THE Blink Bonny was a remarkable racehorse.
She was one of the greatest three-year-old fillies of all time, winning both the Derby and, two days later, the Oaks in 1857, a feat that apparently cannot be repeated because of the modern rules of racing.
Such was Blink Bonny's feat that her skeleton is preserved in the York Racecourse museum. However, not all of her is at York, as regulars and visitors to The Blink Bonny pub at Christon Bank will testify. Above the fireplace in the main bar is a glass-fronted cabinet containing two of her hooves, near a famous painting of the horse in her prime.
Apart from the name, there appears to be no obvious connection with this part of Northumberland, but it does explain the horse-racing memorabilia in the pub, with silks adorning the walls.
The pub has been around since the 1820s and its name means beautiful view in local dialect.
But the association with the racehorse has developed into an interesting diversion for visitors.
We arrived having pre-booked and were shown through to the conservatory restaurant bathed in beautiful Sunday afternoon sunshine. It was delightfully bright, with chunky antique-pine furniture and canopy drapes in Blink Bonny's racing colours (green and gold) across the beams.
The view is not quite as beautiful as it might have been in days of old, but the flash of passing intercity trains on the East Coast Main Line provides an extra bonus for trainspotting diners.
We had missed the lunch rush, choosing to eat at 2pm (although food is served until 3pm and again from 6.45pm), so it was not busy. However, the atmosphere was helped along (or hindered, depending on your musical taste) by a CD of soothing (or annoying) pan-pipe musak more at home in shopping malls.
As we perused the menus, our drinks arrived and I must admit the place could do no wrong after my first sip of Fog on the Tyne pale ale from the Northumberland Brewery stable – it was delicious and just what the thirst doctor ordered. My wife gained an equal pleasure from her habitual pint of Guinness and the children were suitably entertained with lemonades.
The Sunday lunch offering on a blackboard was small but only part of the story as a complete menu was also available, even though it was a Sunday.
On the board, which changes regularly, was vegetable soup (2.95), roast pork (5.95), roast beef (6.95), vegetable balti (6.95) and mushroom stroganoff (6.95).
But we chose a couple of starters from the main menu and opted to share them between the four of us – home-made Farne crab cakes (4.50) and a combo for two people (7.95), a combination of mushrooms, potato wedges, spicy chicken wings, onion rings and garlic bread.
Both were well-presented and good appetisers. The crab cakes were especially tasty – moist and deep-fried in a crispy batter and accompanied by a scrumptious sweet chilli and shallot dip. Small side salads of rocket, cucumber and a cherry tomato added colour to each starter.
Our main courses demonstrated the range of dishes available. The children went for half-portions of the roast beef, while I opted for the roast pork. It was an odds-on favourite that my wife would have chosen the home-made beef lasagne (8.25) but she stumbled at the final hurdle and surprisingly plumped for the home-made steak pie (7.95) from the main menu. All bets are off for next week!
Other choices included home-made game casserole (14.95), Northumbrian lamb cutlets (11.95), Blink Bonny mixed grill (14.95), pan-fried fillet of local salmon (9.95) and four vegetarian dishes. Methinks another visit is on the cards!
Each meal was pretty decent for the price – portions were good, vegetables (carrot chunks, mashed swede, lovely boiled potatoes, roasties, nice frozen peas) well-cooked and plentiful,
Don't expect freshly-carved, local meat for the price – it just isn't going to happen. But there was certainly a good-sized serving of both the pork and beef, with several wafer-thin slices.
My personal gripe about instant, rich, beef gravy on 'white' meat was once again aired.
My wife's pie was the pick of the meals – she had certainly chosen well this time. Chunks of beef had been slowly braised to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness and topped with a flaky pastry lid. Her gravy was not too salty nor rich but had a good flavour.
We were all completely satiated and could not squeeze in a dessert, although the choice of sticky toffee pudding, hot chocolate fudge cake, strawberry jam sponge, syrup sponge, pear belle Hlne, apple sponge, cheesecake (all a very reasonable 3.75), trio of ice creams (2.75) or kids' ice cream (1.95) almost tempted us to be gluttons. We resisted.
Our bill was 45.85, which included a second round of half-pints.
It had been a pleasant meal in friendly, bright surroundings – a fascinating trip out.