Seldom are the chains attaching the Gazette staff to their desks unlocked at lunchtime, but there is a first time for everything as they say.
And so it was that earlier this week, I was unleashed onto the daytime, midweek culinary scene in Morpeth – what a feeling of freedom not to be dining al desko.
Café Vault, on the town’s Newgate Street, describes itself as chic and I would agree with that assessment – there’s a smart-looking counter, attractive wooden tables, chandeliers and a stone fireplace.
It feels welcoming when you walk in and the only concern was whether there would be a free table, which I can well understand now that I have eaten there.
The menu is extremely extensive and varied for an eatery of its type and I would suggest that all but the pickiest or fussiest of eaters would be able to find a number of tempting options on there.
We twice had to ask for more time to order, not because the service was pushy or rushed in any way, but because we simply needed longer to digest (pardon the pun) it all and then make a decision.
There is a range of, deep breath now, cold sandwiches, hot sandwiches, bruschetta, bagels, panini, toasties, flat breads, platters, jacket potatoes, quiches, Mexican snacks, salads and soup.
And that’s before you get onto the daily specials, which featured a beef stew on the day we ate, and the cakes, scones and other treats on offer.
I was tempted by some of the more filling options – the homemade chilli with nachos (£5.95),the seafood platterboard for one (£10.50), the warm black pudding salad (£8.50) or even the aforementioned beef stew – but having seen the mouth-watering display of cakes on the counter, I didn’t want to put all my eggs in the first-course basket.
But at the same time, I also wanted to make the most of being out and about for lunch so doubled up and went for the special-board combo of soup and sandwich (£6.95).
The soup of the day was lentil and bacon and I accompanied it with a ham and pease pudding sandwich, served in a large brown roll.
As one would wish on a chilly, windy day in October, the soup was hearty and warming with a good flavour from the pulses and a decent number of good-sized chunks of bacon – the last thing you want is barely a trace of one of the key ingredients.
What needs to be said about ham and pease pudding? It’s a classic combination and the ham was what I would call ‘proper’, not your supermarket, wafer-thin variety, while the helping of pease pudding was substantial.
My dining partner opted for one of the homemade flat breads (all £5.95), which are made to their own recipe and cooked fresh to order.
From a range of interesting combinations, from tomatoes and mozzarella to blue cheese and cranberry (£5.95), she chose the houmous and roast vegetables with rocket and balsamic glaze.
It went down very nicely – the mouthful I was afforded was certainly tasty – and it also had the benefit of seeming healthy and virtuous enough to ensure any cakes were entirely legitimate.
With this in mind, we chose one each and swapped halfway through each slice, which were of a very generous portion.
The toffee cake, complete with Maltesers on top, had an exceedingly moist, well-flavoured sponge while the icing was sweet, creamy and delicious.
Away from the main cakes, I spied a carrot cake, which is one of my favourites, and upon asking, I was told by the woman working there that she was not happy with it and therefore if I wanted some, I could have a slice but at no cost.
I felt that was impressive customer service and her concerns about its ‘rustic look’ were unwarranted in my eyes and the taste certainly put paid to any issues, again the rich icing was superb.
We washed our cakes down with a flat white each (£2.60), which we found to be very good too and served in smart glasses, despite being quite particular about coffee.
CERTAINLY ONE FOR A RETURN VISIT
Having had our lunch, both of us said we would happily go there again, not least because there are plenty more menu items to explore.
As well as what’s been mentioned, there’s also a breakfast menu in the mornings and a little people menu for under 10s featuring half a cheese toastie, half a baked potato, sausage and beans or scrambled eggs on toast for £3. There’s also the option of milkshakes or create your own smoothies.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Cold Sandwiches (£5.25)
Including cheese savoury, beef and horseradish, BLT, tuna mayonnaise
Smoked salmon & cream cheese......£5.95
Smoked salmon, prawns and fresh avocado......£6.95
Mediterranean veg, tomato and mozzarella, mackerel, prosciutto
Including tuna melt, halloumi, ham and emmental, BBQ pork and cheese
Cheese and tomato......£5.25
Beef, blue cheese and rocket......£5.75
Antipasti for one......£9.95
Ploughmans for two......£18.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......none on menu
Value for money......7
Caters for children......Yes
Disabled access......7 (front step)
Toilet for the disabled......No
Verdict: A pleasant place to spend time with a wide-ranging choice of things to eat.
Contact: 01670 519005 or https://www.facebook.com/cafevault/