During this chilly winter – which admittedly has not been as bad as some the county has experienced – I have taken the opportunity to warm, and cheer, myself up with various tastes of the Mediterranean.
Regular readers of our restaurant reviews may remember my trips to Turkey, via Ephesus in Morpeth and Mezze in Alnwick, and Italy, in the form of Lollo Rosso, also Morpeth, all three of which were worthy of praise.
But perhaps the pick of the bunch is the latest addition to my European winter tour, Socrates at No 5, a relatively recent addition to Morpeth’s culinary scene, named after its Greek chef and its address on Oldgate.
Even if you haven’t visited this little bistro, some Northumberland residents may have already tasted the cuisine of Socrates Giazitzoglu, as he previously ran the kitchen at Holystone Lodge, near Sharperton, which was highly recommended by my editor Paul Larkin on this page, who rated it nine out of 10.
As with the menu there, while there is a distinct Greek flavour, the choice at Socrates at No 5 is by no means limited to that country’s fare with a wider Mediterranean feel and even a starter of black and white pudding (£6).
This means there is plenty of choice and may reassure people who are not convinced by being limited to one type of food on a night out.
There may be some who prefer a purity of purpose, but there are enough Greek dishes if you want to stick to a theme; we had two authentic mains while our starters were more varied.
Arriving at the restaurant, the outside looked bright, warm and welcoming and this continued inside where the furniture is smart, the décor is simple but stylish and the only real flourishes are the chandeliers.
We were the only ones eating – perhaps not surprising as it was 6pm on a Tuesday in February – but we didn’t feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at all, while the service was friendly and prompt without having someone hovering around us constantly.
While it was empty when we were there, it doesn’t mean the good folk of Morpeth are staying away.
Efforts were being made to ensure that everyone who wanted to could get in on Friday night and the phone rang a number of times with other bookings.
The menu is extensive with a decent number of starters followed by sections for mains, grill, fish, poultry, Mediterranean specialities and vegetarian dishes.
There was also a specials board with four further starters and three extra mains on the night in question.
I chose my starter from the board, opting for the seafood pancake (£6.75), which was filled with prawns and asparagus and covered with a delicious crab bisque.
It was a very nice combination and came with a neat and tasty side salad.
Across the table was the trio of fish (£6.25), which consisted of kiln-roasted salmon, home-cured gravad lax and dressed crab meat with dill crème fraiche and apple compote.
The crab in particular worked very well with the dill and apple, while the kiln-roasting imparted a flavour into the salmon.
I followed this with chicken souvlaki (£13.50) – marinated breast kebab in yoghurt, mint and spices, served with warm, crispy pitta bread, a Greek-style salad with feta and olives.
As well as the sauce which came with the chicken, the dish also came with a yoghurt dip, both of which were a bit of a mystery to me but absolutely delicious, the latter being superb with the accompanying, well-seasoned chips.
Needless to say, I wolfed it all down.
Sticking with the Greek theme, the other main was stefado (£14.95) – a casserole of chunky-cut rump steak with baby onions, sun-dried tomatoes and spices in red wine – which tasted rich and sumptuous.
It was attractively served in a lidded, round bowl, accompanied by two others containing rice and chips.
The table was also provided with a dish of vegetables, so there was certainly no shortage of food.
And one of the first comments from my wife was ‘we should definitely come here again’ – high praise indeed!
The food was washed down with a couple of bottles of Greek beer, Mythos, on my part and a large glass of house red (total price £11.40, which was very reasonable).
It was just a shame that no one else was there to share the experience, but it sounds like it will be a busy weekend for the team, deservedly so.
FURTHER OPTIONS AT LUNCHTIME
If you head to Socrates during the day, there is a whole new menu to enjoy, offering the likes of sandwiches, omelettes, pizza, pasta, burgers, fish cakes and fish and chips.
No details of where the food came from was provided, but there was a reassuring introduction in the menu which says: ‘We pride ourselves in using fresh, local produce and working with local businesses to supply ingredients for our menu. All our produce is fully traceable.’
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Grilled goat’s cheese......£5.95
Scallops and king prawn filo pastry nest......£7.25
Soup of the day......£4.25
Filleted sea bass......£15.50
King prawn zorba......£16.25
Moroccan chicken sizzler......£13.95
Breast of Barbary duck......£15.25
Greek meze (v)......£9.50
Rice & spinach honey roast......£9.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food (no details)......7
Toilet for disabled......No
Verdict: It may not all be authentically Greek, but it certainly tastes good.
Contact: 01670 514666 or http://www.facebook.com/socratesno5