It’s a little over five years since my last review of The Jolly Fisherman in Craster, but it remains a staple of the north Northumberland food scene.
Last time out, just before Christmas in 2012, I went, by chance, on the very day it had reopened after a seven-week revamp and was impressed by the lack of teething issues.
Half a decade on, it was time to see whether the early standards had been kept up, with the answer being a reassuring yes.
The no-longer-new look, a mix of pastel colours and wood, maintains its relaxed but stylish feel.
As before, while the pub section retains a cosy, casual vibe, the restaurant area is smart enough to provide a nice venue for eating out – a birthday celebration in our case last week.
Back in 2012, I said that ‘in more favourable weather and light conditions, it would be even more impressive to sit on the terrace out the back, which would offer spectacular sea views’.
But given that my most recent outing was in early January, I cannot add any more to this – in another five years, I’m going in August!
Turning to the menu, fans of local seafood were spoilt for choice in terms of the starters with Lindisfarne oysters, crab soup and kippers all making an appearance.
Not for the first time on my culinary outings in north Northumberland, the combination of seafood and a Scotch egg proved too much to resist and so I went for the Northumberland kipper Scotch egg, with truffle mayonnaise and a cheese straw (£8).
The outside was crispy, the fish still moist and the yolk runny so three ticks for that, while the truffle mayonnaise was a nice touch – a posh tartare sauce if you will.
My wife will seldom look further if she spots mussels on a menu and while she momentarily faltered this time, she ended up sticking to type and ordering the blue-lip Shetland mussels with a fennel, tomato, chilli and vodka sauce (£8), which she declared to be one of the best accompaniments she has ever had with the shellfish.
Not surprisingly, seafood dominates the menu, although there were steaks – both beef and venison, a burger and vegetarian options to choose from as well, and we both stuck to the fishy theme.
I went for a particular favourite of mine – squid, which was grilled and served with chickpeas, pancetta, Charlotte potatoes and a dressed herb salad (£16).
It’s an oft-repeated cliché that squid, like scallops, needs to be cooked carefully to avoid a chewy texture, but it’s also true, and you will never convince a sceptic of its merits with overcooked calamari.
Luckily, mine was tender, flavourful and not-at-all rubbery, served almost as a warm salad which worked well.
If I were being hyper-critical, I would question the need for the pancetta as the expected bursts of saltiness never materialised.
Mrs O had chosen the poached monkfish with tenderstem broccoli, a bubble and squeak cake and samphire butter (£19).
She too was impressed with the cooking of the fish and the other elements came together to form a harmonious whole.
The portions, in particular for the main courses, were modest – in a good way, with enough of the key ingredients, but without being overloaded with carbs – which meant that we both had room for dessert.
Personally, in a restaurant environment, I would much rather have moderate plates so that you can enjoy three courses rather than getting full halfway through the main.
From a decent-sounding selection, we both went for the dark chocolate truffle tart with satsuma ice-cream and raspberries (£8), tempted as much by the ice-cream as anything else.
It was worth it as it was a very tasty accompaniment for a chocolate pud and a new one on me. The tart itself was as rich as you would want for a dessert of this ilk without being heavy or sickly.
To wash it all down, I started with a pint of real ale – Workie Ticket seems to be a constant – and followed it with a glass of white wine from the well-stocked list.
LOCAL FOOD IS KEY FROM LAND OR SEA
A number of menu items mention the provenance of the food, citing places and producers in north Northumberland and beyond, but there was also a reassuring blackboard, detailing from where the food is sourced. It said: ‘All of our fish is locally sourced and sustainable, North Sea-landed and delivered by Hodgson’s of Hartlepool.’
Lindisfarne Crab Ltd provided the crab and oysters, while last week’s beef and lamb had come from two different farms in Longframlington and the pork and game from Kelso.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Lindisfarne oysters......£2.50 each
Famous crab soup......£8
Soup of the day......£6
Omelette Arnold Bennett......£7
Young turnips amontillado......£13
Baked garlic, herb salad, olives, feta, courgette, red pepper chutney......£15
Beef Club burger......£12
Caramelised rice pudding......£7
Chocolate almond sundae......£6
Sticky toffee pudding......£6
Warm chocolate brownie......£6
Cheese and provisions......£9
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......8
Value for money......7
Access for disabled......6
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: It still provides a good-quality dining experience, specially for fish fans.
Contact: 01665 576461 or www.the jollyfishermancraster.co.uk/