Seahouses becomes a totally different place in the summer – the small fishing harbour village is suddenly swamped by visitors. The bars are buzzing, the shops are rammed, the car parks full and the fish and chip restaurants overflowing. And there is good reason – in fact, there are many very good reasons – the beaches, the boat trips to the Farnes, the views, etc.
We resisted the temptation to go for the national fish dish and instead opted to visit the largest restaurant in Seahouses – The Bamburgh Castle Inn – in the hope that if we were going to squeeze in anywhere on a splendid Saturday night, it would be there.
It almost backfired when we were told that it was very busy and food orders had only just restarted.
So we stuck it out, ordered drinks – a large Merlot and a pint of local real ale, it just trips off the tongue these days – and waited for the crowds to subside. The ale was a fine, well-kept Farne Island from Hadrian Border Brewery, a very refreshing drink after a scorching day.
Part of the Inn Collection Group, we knew what to expect from this hostelry overlooking the bustling harbour – quality bar food in comfortable surroundings.
The menu was extensive, with a good selection of favourite pub grub – scampi (£10.95), chicken tikka masala (£12.95), steamed salmon (£16.25), burger (£13.50), steak and ale pie (£12.95).
But what impressed me was the variety and the number of more imaginative dishes, particularly on the small specials easel. How about black pudding and caramelised onion pork burger (£14.95), or chilli chicken and peanut linguine (£12.95)?
There were also sections dedicated to vegetarians and children (£5.95), plus a Sunday carvery (£9.95 adult, £7.95 children). Comprehensive wine, bubbly, gin, whisky, liqueur coffees and hot drinks lists completed the picture.
The specials sounded particularly appetising – mussels in a spring onion and cider butter, with rustic bread (£11.95); pan-fried trio of pigeon breasts in creamy peppercorn sauce, with black pudding, served with braised red cabbage and baby potatoes (£15.95); or pan-fried fillet of sea bream, served with a caper and crayfish butter, basmati rice and salad (£16.95). I couldn’t resist the pigeon, while Mrs L also went for something a bit different, albeit on the main menu – lamb kofta kebab, served on pitta bread with salad and garlic sauce (£11.95).
But before that, we took on a couple of starters, crayfish cocktail (£7.95) for me, and homemade smoked mackerel pâté, served with rustic bread (£6.75) opposite.
So I joined the queue to order our choices at the bar.
When they arrived, both starters were classy. In a small, high-sided dish, the crayfish sat in a cocktail of tangy sauce and crispy salad, artistically topped with pea shoots.
Mrs L’s pâté was truly scrumptious, the chunky bread also a highlight. We fairly polished them off and awaited the main event.
The pigeon was darker than chicken meat and quite tough to cut, but almost melted in the mouth, with a consistency that reminded me of liver. It was like a cross between game, although not as strong, and chicken. The pigeon and black pudding combined well in the peppercorn sauce.
I am not normally a fan of red cabbage, but it wasn’t too vinegary and complemented the meat and new potatoes so well. I enjoyed the dish – not your standard pub fare.
The complexity of the presentation of the lamb kofta kebab dish belied its underlying simplicity. But the flavours worked well together, from the mint-leaves garnish through to the pitta bread base. As there was barely a crumb left on her plate, there was no need to ask whether Mrs L had enjoyed it. The chips, though, were a bit dry not the handcut, triple cooked type that is all the rage at the moment, although I was assured they weren’t of the frozen variety.
We decided to push the boat out and go for desserts. As we had to return to the bar to order them, we could also dictate the length of rest time in between courses.
My homemade sticky toffee pudding (£6.95) was devilish, a real treat. Across the table, the rich chocolate pot (£5.95) was equally naughty but was missing the homemade shortbread biscuits mentioned on the menu.
MORE OF THE SAME ON RETURN VISIT
We had enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere at the Bamburgh Castle Inn enough to warrant to return the following weekend. This time, we opted for Gordal olives (£4.95) and potato skins (£5.30) to keep the hunger pangs at bay. Both were pretty standard, nothing too flash, although the big and juicy olives were well-presented and accompanied by two chunky slices of farmhouse bread.
For mains, I chose steak and ale pie (£12.95), with chips and peas, since the more interesting braised turkey, leek and sausage pie on the specials board had sold out. It was packed full of steak and full of flavour. I yearned for more gravy, though.
Mrs L had chicken burger (£12.95), which came in a normal bap, not the brioche bun advertised on the menu, and daughter plumped for creamy garlic chicken (£12.95), both of which were decent quality without setting the gastronomic world alight.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day......£5.45
Tian of avocado & local crab......£7.95
Tandoori spiced pulled pork......£11.95
Chilli chicken & peanut linguine......£12.95
Chicken tikka masala......£12.95
Grilled gammon steak......£11.95
Battered fish & chips......£12.95
Mushroon & Gruyère tart......£10.95
Orange & lemon rouladev£5.95
Baileys and white chocolate cheesecake......£5.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......8
Value for money......7½
Access for disabled......8
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Familiar, plus out-of-the-ordinary, pub grub to a high standard. My advice would definitely be to go for whatever is on the specials menu.
Contact: 01665 720283 or http://www.bamburghcastlehotel.co.uk/