As I walked into the restaurant at the rear of the pub, I was reminded of something out of Alice in Wonderland.
I just wasn’t expecting the transformationof the Wellwood – it screamed class.
Sage-coloured walls and panelling were offset by flouncy fabrics, arty Parisian posters and ornate candelabras.
Subtle spotlights made up for the lack of light at the top end of the room to contrast with a view onto the beer garden at the other.
Although the dark shades could give a claustrophobic impression, the over-riding feeling was one of space – the tables were not crammed in, giving you the feeling your conversation is private and not shared with the next table.
I firmly believe first impressions go a long way to shaping the mood of the rest of the meal. Diners are put in the right frame of mind by a warm ambience.
The Wellwood is as magical as it is surprising, comfortable, homely and smart.
There was plenty of flowery language on the menu, fish and chips described as duo or trio of Amble fish in beer batter with chunky chips and pea puree; and this is bangers and mash – free range local pork sausage with creamed mashed potato, root vegetables and pork crackling.
So does the food justify such grandiose descriptions?
In one word, yes. And I’ll explain why by taking you through our meal.
My wife and I took our two children on a Sunday evening, when there were more people in the pub watching a European Championships football match than in the restaurant.
But it meant a relaxed atmosphere, attentive staff and we were made to feel special.
The choice of starters gave us our first dilemma – they all sounded appetising. But for me, it had to be local fish chowder with sweetcorn, potato and chorizo (£5.95). And to be honest, it was delicious. Creamy with a spicy edge, I could have stopped there and been very happy – it was also very filling.
It was brimming with white fish, prawns and mussels, although not overbearingly fishy nor salty.
Two large slices of soda bread and enormous chunks of butter meant I faced a challenge with the rest of my meal.
My wife was thrilled with her creamed wild mushrooms on toast with soft hen’s egg (v, £6.95). She wasn’t sure whether the combination would work but barely uttered a word as she assuaged her hunger.
Son plumped for Scottish mussels (£6.95), which were small but tasty. Daughter passed on the starter but was delivered some chunky bread and equally generous slabs of butter to keep her going.
My tricky quest was about to continue as I had chosen the trio of Amble fish in beer batter (£9.95). The trio, which comes as a duo (£7.95) for the less adventurous or greedy, consisted of cod, haddock and scampi – a veritable feast.
Presentation left a little to be desired, but remarkably, the dish was not as heavy-going as it sounded. The batter was splendidly light and the fish had almost jumped straight from the sea onto my plate, it was that fresh.
The pea puree turned out to be peas, as the picture shows.
The chunky chips were certainly chunky and, for me, too numerous. Those with larger appetites would be in their element. I was defeated.
My wife was tempted by the 8oz rump steak with chunky chips, grilled tomato, flat mushroom and onion rings (£14.25). She was delighted with the way it was cooked and chomped through the steak with an increasing glow on her face. I sneaked a taste and agreed – this was a good steak with a decent combination of accompaniments.
Our daughter probably won the best-selection prize with her local braised steak and ale pie with creamed mashed potato, root vegetables and gravy (£7.95). It certainly lifted the trophy for top presentation, the oblong puff pastry angled rakishly out of a round pot. She was most impressed with the taste and declared it very nice with no fat on the meat.
Our son went for a vegetarian option, leek and potato pattie with baby spinach and wild mushroom in a cream sauce with lemon (v, £8.25). Again, he lapped it up.
None of us were able to manage a dessert, such were the generous portions.
So where would I place the Wellwood food? I would say it serves superior pub fare but not quite haute cuisine and probably hits the just the right tone for the audience.
Prices are pitched fairly as well – I have paid more for lower quality before now. Would I return? I should say so!