If there’s one thing about Alnwick that I’ve learnt over the years of living here, it’s that each pub in the town has its own identity.
I wasn’t massively shocked to learn that at some point in the town’s history, it was home to more than 40 watering holes. Nowadays, in some cases, the buildings struggle to keep trade coming in and it’s more common to see venues across the country dying out rather than expanding.
But, from fine dining pubs to self-service pumps, Alnwick is well and truly full of variety when it comes to heading to a local.
Having grown-up in Alnwick, I find that you associate different pubs with different types of people. During my teenage years, I’d shared more nights than I’d liked to remember in The Market Tavern, but I particularly remember the music nights fondly.
It was sad to see that the Tavern closed its doors earlier in the year but when I learnt it was going to have a makeover, I couldn’t wait to get down and try the food.
Having actually forgotten it had reopened, a reminder in the form of a festive menu being dropped through the door prompted me to take up this overdue dinner date.
As the beginnings of Storm Desmond began rumbling on Friday, I headed for a pre-theatre meal to the venue I hadn’t entered for about four or five years.
There was a warm welcome on the door as we entered and were immediately asked what we’d like to drink – obviously the priorities are sorted.
With a nice, ice-cold drink in our hands, we scanned over the vast festive menu that had just been added that week.
The seasonal menu featured an array of starters, small plates, seasonal specials and, of course, some pub classics – all of these came at a friendly price.
As we were about to dive into a three-course festival of truly delicious-sounding meals, we thought we’d check what time we needed to be at the theatre. We discovered that the play started at 7pm, instead of the more common 7.30pm so we thought we’d find something on the menu which wouldn’t see us leave on an empty stomach.
I opted for the Tavern’s homemade burger, which rings in at a ridiculously-cheap £6.50.
With several other businesses serving up burgers, the question I had on my lips was, would this stand-up to the competitors?
My dinner partner opted for the simple macaroni cheese. It obviously isn’t the hardest thing in the world to make but is currently a popular option. This came in a starter or main course size, priced at £4.50 or £7.50.
To whet our appetites, we opted for the ‘basket’ of artisan bread (£3.50), served with oil and balsamic dip. Savvy readers will notice in fact the bread was served on a plate and not a basket but not to worry, I didn’t notice!
What was interesting about this starter, though, was that it wasn’t just plain balsamic, the chef had introduced a fruity hint to it, which really gave it a festive feel.
Luckily, the venue wasn’t too busy for a Friday night, maybe the onset of the storm was keeping people away from leaving their homes, but it worked to our advantage because it meant things were fairly quiet and we could relax after a long week.
When the mains arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. The aesthetics from the building came across as an upmarket pub where you could cosy up in front of the fire.
The burger was placed inside a plastic bowl with a napkin, almost like an American diner, it seemed almost mismatched but I discovered there was good reason – to catch any fallen food.
Now, anyone who knows me will know that I’m a massive burger lover so when I say this was one of the juiciest meals I’ve ever tasted, then you will understand how nice it was. The menu states that the meal is ‘very naughty, very nice’. I’m not sure how a burger can misbehave but it was truly delicious.
Two patties are pressed together and contained in a brioche bun, so it’s pretty monstrous and the waterfall of cheese layered down the burger was an absolute delight. I didn’t actually finish the whole meal and it’s very unlike me to be defeated by food.
There was absolutely no room for a dessert but with a refurbishment on the cards for 2016, I can’t wait to return to try some different fare on the menu.
The winter menu was also a sensible touch to keep things not only festive, but fresh too. It was also great to see that regular live music was also returning on a Friday.
THE PERFECT WINTER WARMER
Even though the fire wasn’t blazing, the food will certainly leave you feeling warm. Portion sizes were plentiful and there was a really nice feeling about the place. The winter menu will get you in the mood for Christmas. The staff were friendly, although it is typical bar service.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
King prawn cocktail salad......£6.25
Buffalo spicy chicken wings......£4.50
Gammon and eggs......£10.50
Trio of special sausages......£8
Chicken in a basket......£7.50
Fillet of wild sea bass......£15.50
Slow-braised Northumbrian beef in red wine......£11.50
Wild berry cheesecake......£4.50
Chocolate brownies sundae......£4.50
Banana caramel meringue......£4.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......8 (The menu states that the cooking is the ‘best Northumbria has to offer’.)
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: This is one of Alnwick’s truly great pubs with a new lease of life and some hearty meals to go along with it.
Contact: 01665 602759 or visit www.themarkettavernalnwick.co.uk
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Nadon Thai Restaurant, Morpeth. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.