasting.
And served with chips and rice, and the two-for-£20 deal, we didn’t go hungry either.
NOT JUST A PINT AND A BITE TO EAT
What makes it more impressive that the Shepherd’s is faring so well is that it is not just a pub. It runs events in the bar, while there are also bed and breakfast rooms and a caravan site.
While we were eating, there was, however, a clear recognition of the separation between drinking and dining as smokers who were passing through the dining room to go outside were told by staff to go round – not due to our complaints I should add, but a sign that those running the place are paying attention to the food as well as regulars.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Homemade soup of the day......£4.25
Beef tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad......£5.75
Chef’s roast of the day......£8.95
Vegetable sweet chilli stir fry......£9.25
Macaroni and three-cheese bake......£9.25
Chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese and bacon tails......£12.95
Pheasant breast stuffed with haggis wrapped in pancetta......£12.95
Herb-crusted salmon on a bed of creamy tagliatelle......£12.95
Hot chocolate brownie......£4.75
STAR RATINGS (OUT OF 10)
Quality of food......8½
Value for money......9½
Use of local food......no references
Access for disabled......7
Toilet for disabled......No
Verdict: People who know pubs do what they do best.
Contact: 01665 600956 or visit Shepherd’s Rest on Facebook.