The Schooner Hotel at Alnmouth has become as famous for its alleged paranormal activity as anything else.
It prides itself on being one of Britain’s most haunted inns, with the Poltergeist Society twice bestowing accolades upon it.
Ghost investigators have officially listed more than 60 individual spirits, with spooky activity increasing over the last few years to include more than 3,000 reported sightings.
Sadly, or luckily, depending on your opinion of poltergeists, the only spirits in sight on our visit were behind the bar.
The Schooner hasn’t exactly set the world alight on the food front, with online travel forum TripAdviser rating it 12th out of 12 eateries in the seaside village.
Alnmouth is one of my favourite gastro-venues and there is a lot of competition for such a small place, but the Schooner has never been one of my haunts. In fact, the last time I visited, the restaurant served Indian cuisine.
So I did not have any great expectations before I went but was pleasantly surprised by the experience. It wasn’t quite the horror show I’d anticipated.
The place needs a serious overhaul, a major upgrade, although the tired surroundings do add to the aforementioned eeriness.
My companion and I chose to eat in the more airy, lighter conservatory, but before we took our seats we ordered drinks and meals at the bar.
There seemed to be rooms everywhere – it was like walking onto the set of a game of Cluedo!
The conservatory was very quiet – not a soul was sitting in there, except us – in the distance, several gaming machines played away to themselves. But the pool table in the adjacent room had attracted a bunch of youngsters. Outside, a patio area with tables and chairs looked very inviting – if only we had arrived earlier in the day.
The menu gloated pretty standard pub fare – potato skins (£5.95), Caesar salad (£4.95) and chicken goujons (£5.50) among the starters; and gammon (£11.95), homemade beef lasagne (£9.95) and an array of platters, burgers and pasta dishes propping up the mains.
I wouldn’t describe the dishes as cheap either, more like average prices these days.
We chatted to an old friend at the bar, clutching our pints of Caffrey’s and Cobra while the starters were cooked.
It was a brief hiatus, enough to put the world to rights, before I was tucking into my battered and deep-fried fish goujons with accompanying tartare sauce (£5.50).
It was a sizeable entrée – I wouldn’t have been inconsolable if that had been my main course. The fish chunks were meaty and the batter crispy, light and not too greasy, although the sharp tartare sauce cut through any lingering oiliness. A more modest side salad, with its mixed lettuce leaves, tomato wedge, cucumber and cress was fresh and uncomplicated.
Across the way, landed four large slices of cheesy garlic bread (£4.95). The ciabatta was fairly smothered in melted cheese and the same simple salad graced the side of the plate. Again, it was a meal in itself, hardly gourmet food, but filling nonetheless.
No sooner had we finished than our plates had vanished and the next courses were laid before us.
I’m not sure what swayed it but the menu’s description of our ‘famous homemade steak and ale pie’ (£10.95) received my vote. It was a dish that did not stand on ceremonies – it was what it was, a lump of pie covered in thick, uber-rich gravy with frozen chips and peas alongside. The pastry was okay, if flaccid, probably due to the effects of the microwave oven, and the meat was chunky and tasty. It was, however, too salty for my liking and I’m not sure it was worth £10.95.
My dining buddy went even more plain and traditional, with scampi and chips (£10.50). He bemoaned the hefty breaded coating, which overpowered his prawns but was generally satisfied with his unglamorous choice. A pot of peas and salad garnish complete his picture.
We were both almost full to the gunwales but ploughed on in the interests of a complete review. From a limited choice of four desserts, I plumped for sticky toffee pudding with ice-cream, while straight ice-cream was enough to satisfy my colleague. We were told the ice-cream was from Northumberland favourites Doddington’s, although it did not taste like their produce.
Both desserts were palatable, with the addition of 1960s-style wafers spookily underlining the dated feel about the Schooner.
It had been an average experience that fell into the ‘I’ve had worse’ category.
ATTENTIVE AND PROMPT SERVICE
I couldn’t fault the service at the Schooner Hotel. Our meals arrived quickly and we were asked several times if all was well.
There was quite a wide choice of options, with hot paninis (£7.50) as an attractive lighter bite. Flavours included chicken and bacon melt, cheese and ham, tuna melt, sweet chilli chicken and cheese and onion.
In keeping with many of the comments on the TripAdviser website, we found the toilets were shoddy and needed a makeover.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup (white onion, red pepper)......£3.95
Crispy coated chicken......£5.95
Crispy breaded mushrooms (v)......£4.95
Hot buffalo wings......£5.50
Fish, chips & peas......£10.95
Spicy Cajun chicken......£10.95
Caesar chicken salad......£9.50
Rack of chargrilled ribs......£14.95
Broccoli cream bake (v)......£8.95
Range of pizzas......£7.50-£8.95
Aberdeen Angus burgers......£8.95-£12.95
Veggie burger (v)......£8.95
Desserts (all £3.95)
Chocolate fudge cake, sticky toffee pudding, spotted dick, jam sponge.
STAR RATINGS (out of ten)
Quality of food......6
Use of local food (nothing mentioned on the menu)......2
Verdict: Straightforward pub grub that filled a hole. Nothing spectacular.
Contact: 01665 830216 or visit www.theschoonerhotel.co.uk
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Island View Inn, Great North Road (A1), Cheswick. and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.