We’re still on our travels around the UK, hunting down superb seafood restaurants near to our routes to make everything seem a little less like work. There’s a trick well and truly missed here as we journey up from Kent to Lincolnshire to Scotland, this blog post could be reading “Winkles from Whitstable to Whitby” if only we’d had enough time to stop off in North Yorkshire as well. As it is we need to motor just ever so slightly further upwards, maintaining a northern course for Stirling via a stop off at Bamburgh with it’s magnificent rock-topping Norumbrian castle beside a vast expanse of wind whipped sand.
The first time we found ourselves in this packing-a-punch Northumbrian village, it was quite by accident, when we left Edinburgh one weekend in 2005 with a bit of a hangover. Spurning the tedious southbound M6 for a much more interesting looking coastal A1, we were delighted to discover that with any left turn there lay the North Sea and some personality filled town or village. Or even island. Alnwick, Seahouses, Berwick, Lindesfarne, all quite beautiful and waiting to be admired. We’d a fabulous day exploring beaches, crossing the sea to Holy Island and revelling in stunning castles – Northumberland has over 70 castle sites. Dropping down through Bamburgh village and rounding the corner is one of life’s wow moments, your neck tipping back, your eye line rising from the road, across the fields, up the rock, over the castle and on to the glorious expanse of sky above.
It’s a blooming’ long way from Grantham to Stirling, between two of our current telly renovation projects, and bearing in mind my mission to explore Britain’s coolest seafood restaurants, a mid-way layover in Bamburgh and a platter in The Potted Lobster seems like a pretty good plan. One of my best ever food experiences was sitting on a rock on Lindesfarne beach, my sticky fingers clutching a paper bag containing freshly cooked Seahouses lobster and crab, savouring the succulent meat whilst gazing across to the mainland. It’s clearly going to be warmer and less sandy visit this time, seated in Bamburgh’s famous Potted Lobster, but as a restaurant focused on celebrating local produce, I have high hopes of another cracking Northumberland seafood session.
The restaurant is right in the heart of the village, a friendly and inviting space filled with seascape imagery, crisp white cushions and raw timber seating. It feels like a comforting seafood restaurant, not the souless tiled fish shop effect which the chains often default to, but cosy and inviting, the kind of place where when a cracked crab claw scoots off the plate and splashes fishy juices all over the floor, no-one scolds you.
Lindisfarne oysters are the order of the day here, served with shallot vinegar and lemon. I’m dying to try these after the fresh and grassy Whitstable ones in September, and they are indeed totally different. Creamy, silky smooth. Let no-one tell you all oysters are created equal – they’re all so different in taste and texture accordingly to the environmental conditions & waters they form, feed and mature in. The zingy Whitstable ones at the Lobster Shack I happily ate dressing free, but these North Sea ones are so buttery, I need a splash of vinagrette. Oysters get fat and creamy during the mating season apparently, but also some oysters beds just create plumper ones than others. It’s a totally fascinating subject.
Of course we opt for the platters and this is a first – it’s double height! Mussels on a multi-storey. This is a first for us, all the platters we’ve devoured previously are single width, with plates widening according to the generosity of the restaurant, but this is a whole other level. Literally.
The Potted Lobster platter warms us up first with a selection of crispy goujons, juicy mussels and hand cut chips. Hiding underneath are two post of dipping mayonnaises, the shellfish garnished with al dente samphire and the mussel sauce deliciously drinkable like soup, just as it should be.
Lots of bread to mop up the creamy liquid and Mr M grinning every time I take a bite of yeasty goodness, under the misguided impression I’m going to be too full to tackle the plate below. Silly man, doesn’t he know better?
A cracking selection of chilled treats awaits us on the ground floor. Potted shrimps crying out to be spread on buttery bread, tangy rollmops all mine as he doesn’t eat them (weirdo), half a lobster to share / fight over, local crab claws and truly tasty salmon. We completely demolished it. Not quite as generous as the Whitstable cold platter if you’ve read that blog post and are comparing sizes but between two people that would have been insane given the hot upper floor level. It’s a fabulous platter. The balance between hot and cold is a real surprise unusual, or at least the ones we’ve had before anyway. I love it.
There are tonnes more great sounding dishes on the menu such as mussel & cockle popcorn, smoked haddock scotch egg, halibut, lobster & truffle mayo and a signature “posh” potted shrimps. I quite fancy them all. Couple that with a decent pudding menu (not attempted as we’re way too full) and wine list, plus friendly staff, it’s a definite Moregeous Thumbs Up. For the cushions too 😉
We stay right next door in the Victoria Hotel and although we’ve to jump pretty much back on the road to Scotland for work first thing, we manage to squeeze in a 30mins leg stretch down to the fields by the castle, over the sand dunes and then up to the church. It’s such SUCH a gorgeous village, honestly, you really must go. The view from the dunes to the left of the playing fields is 360 degrees of spectacular, across the village, round to the miles of coastlines, the beach and across the back (front?) of the castle. Good seafood restaurants are often, strangely enough, on the coast of this fabulous island of ours, with brisk salty walks just a short distance away. And there’s little brisker than the wind coming off the North Sea.
It’s in Bamburgh church yard that Grace Darling is buried, remember the story of the lighthouse keepers daughter who braved the dangerous North Sea by boat to rescue stranded sailors from a night-time shipwreck? I love a good graveyard and this one gives serious snapping opportunities.
I adore Bamburgh, can you tell? In fact I adore that whole coastline and can’t wait to go back. On my To Do list is a kipper buttie at Piper’s Pitch and a platter in the Craster Seafood Restaurant. Anyone tried them?
Next week’s post – Trying out The Old Butchers in Stow on the Wold – yes they do fish, before you ask 😉