After years of a being the poorer relation of other Northumberland towns, a trip to Amble these days is a different kettle of fish.
A new wave of chicness has swept over The Friendliest Port and it is attracting visitors by the boat-load.
The architects of the sea-change in the town’s fortunes have been a partnership of local organisations.
A 10-year dream by Amble Development Trust, Amble Town Council, the local business club, Warkworth Harbour Commissioners and the Harris Research Partnership was launched back in 2012 in the wake of the closure of the Northumberland Foods factory, and the benefits are already being felt.
The Harbour Village has been at the heart of the regeneration and it was opened to a fanfare in March 2015.
The purpose of my recent visit was two-fold – to discover how the pods, housing a variety of micro-businesses, were getting on and to see how easy it would be to eat out there.
Business seemed to be brisk – it was a Sunday, traditionally a good trading day in Amble, with the extensive market in operation along the harbour. As it was in the run-up to Christmas, there was a buzz around the various gift and craft pods – paintings, carvings, jewellery, cosmetics, ornaments, hats, scarves, pet accessories, toys and sweets were all among the items that would interest Santa – and give his little helpers a run for their money.
I would recommend an excursion to the Harbour Village on the strength of the craft pods alone, but throw in the excellent offerings along Queen Street and your festive foray could be complete.
But, as this is a food column, could we find any gastro-pods to keep those hunger pangs at bay?
Among the 15 or so outlets, we found half-a-dozen cracking little enterprises worthy of mention.
We started down by the harbour and worked our way up to the seafood centre.
Our first port of call was a cheese haven. Valerie Brown, from Amble, took over this foodie business a year ago and said it was going swimmingly.
She sells local produce from the Northumberland Cheese Company and Doddington’s, as well as savoury crackers and biscuits; honey products from Chainbridge, near Berwick; marinated olives; and homemade preserves, chutneys and mustards from the Hawkshead Relish Company. Valerie can also assemble bespoke seasonal hampers.
Mrs L took a fancy to Hawkshead’s Pink Grapefruit and Ginger Marmalade and Mild Indian Sweet Pepper Pickle.
I steered a slightly more conventional course and chose the Five Fruit Marmalade – with orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime and kumquat. We have since broken into the jar and have been very impressed with the striking flavours.
We noticed at the far end that Amble-based Village Farm Bakery had an outlet, so freshly-baked bread wasn’t going to be a problem. It also stocks scones, pies, sandwiches and salad boxes.
Just round the corner, the Geordie Banger Company has set up shop selling their delicious sausages, either raw, or cooked (in a bun, £3, or on a stick, £1.50).
Here we chose to have our main course – two gourmet bangers, ‘hand-crafted on the banks of the River Tyne’, in a bun.
The sausages were top-notch, solid and meaty, and a welcome indulgence. They were nothing more than a banger in a bun with a dash of tomato sauce, but they went down very well.
We washed them down with a splendid coffee from the Mocha Mondo pod, the local company that roasts its own beans and used to be based at Alnmouth Station.
Time for dessert, so we called in to Pod No 5, where we found K’s Little Kakery and an eye-popping selection of beautiful cakes.
The business is run by Kirsten Blackmore, who is following in her family’s culinary footsteps. The cakes (£3) and traybakes (£2.50) she sells are created by her mother Penny, who made the desserts at husband John’s restaurant in Narrowgate, Alnwick, and later when they ran the Tankerville Arms in Eglingham.
Kirsten also sells crepes, savoury and sweet (£3-£4), homemade soups (£2.50) and mince pies (£1).
She is a talented artist, too, and her striking paintings can be bought in the pod.
There is little hope of resisting temptation when faced with such a gastronomic pedigree, so Mrs L had a slice of carrot cake and I succumbed to banana and caramel cake, although the white chocolate and raspberry brownie almost won the day.
We were given a sizeable wedge for our £3 and both were perfection personified, although not having a particularly sweet tooth between us, it took several sittings to finish them! Kirsten also caters for dietary requirements.
There is an embryonic street-food scene happening at the Harbour Village and, with the prospect of more development, things are certainly looking up at the mouth of the Coquet.
VISIT TO FISHMONGER AND LOBSTER HATCHERY IS A MUST
No visit to Amble’s Harbour Village would be complete without popping in to the Northumberland Seafood Centre.
Apart from the fact that it houses a fascinating lobster hatchery, which you can look round for an annual, return-as-many times-as-you-like donation (adult £3.50, child £1.50), it sells some absolutely delicious seafood. Fishmongers are a rare breed these days, so you could easily find me staring intently at a fish counter for ages – I find them fascinating. And it makes the visit even more worthwhile to learn that most of the produce sold was landed a few hours ago at Amble.
We didn’t hesitate in buying a kilo of mussels for £6 and devoured the whole lot for our tea – simply divine!
The Creel Club also operates from there – it’s a kind of veg-box scheme for seafood fans.
You pay a certain amount on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis and collect your fish from a local distribution point. The contents of the box depends on the catch of the day.
Check it out at http://northumberlandseafood.co.uk/creel-fish-club/