With the variety of cuisines and eating establishments that have made their home in Northumberland, the only issue you’ll have is choosing where to try first.
From regional favourites like Pan Haggerty to international dishes that have found their way to the north, Northumberland has a rich variety of food choices available.
No matter if you choose to stop off at a rural country pub, such as the AA Rosette Northumberland Arms in Felton, or a bustling town centre bistro, you’ll be sure to be met with a number of carefully-crafted dishes with an atmosphere and venue to match. For, when it comes to eating out, the list of dishes you must try is almost as long as the list of restaurants, pubs, cafes and hotels in which you should try them.
The region is home to a number of coastal towns and cities and therefore it would be a crime to pass up on the freshly-caught seafood that’s in abundance. There are options for everyone, whether you prefer your seafood on a plate in a cosy café, or eaten straight out of the paper with chips as you enjoy the sea views in Amble or Embleton.
Northumberland offers the lot: from crab and oysters, to lobster and cod. Along with one of the best walks in the county – from the village to nearby Dunstanburgh Castle and back – Craster offers two seafood delicacies not to be missed.
The first is the famous Craster kipper, which is as much a part of Northumberland as its stunning coastline. The Robson family have been making their unique kippers since 1865, briefly brining the herrings then slowly smoking them over a fire containing oak sawdust and whitewood shavings before stringing them high in the smokehouse rafters.
The region is home to a number of coastal towns and cities and therefore it would be a crime to pass up on the freshly-caught seafood that’s in abundance. There are options for everyone, whether you prefer your seafood on a plate or eaten straight out of the paper with chips
Not far from Robson’s is The Jolly Fisherman. Boasting stone flagged floors, low beam ceilings with roaring fires in winter and a stunning view of the coastline in summer, this pub also offers the finest crab sandwiches to be had in the county and people travel from far and wide for them. The recipe is a secret but, served in brown bread with a packet of crisps and a view over the coast, there are few dishes to match them. Alternatively, why not stop off at one of the county’s numerous, superb delicatessens or farm shops and snap up some fresh ingredients for a picnic?
Choose Northumbrian ham and pease pudding in a filling bread bun or try a lamb pinwheel from Alnwick butcher, R Turnbull and Sons. This family run firm has been going for more than a century and specialises in minted lamb in a pinwheel casing of puff pastry: just the ticket to keep you going on a walk along Hadrian’s Wall, particularly when followed by that most traditional of treats, a Border tart.
Just as the Borders themselves have been the subject of constant battles between the Scots and the English, so the Border tart is caught in a custody battle between those to the north and south. Its origins are lost in the mists of time but it is a shortcrust pastry case filled with rich dried fruits and sometimes topped with a latticework of pastry or even icing.
Another Northumberland dish worth looking out for, as it is enjoying a resurgence of interest thanks to the increased popularity of artisan dishes, is pan haggerty. Although it may have found popularity in pit towns like Ashington and Bedlington as a cheap way to fill stomachs, the simple recipe and taste speaks for itself and has cemented its place as a regional favourite.
Boasting stone flagged floors, low beam ceilings with roaring fires in winter and a stunning view of the coastline in summer, this pub also offers the finest crab sandwiches to be had in the county and people travel from far and wide for them
Soaring in popularity
Like Alnwick stew, it is a layered dish but this time the ingredients are potatoes, cheese and onions, layered in a shallow pan and fried until brown on the bottom. You then either turn it over to brown the other side or pop it under the grill until cooked.
However, while tradition is never far from the surface of most menus, modern British cuisine is soaring in popularity in Northumberland as a new generation of chefs looks for original and exciting ways of presenting familiar ingredients. Pubs provide the perfect platform for this sort of cuisine and there are plenty of superb ones to choose from, many of which also offer a wide range of locally-brewed beers, ales and ciders to accompany your meal.
Hexham is home to a number of fine eateries serving a combination of local and European dishes. Not far from the town centre, Bouchon offers classic French country cuisine with daily specials in the evening, where diners can enjoy dishes like roasted skate wing with buerre noisette and capers.
Offering more European dishes in the town, Stalida Greek Taverna serves authentic Greek food with an interior to match, hoping to recreate the atmosphere of being in a white painted building on a Greek island. There is also The Barrasford Arms, which has two superb restaurants combining local ingredients with classic French cooking techniques to produce dishes such as their classic twice-baked soufflé and North Shields hake, Provencal vegetables, confit potatoes.
However, while tradition is never far from the surface of most menus, modern British cuisine is soaring in popularity in Northumberland as a new generation of chefs looks for original and exciting ways of presenting familiar ingredients
Artisan style dishes
Not too far away, at Hedley on the Hill, The Feathers; a former drover’s cottage, produces artisan style dishes such as Northumbrian cheese rarebit with mixed garden pickle and devilled Blaydon burn Soay lamb’s liver, kidney and heart with Northumbrian bacon, mash, greens and ale gravy.
Tucked away on the edge of the sand dunes, Low Newton is another hidden gem on the picturesque Northumberland coast that is not to be missed. A tiny hamlet which consists mainly of cottages on three sides of a small village green, it also boasts a pub with a big reputation. The Ship Inn often finds itself full to the brim at weekends and in the summer holidays, when tiny Low Newton is packed with families enjoying the scenery, the sand, and some pretty good food and beer from The Ship’s own micro-brewery.
