There are definitely advantages to allowing things to develop organically and not trying to do too much, too soon.
This seems to be the case with The Old Post Office in Warkworth, which set up the bistro in June 2013, following repeated requests from bed-and-breakfast customers for evening meals.
I can see the appeal of this as an overnight guest, although I’m not sure I would have expected such heady heights in a relatively short space of time.
And it’s clearly not just me who thinks this; I tried and failed to get a table for two on a Saturday night two or three times before booking about three weeks in advance and managing to get in at the weekend.
At the moment, the bistro is only open on Friday and Saturday nights and, taking up the front room of a traditional terraced property in the village’s Castle Street, only caters for around 20 or so covers.
Add all these factors together with the excellent experience I had there and you can understand why it’s so difficult to get in.
Despite the smallish dining room, there is plenty of space between the good-sized tables and the décor is relaxed, comfortable and suits the venue very nicely.
The menu is not huge, as you would expect for a small bistro, but it was more extensive than I expected and also had a couple of vegetarian options for each course (from a total of five or six). There was also a specials board with an extra starter and main.
There is an admirable commitment to local food too, clearly set out in the front page of the menus, which incidentally are delightfully bound in wooden covers.
The owners, Helen and Richard Prytherch, say: ‘We pride ourselves on offering friendly service and honest, rustic food that showcases some of the best of our local produce
‘We use many local suppliers including The Amble Butcher, The Pride of Northumbria, Morwick ice cream parlour, The Running Fox Bakery.’
The introduction also mentions local fish, Doddington Dairy cheese as well as fruit, vegetables and herbs from their own kitchen garden and their own free-range eggs.
The starters offered a real dilemma with an array of my favourite things – scallops, crispy pork belly, crab cakes – but in the end I went for the bruschetta trio (£5.95), and didn’t regret it.
An excellent portion for the price, it consisted of one topped with grilled goat’s cheese and red onion marmalade, another with Craster kipper pâté and a third, more traditional one with tomato, olive, onion and basil.
They were all delicious with fresh-tasting ingredients and the bruschetta was thin and crispy, but cleverly didn’t crumble and crack when you cut it.
The missus had the pan-fried king scallops served lightly curried on a bed of coconut and coriander dahl (£8.95) – one of two scallops options on the menu – and again it was very good.
The menu referred to rustic food, but my main course was a little more exotic – slow-cooked Moroccan lamb shawarma served with lemon, mint and pomegranite slaw, yoghurt, pickled chilli and flatbread (£14.95).
The meat definitely was slow-cooked as it was tender and delicious in a delicately-spiced sauce.
It wasn’t very hot, but the beauty of the dish was that you could add some of the pickled chilli (home-grown) or indeed some of the yoghurt, depending on how spicy you like it.
The flatbread was also good, while the slaw added a welcome freshness to the dish.
Across the table was a more traditional dish, although with a slightly less common fish – pan-fried stone bass fillet and prawns with spinach, samphire, Jersey royals and a beurre blanc (£16.95). It went down very nicely indeed.
Despite being well fed, we found room for dessert, not least because my all-time favourite was on offer – banoffee pie with cream or ice cream (£5.95). I wolfed it down and it was well worth the wait.
On the other side of the table was The Old Post Office sundae (£5.95) – home-made vanilla, ginger and chocolate brownie ice cream, fruit, cream, meringue, coulis and hot toffee sauce. It was certainly clear that plenty of effort went into creating it.
To drink, there were a number of lagers and ales, while the wine list had been carefully compiled.
SUPERB FOOD IN A RELAXING AND COSY ENVIRONMENT
The service at the bistro was excellent, both professional (knowledge about wine and food pairings), but also intimate and friendly, which suits the venue. Chef Helen came out at the end of the evening and spoke to all of the diners, which was a nice touch. It was representative of how everything is done; thought has clearly gone into it. For example, we were given bread when we arrived, but not just bread – it was olive and honey spelt bread with oil and vinegar, olives and a piece of beetroot gnocchi with French cheese.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
King scallops with toasted hazelnut butter and samphire......£8.95
Mushroom medley flambéed in a cream sauce on sour dough......£5.50
Pork belly with honey buttered apple and piccalilli purée......£5.50
Crab cake with pesto mayonnaise and pea shoots......£5.50
Steak platter with Northumbrian fillet steak and trimmings......£23.95
Paneer and pepper Naanza (Indian-style pizza)......£11.95
Crispy crab cakes with chilli jam, served with salad and sweet potato fries......£12.95
Northumbrian cheese platter – Berwick Edge, Cuddy’s Cave and Darling Blue......£7.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Value for money......8
Use of local food......9
Access for disabled......6
Toilet for disabled......No (one toilet)
Verdict: A real gem – local food in creative dishes in a very pleasant atmosphere.
Contact: 01665 711341; mobile 0782 8485375; website www.warkwortholdpostoffice.co.uk