Sometimes you take for granted whatever is on your doorstep, no matter how special or spectacular it may be.
I find this to be true with north Northumberland itself – sometimes day-to-day life just gets in the way, so it is always welcome when we have friends to stay and we can show off what a fantastic part of the world we live in.
Arriving late on Saturday in pouring rain, we were a little concerned about how the weekend might pan out, but we woke to a sunny Sunday and a hearty breakfast at Barter Books was followed by a walk from Craster via Dunstanburgh Castle to Low Newton for a pint in The Ship Inn.
Given that both friends and Mrs O are teachers, they were able to continue the theme on Monday with a trip to Alnwick Castle, while I was given the task of finding somewhere for the four of us to eat that night.
Bamburgh seemed a good bet – another castle to tick off the list – and I have been impressed in the past by The Wynding Inn at the Lord Crewe Hotel (I gave it nine out of 10 in December 2014).
However, opting for pastures new, we booked a table a little way up the street at the Victoria Hotel and it certainly didn’t let us down.
I have been in the bar before, but the brasserie area takes it up a notch in terms of the décor and taken together with the smartly-laid tables, you do feel that you are in a restaurant rather than a pub.
In terms of dining with friends or in a larger group, where the Victoria certainly sets itself apart is the size of the menu.
There is an extensive choice of starters, sharing platters, mains, healthier options, from the grill, home comforts, light bites and children’s meals.
With the teachers having been out during the day and eaten a decent-sized lunch, only the boys decided to have a starter.
I went for the pan-seared pigeon breast with rosti potato, onion purée and a whiskey sauce (£7.50), while my friend had the classic homemade Scotch egg with dressed leaves and piccalilli (£6.50).
If anyone else dining here is umming and aahing about whether to have a starter, certainly these two were pretty modest in size.
I enjoyed mine, but the pigeon was slightly less rare than I would ideally have it, although certainly not overcooked, and I didn’t get any whiskey kick from what was still a decent sauce.
My friend really enjoyed his Scotch egg, but he did point out that if he had eaten all of the piccalilli on the plate, it would have overpowered the main event.
Having had meat to begin, I went for fish for main and the crispy sea bass fillet with paprika potatoes, chorizo, pimientos and a basil dressing (£15.95).
Elsewhere round the table was the poached salmon salad with lemon crème fraîche (£14.95); the Italian burger topped with pepperoni and mozzarella, onion rings, fries and relish (£11.95); and the steak and ale pie with a puff pastry lid, mixed vegetables and mash – although chips can be selected if so desired – (£12.95).
Everyone really enjoyed their meal and nearly everything was eaten, albeit the burger and onion rings required a helping hand from others on the table.
My sea bass was very good indeed, with the fish the clear star of the show, as it should be, but well backed by the accompaniments to form a fresh and relatively light dish.
The fillets were cooked very well and the skins were perfectly crispy, as promised on the menu. The potatoes were soft, the chorizo crisp and rich, while the peppers added a little vibrancy in taste and colour.
There were very few complaints from elsewhere on the table, apart from the vegetables served with the pie being a little bland and lacking in flavour.
With the boys being greedy and the girls having avoided starters, we all had room for dessert.
Our friends shared the cheeseboard (£7.50) and were very impressed by the selection from ‘up the road’ at Doddington Dairy.
For us, the rich chocolate and praline truffle (£5.95) and lemon posset with shortbread (£5.95) both went down very nicely indeed.
PLENTY ON OFFER THROUGHOUT DAY
Aside from the evening meals that we had, the hotel offers a range of options throughout the day.
This includes breakfast for non-residents, afternoon tea from £9.50 per person, takeaway fish and chips from noon until 7pm for £5, and sandwiches and light bites from noon until 6pm (£5.95-£8.95). Sunday lunches are £9.95 for one course, £12.95 for two and £15.95 for three.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day......£4.95
Pork belly and black pudding croquette......£5.95
Antipasto (to share)......£14.95
Seafood platter (to share)......£16.95
Cajun style salmon......£14.95
Rump and rib of lamb......£16.95
Steamed sea bass......£13.95
17oz tomahawk steak......£25.95
Carter’s Bamburgh Bangers......£10.95
Catch of the day......£11.95
Sticky toffee pudding......£5.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......7
Access for the disabled......6
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Cater for children......Yes
Verdict: The food was by and large very good, but the choice is so large that you can really have very few complaints.
Contact: 01668 214431 or www.strhotels.co.uk/victoria-hotel/eat/
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed William de Percy Coaching Inn & Crêperie, Otterburn. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.