Along with interesting vegetarian food and delicious old fashioned puddings, the pub also serves very good fish, nearly all of which is caught by local fishermen – in fact, if you arrive between June and October at the right time of day you will see the lobster man walking up the beach to The Ship with a bucket of lobster in each hand. Perhaps because it is off the beaten track, the restaurant has restricted opening so do check times, but few sights are more memorable than that of Low Newton beach as dusk falls – so do add an evening visit to your itinerary during your stay in Northumberland.
Great local ingredients are also at the heart of one of Alnwick’s most popular venues; the Treehouse Restaurant, at Alnwick Gardens, where fish, seafood, organic meat from Northumberland’s farmlands and other regional specialities are cooked and served in a spectacular rustic setting in the tree tops.
Along with interesting vegetarian food and delicious old fashioned puddings, the pub also serves very good fish, nearly all of which is caught by local fishermen – in fact, if you arrive between June and October at the right time of day you will see the lobster man walking up the beach
Incidentally, Alnwick’s culinary heritage also brings us Alnwick stew, a hearty dish believed to have first been cooked many centuries ago for the Percy family, at the castle itself. Gammon or ham is cubed and placed in a layer in a cooking pot, followed by a layer of sliced onion, then a layer of sliced potatoes, with plenty of mustard powder, salt and pepper. You keep building the layers before adding some stock or water for moisture, bringing to the boil and simmering very gently until it is entirely cooked through.
But, of course, one of the joys of eating out is that someone else is doing the cooking and there are plenty of smaller venues in the county where they are justifiably proud of their home cooking. The family run Drift Café, near the beach at Cresswell, is a must for home-made cakes, while the quirky dog friendly Café des Amis at Morpeth is a hidden gem, serving hot food all day but gaining a particularly excellent reputation for its scones and cakes.
Morpeth also boasts a number of vibrant eateries, with Lollo Rosso sporting an extensive menu of pizza, pasta, chicken, fish and grilled meat, and not far down the street, Ephesus offers a range of authentic Turkish dishes in a charming setting. A favourite among visitors, Sea & Soil at Amble, boasts stunningly-presented dishes, crafted from a range of local ingredients, with a number of vegetarian options, while the rustic Fish Shack, situated on Amble’s harbour, offers a seafood selection with an array of seasonal specials.
The Copper Kettle Tea Rooms, at Bamburgh, is also worth a special mention as it’s one of the busiest cafés in the county – thanks to its good home cooking, its close proximity to Bamburgh Castle and the Grace Darling Museum. While the Copper Kettle Tea Rooms is something of a fixture on the eating out circuit, a new kid on the block is gaining an equally impressive reputation, particularly for its lobster dishes.
But, of course, one of the joys of eating out is that someone else is doing the cooking and there are plenty of smaller venues in the county where they are justifiably proud of their home cooking
A trip to nearby Holy Island is a must for any visitor to the area and the aptly-named First Class Food café, within the Post Office, is always a treat. Selling everything from home-made cakes to crab and lobster caught by the island’s fishermen, this little venue is certainly proof that small is beautiful. You might even like to wash your meal down with a glass of Lindisfarne Mead, made exclusively on the island and packing a far stronger punch than it’s ecclesiastically-inspired labelling might suggest.
For those looking for somewhere a little grander, Northumberland certainly delivers on that front, too. When you’ve spent all day in the stunning surroundings, possibly in hiking boots and a raincoat, there’s sometimes nothing nicer than making the effort to dress up for dinner. With more than its fair share of sophisticated settings, the region offers a number of venues with fantastic food in a special surrounding.
Langley Castle, for example, is home to the two AA rosetted Josephine’s Restaurant – a wonderfully romantic setting in which to enjoy a range of menus featuring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients in contemporary British dishes. Or, if you prefer the restrained elegance of the Georgian period – not to mention the chance to drive through some stunning Northumberland countryside – why not try the George Runciman Restaurant at four, red AA starred Doxford Hall Hotel, near Alnwick? Using the finest seasonal ingredients, the restaurant offers award-winning dining, along with an increasingly-popular afternoon tea and a Sunday lunch that brings patrons in from far and wide.
Another charming Northumbrian establishment is Jackdaw Restaurant at Warkworth which offers locally-sourced meals such as Northumberland venison casserole with swede & potato topping and their home-made steak and kidney pie.
Selling everything from home-made cakes to crab and lobster caught by the island’s fishermen, this little venue is certainly proof that small is beautiful. You might even like to wash your meal down with a glass of Lindisfarne Mead, made exclusively on the island
However, for dining in true grandeur, few venues can match the Olympic Suite at Alnwick’s White Swan Hotel. The hotel itself, a 300-year-old coaching inn and Grade 2-listed building, is rather lovely, but its Olympic Suite is very special as it takes its name – and its interior – from the RMS Olympic, whose sister ship was the ill-fated RMS Titanic. The RMS Olympic was launched in 1911, a year before its sister’s tragic maiden voyage. Despite being converted to oil-fired engines in 1919-1920, it became uneconomical in comparison to the new and luxurious Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and was finally retired in 1935 and scrapped in 1937.
Before it was dismantled completely, many of the fittings and artworks were auctioned. The then-owner of The White Swan bought the Olympic’s dining room and transported it to the hotel, reconstructing it in all its glory. All the restaurant’s paneling, mirrors, ceiling and stained glass are almost identical to those on the Titanic herself; of superb quality, supreme elegance and a wonderful setting in which to enjoy seasonally-changed menus and an extensive wine list. Quite like much of Northumberland – it really is something special.
So whether you choose to try a local delicacy or an authentically-crafted dish brought to Northumberland from further afield, the region has it all.
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