As you may know if you are a regular reader, we have occasionally to take WyeDean Deli Confidential on request tours (see our Tuscany title link). I know, tough life! Anyway, most recently we have been Beadnell on Northumberland’s heritage Coastline. Beadnell is a very pretty little seaside village with a small harbour which is (just) still in use by a few small scale crabbing boats. It has an historic lime kiln, a few pleasure craft beached by the harbour entrance and is flanked by a glorious long sweeping sandy beach on one side and some of Britain’s best rock pooling on the other. So pretty is the village and steeped in the Northumbrian idyll that a new housing development just back from the beach car park is already completely sold before it’s even got out of the ground.
It’s on these trips “dear readers” to paraphrase Keith Floyd the TV cook in whose style everyone else has since followed, that our food&drink-dar, so long honed and tempered to perfection, really comes into its own seeking out the great and the good places to refresh ourselves. A lot has changed in Northumberland food since my last visit. Some of the great and familiar is, thankfully, still going strong. There are too some new venues on the up as well and the general quality has improved immensely in an area positively shoaling with some of the best produce there is.
Beadnell, our chosen base for both trips is a microcosm of the changes in the wider area and a tribute to how well the local tourism economy is doing in these staycation times. Its two village pubs are both open and doing well, no mean feat in the general environment. There has recently been a new café opening, leaning heavily on the freshest of sea food available, and also a street food via shack has hit the beach.
First though to revisit old favourites along the coast at Seahouses to calm the nerves that too much has changed and it’s time for lunch and a quick drink in the Old Ship. Opinions are always personal and for me, this is the best bar in the world. Any inadequate written description from me wouldn’t really do it justice. The floor is still plank but the real fire has been replaced with a more convenient and presumably safer, electronic under study. But the bar is still the same, the seating arrangement and the snug, the ceiling stills drips with fishing memorabilia and the faces in the old black and white prints of fishermen of old still look remarkably similar to the old locals propping up the bar. The town’s brilliant and ever busy fish and chip shops stakes are all still going strong with Neptune ahead of Pinnacles and Lewis’ all with take out and sit-in facilities.
Back in Beadnell and we have sampled The Craster Arms on several occasions. The bar manager Connor Taylor oversees activity and can certainly run a bar and staff properly. We really have a thing about service. In Connor Taylor there is no such thing as a private conversation in works time that has to be concluded before noticing a customer. There is no element of his management responsibilities, be they staff, stock or admin, which come before establishing what the customer wants. And, he possesses the skill – seemingly impossible for a journeyman barkeeper – the ability to remember your last order and preferences. You cannot get through the door without him spotting you coming in and mentally placing you in the bar service queue. If it’s busy you get the reassuring acknowledgement that you aren’t invisible and you won’t get missed out. And when you are served there is bonhomie, help, advice and genuine personal recommendation based on sound product knowledge and actual tasting, on tap should you need it. This guy can run a bar!
Why is it that – unlike Connor, the rest of Europe and in particular the States – often in this country we produce bar staff that just can’t run a bar or couldn’t really care less about their inadequate skill set?
The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association is hoping to address this very point in our local area by helping members to interact with schools and would be apprentices to drive home the idea that careers in catering and the associated service industries are “proper” jobs to take pride in, to aspire to be good, if not the best, at. More on that in later blogs.
In The Craster Arms service is brisk and the food is great varied pub staples. The cod in the house fish and chips is gargantuan and each fish must have taken a couple of burly fishermen or Fisherlasses to wrestle it on board, but well-cooked and presented. Our personal favourites were the fish pie main and the simple seared fresh scallops and the Cullen Skink (smokily aromatic smoked haddock, cream and potato soup) starters. For other mains we sampled Beadnell sea trout caught 500 yards from the pub kitchen and seafood linguine with prawns and mussels – all fab!.
Across the road from the Craster Arms is the recently opened (and our now favourite) Salt Water Café. Open from early morning onward, take your pick of breakfast, lunch or dinner or just drop in for the best espresso for miles. For dinner, Salt Water Café offers a great hot fish platter for two but we had Monkfish, samphire and cream sauce – beautiful.
All extremely interesting and very, very tasty. But there was one job, as yet, left undone. One reason good enough to justify a visit alone. A place no cook neglects when passing by this Heritage Coastline – Swallow Fish in Seahouses. The walls of the modest shop in the back streets are be-decked with the photographic who’s who of cookery. The fish counter is stuffed full with oceanic greatness from along the coast. Many years ago on one visit I remember, the then smaller counter, with its seafood display all crammed to one end to accommodate the massive Turbot they had fresh off the boat that morning. We were here to buy Kippers.
We arrived in the late afternoon light as the small smoker on the left of the shop was about to be lit. For years this windowless black hell hole has produced some of the finest smoke imbued goodness there is. The smoking racks were full and the paired Herring hung from the black oily bars ready to produce the Kipper. High in Omega 3 this is a sustainable fish once out of fashion but now firmly back on the menu and the Marine Conservation Society’s eat list. And so with nothing but a few strategically placed piles of sawdust and a flaming copy of The Sun, one of the lads started a centuries old chain reaction of smoke curing to produce a fish-lovers breakfast and high tea staple.
We purchased several pairs of kippers the day before we left for the DeanWye from the Swallow Fish postal service. Allowing us the amusing comedic notion of our next day’s breakfast chasing us down the A1. The plump and oily kippers arrived safe and sound the very next day, packed so tightly in vacpac no odour could escape. We opened and grilled a pair immediately accompanied only by some white pepper and a slice of bread and butter – wow!
The vacpacs keep for a surprisingly long time but we put them in the freezer where they freeze really well and we can very much vouch that there is no difference in taste or texture. All of the retail figures on the humble kipper are up – All Hail – the return of the Kipper.