When it first burst onto the scene in Alnwick four years ago, The Dirty Bottles was revolutionary.
Before the dramatic makeover that stripped it back to its Dickensian roots, the pub was officially called Ye Olde Cross. It had been an inn for 200 years, although the building itself is thought to date back to the 1600s.
But it is famed for a jinx that has spanned two centuries. When the innkeeper at the time dropped down dead after interfering with four bottles in the window, his widow declared them cursed and encased them between two panes of glass, where they have remained ever since.
So when local businessman Mark Jones took on the almost derelict building in 2014, changed its name and gave it an almost grungy, industrial appearance, he was onto a winner.
Integrated into the charming, antiquated world of chunky tables, wooden floorboards and exposed brick walls is a startling backbone of hi-tech innovations that re-invented the pub experience in the town. This historic building was able to blend in modern self-service technology and features that included help-yourself beer pumps, tasting walls and ordering booths with interactive tablets.
Quite how popular they have been is another question – I, for one, still prefer to give my order to a human being rather than rely on my particularly flaky grasp of electronic devices – call me old-fashioned!
So on our last visit, we leant on the adventurous spirit of a couple of friends to test the touch-screen food ordering service.
It was really rather straightforward – in fact, negotiating the menu itself was more of a challenge.
Dubbed a taproom and smokehouse, the Bottles is influenced by the Tex-Mex culinary delights of the southern American states – pulled pork, fajitas, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, slow-cooked brisket, barbecue sauces and the like.
The formula has worked a treat since the opening and the menu little changed – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Our food decisions were mainly based on the experiences of several past visits. We kicked off by sharing one starter – and a small one at that –meat nachos, with mozzarella and topped with chilli, pulled pork and brisket (small £5.50; large £8.50) – it was delicious, full of flavour and spiciness. Even between four people we were suitably satiated – great value.
Our main courses varied. Opposite, the order was for my favourite Bottles dish, king prawn and chicken kebab (£13). As the menu states, all kebabs are skewered with peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and red onion and served with skin-on fries and a crisp salad and slaw, then drizzled with a sweet chilli sauce. It was a veritable feast that never fails to impress.
Also opposite was homemade lasagne, with salad, garlic bread and chunky chips (£9.50). This was another delightful dish, proper comfort food but nicely executed. The combination of garlic bread, chips, very cheesy pasta and the light relief of a crunchy salad was dynamic.
Mrs L opted for the Smokehouse Special, choosing to make up her own meal of two meats and two sides (£12). She chose brisket, pulled pork, fries and salad and declared her meal filling and, again, good value.
I plumped for one of the house burgers rather than enduring the stress of building my own, with the amazing choice of fillings available. I went for the Smokey and the Band Egg (double beef patty topped with smoked onions, monty jack cheese, fried egg and smoky bbq sauce, £11).
As with many of the meals, it arrived on a tray and piece of printed paper – trendy but a bit impractical once the paper gets soggy.
The food itself was great, a lovely combination of tastes and a good choice of burger.
We were all pretty stuffed so decided a joint approach to desserts was the best option and took on the homemade cheesecake (£5.25) with four spoons! It was a wise move as there was plenty to give us all a taste without anyone feeling overly bloated. It had been a very convivial occasion in an unpretentious, friendly venue, with reasonably priced, freshly cooked food. No wonder we keep returning!
HEAVEN IN A BUN FOR BURGER FANS
If you’re a burger fan, the Bottles has it sorted! Apart from the Build a Burger feature, with toppings, cheese and sauces aplenty, the house burgers are so inventive if you simply can’t make up your mind whether to add glazed peppers, gherkins, applewood cheese, chargrilled courgette or black pudding. How about the Fowl Ref burger (£10), with breaded chicken breast, baby gem lettuce, fresh tomato and creamy mayo; or Ginola’s Stepover (£11), with double beef patty, crispy bacon, brie, red onion chutney and mixed leaves?
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Wings & skins combo......£7.50
Chicken Caesar salad......£5.95
Scotch egg and black pudding......£6.75
Bottles Burger (triple patty)......£13.25
Raj Bhaji (v)......£9.75
Cheesier Than the ’80s......£11.50
Cincinnati-style beef chilli......£10.25
Wild mushroom ravioli (v)......£9.95
Spicy chipotle chicken......£10.25
Rack of ribs......£13
Giant chicken nugget......£11.75
Haloumi kebab (v)......£10
Build your own burger......£8.50+
The American (hot dog)......£8.50
Chocolate or strawberry sundae......£5
Waffles (classic, mud slide, fruity or sweety)......£5.50
Homemade sweet shop terrine......£5.50
Homemade cheesecake of the day......£5.25
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Value for money......8½
Access for disabled......7
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Plenty of decent quality, well-cooked food.
Contact: 01665 606193 or visit www.thedirtybottles.co.uk/