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Review: Café Lowrey, Darras Hall

IT had been a busy few months for both a friend and for me at the end of last year, so our usual Christmas night out had been postponed.

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IT had been a busy few months for both a friend and for me at the end of last year, so our usual Christmas night out had been postponed.

We hadn’t been too upset back in December as festive fare can be disappointing and it’s a time when you’re probably eating too much anyway – plus, it’s good to have something to look forward to in the gloom of January.

But concerned that it was already mid-February and we still hadn’t met up, we decided to treat ourselves to a meal and a catch-up at Café Lowrey.

The location, at the end of a dated row of shops, is somewhat unprepossessing, but the inside of the restaurant is light, welcoming and modern.

We arrived about 7.30pm on a Wednesday night, with the restaurant about one-third full and were immediately greeted by a waitress with a friendly smile offering us a table close to the door or one in a far corner.

Opting for the corner table we soon realised we had been left to make our own way there. Obviously, that wasn’t a problem, but we were left to hang our coats up ourselves then had to pull out the table from the seats against the wall so we could both sit down.

The table was attractive and inviting, neat and simply laid, with crisp white linen and large, elegant wine glasses and we started to read the menu.

Just when we really were beginning to feel abandoned, the waitress reappeared to take our drinks order. She was helpful and happy to explain the various selections.

The house white was crisp and pleasant and a reasonable £2.75 for a 125ml glass and we relaxed while we caught up with each other’s news.

Chilled tap water and a bowl of bread were soon brought to the table and our water glasses were replenished during the evening without our having to ask.

The menu was pleasantly varied, with a choice of 11 starters and 10 mains. My friend, a non-fish eating vegetarian, was pleased by a good selection of starters she could choose from, but there was only one main course for vegetarians. Fish-eaters, however, fared very well.

I selected the Cheddar cheese and spinach souffle (£7.95) and my friend the soup – tomato (£5.50). Other options included seared king prawns, chilli and garlic butter (£8.95), fig, dry-cured ham and Mozzarella salad with honey (£8.50) and smoked salmon (£7.95).

After a suitable pause for preparation, our selections arrived looking and smelling hot and inviting.

The souffle, set in a light cheese sauce, was beautifully fresh, melt-in-the-mouth and packed with flavour. It was truly delicious and so rich it was actually hard to finish – but I managed!

My friend’s soup, served with the obligatory swirl of cream, was piping hot and looked rich and appetising. But the taste was just a little disappointing – a little tart and lacking a depth of flavour.

Her main course made up for the disappointment. The presentation of the fennel and red pepper lasagne (£13.95) did seem to lack something and the lasagne looked rather heavy, but looks can deceive.

The meal was light and fresh and she described the taste as “really lovely and packed with flavour”. The accompanying mixed salad was mostly leaves, but was plentiful and a pleasant contrast.

I had selected the pan-fried salmon, accompanied by saute potatoes, green beans and a herb cream sauce ((£17.95).

The meal was attractively presented, with a good-sized piece of fish sitting atop the potatoes, which then lost their crispness but were still flavoursome.

Other choices included grilled halibut, mushy peas, chips and tartare sauce (£22.95), and pheasant breast wrapped in dry-cured ham, mash and braised Savoy cabbage (£17.95).

With plenty of news to catch up on, we were enjoying our main courses and our chat but, part-way through, our waitress and another staff member began to discuss, very close to our table and in fairly loud detail, the restaurant’s arrangements for the next evening’s Valentine’s Day celebrations.

The pair suddenly seemed to notice we were there and apologised for interrupting our evening, then continued to decide where the 51 people expected could be seated in pairs – although we wondered about the odd number.

And then, once their discussions were complete, the waitress proceeded to drag tables and chairs to fit the plans that had been decided upon. We were glad we were on a table for two – we joked to each other that if we had been in a party of four, our group might have had to be split up and the tables separated.

We were offered puddings – a selection including crème brulee (£6), sticky toffee pudding or fruit crumble (£6.50) or cheeses (£8.50). But we had begun to feel a little in the way so we quickly had coffee (£2.40) and decided to head for home.

We had heard good things about Café Lowrey. Several friends are regulars and sing its praises whenever the conversation turns to eating out.

Perhaps we were unlucky, perhaps we had chosen a bad night, perhaps the chef was concentrating just a little too much on the next evening’s gathering, perhaps the waitress had too much to do.

But, sadly, our belated Christmas night out didn’t live up to expectations.

Address: Café Lowrey, 33-35 The Broadway, Darras Hall, Northumberland NE 20 9PW. Tel: 01661 820357.

Open: Lunch Friday and Saturday noon-2.30pm, Sunday noon-3pm; dinner Tuesday-Friday 5.30-10pm, Saturday 6-10pm.

First impressions: Tucked away at the end of a row of shops, the inside is neat and contemporary.

Style: Bright and cheerful bistro-style, with chalk boards and crisp linen.

Cuisine: Modern British.

Service: Mixed. Our waitress clearly had her mind on the next night’s bookings but when she was attentive, she was friendly and helpful.

Value: The early-bird looked good value for the individually-prepared food, but the main menu seemed on the pricey side.

Disabled facilities: Accessible.


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