Lunch review: Café Bowes, The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham.
The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle is a sight for sore eyes when you turn through the gates into the grounds, and like my daughter, see it for the first time.
The stunning French-style chateau houses outstanding collections of European fine and decorative art. It’s also the perfect spot to be indoors on a gloomy drab January day as you can browse treasures aplenty.
Feast your eyes on magnificent paintings by the likes of Canaletto, El Greco and Goya and see the famed 18th century silver swan automaton, and tuck in to lunch whilst there.
The acclaimed Café Bowes is a simply decorated, bright and airy dining space and we were shown to a comfortable window seat offering calming views of the leafy grounds. The café was half full on the lunchtime we visited, one gathering enjoying a late festive lunch, with a hum of convivial chat in the background.
The cafe serves up homely, quality fare, featuring locally-sourced ingredients, such as delicious breads from The Moody Baker in Barnard Castle, fish from Hodgson’s, dairy produce from Acorn Dairy and drinks from Fentimans and Black Paw Brewery.
The café’s tempting scones, and an array of cakes and slices, are tantalisingly on display at the central counter, and the first things you see as you walk in.
In addition to a lunchtime menu, breakfast, light bites and afternoon tea are available. We were after hearty and sustaining fare to put a winter-warming lining on tums on a grey day.
A piping hot skinny latte, £2.75, for me, and Fentimans Rose lemonade, £2.75, for the youngest daughter, were savoured as we took a look at the menu.
Lunch offerings included the likes of home-made soup, and sandwiches such as Yorkshire ham and pease pudding, smoked salmon and cream cheese, both £5.95, and mozzarella, rocket and sun-blushed tomato in ciabatta, £6.50, as well as Yorkshire rarebit, £7.95.
The younger daughter is a big fan of warm, gooey goat’s cheese so she made a beeline for the Mediterranean goat’s cheese dish, £7.95. This consisted of delicious creamy grilled cheese, forming the centrepiece of a well-presented plate, surrounded by plentiful colourful roasted veg – red, orange and yellow peppers and courgettes among them. The dish was artfully drizzled in sticky balsamic vinegar and was accompanied by a side plate of Moody Baker date flatbread, and a serving of homemade hummus.
It was incredibly filling and very satisfying, every last mouthful polished off.
I opted for Café Bowes chowder dish, £8.95, a piping hot bowlful of good stuff – natural smoked haddock, tiny sweet prawns, sliced leeks, cubed potatoes, flatleaf parsley and accompanying delicious warm brown crusty roll. This was the perfect winter warmer, and smelled delicious; the generous chunks of smoked fish and leeks in creamy broth was rich and filling. The seedy roll was perfect for dipping in the sauce too.
Staff were attentive, helpful and friendly, and knowledgeable about local sourcing and daily specials too. They were industrious, cleaning tables thoroughly, but had time for a chat and we never at any point felt rushed.
After a suitable break, we walked up to the counter to take a closer look at the cake offerings. Although they had a number of desserts, including Christmas pudding and tempting-sounding cheesecakes on offer, the daughter had her eye on the Daim bar cake, £2.95, a sweet concoction of creamy and crunchy contrasts, which she very much enjoyed.
The Victoria sponge – three decadent layers – and Black Forest gateau looked incredibly tempting – as did the huge home-made scones. In the end, I opted for Hummingbird cake, £2.95, another triple sponge indulgence, with sweet banana and pineapple flavours and cream cheese frosting. It was a moreish confection – and even though I was full two-thirds through, I persevered…
After lunch, we took another wander round the museum and browed the Josephine Bowes – The Woman of Fashion exhibition, the lady in question being a driving force behind the museum’s creation. We also enjoyed exploring the artwork featured in the New Light Prize Exhibition. Established in 2010, it celebrates and promotes Northern art, supporting both well-known and emerging artists. I particularly loved the life-like portraits of actor Sir Tom Courtenay by Isobel Peachy.