One of the delights of this job is discovering places that would have otherwise slipped off the radar.
We, like many people, I guess, are creatures of habit. When we find somewhere we like, that’s it, we tend to stick with it, come rain or shine.
So where would our wandering reviews take us on Saturday night? After a bit of a ring-round and a couple of ‘fully-bookeds’, we landed the last table at Beaches, a tiny Alnmouth restaurant which specialises in fish dishes.
Run by a husband-and-wife team for 27 years, this one has somehow passed us by. It is only open Thursday to Saturday evenings in the summer and just Saturdays off-season.
And when you book a table, you do so for the entire evening, there is no second sitting nor pressure to vacate. Eating out, for me, is not just about the food but the whole experience (with the added bonus of not having to do the washing up).
Consequently, Beaches only caters for 24 covers.
It is the most unassuming of eateries – you almost feel you are intruding on a private dinner party in someone’s front room. Tables are crammed into a small area and we had to sidle crab-like between fellow diners to reach the far corner where we shuffled into our seats.
Looking around, we could have been in a cabin deep in the bowels of a pirate ship. Low oak beams, wooden cladding and seafaring artefacts – maps, buoys, nets, ropes, oars – added to the atmosphere – nautical but nice.
The tables were so close we couldn’t help but strike up conversation with our neighbours.
Blackboard menus boast just four starters (two fish, two vegetarian) and six main courses (three fish, one shellfish, one meat, one vegetarian) – a very limited choice but a good sign for lovers of fresh, local produce cooked to order.
In fact, the menu is on blackboards because it changes daily, depending on what is caught by fishermen at Amble and Boulmer that day.
I liked the sound of lobster bisque with mopping-up bread (£4.95) to start, while my wife chose pan-fried mushrooms in butter with garlic cloves and a dash of Chardonnay (£4.95).
Before the starters arrived, we were delivered thick slices of granary bread with a ramekin of butter. By this time, the restaurant was buzzing, drowning out the sound of classical music from a speaker over our heads.
Neither dish was overly fussy, in fact they bordered on plain, the lobster soup, in particular, was without garnish or swirl of cream. But appearances can be deceptive as both were triumphantly tasty. The bisque was a thick consistency and yet blessed with the subtle flavour of lobster.
My wife’s mushrooms were simply presented in a dish and were deliciously garlicky.
It was her turn to go for the lobster (plucked from Amble Bay and served with lime wedges and new potatoes, £24.95), for the main course. Again it was straightforward – no sauces, no garnishes, the best way to serve lobster that fresh – no need to disguise such delicate tastes.
I chose the ‘big fat juicy plaice grilled with limes and lashings of butter served with new potatoes and vegetables’ (£19.95). The fish practically flipped on the plate, that’s how fresh it was. Big, fat and juicy it certainly was – it draped over the edge of the plate. The amazing flavour was complemented with the lime and butter. Accompanying vegetables were again straightforward, nothing fancy – carrots, broccoli, courgette and new potatoes – but well cooked.
Neither of us are big eaters, so we were quite satified with the portions – not too much to make us uncomfortably full, which allowed us to indulge in desserts (all home-made). If you are someone who likes volume, Beaches is not for you.
I plumped for the lemon cheesecake, while my wife went for the chocolate pot. For one who is not a sweet fan, she fair demolished her pot of rigid mousse with blackberries and redcurrants, licked her lips and declared it one of the best desserts she’d had, barely giving me my customary taste.
My cheesecake was smooth, creamy and a fine way to finish the meal.
The service was extremely personal, nothing seemed too much trouble. When the parents on the table next to us had to depart to put their baby to bed just after their food arrived, their plates were swooped up to keep their meals warm without anyone even being asked.