We’d had positive reports of changes at the Northumberland Arms at Felton since the last time we reviewed it a few years ago.
A new chef, a re-vamped menu and different decor were the ingredients that prompted a return visit to the popular venue perched by the side of the River Coquet. The inn was built in the 1820s by Hugh Percy, the 3rd Duke of Northumberland, as a coaching stop.
Its most recent make-over has given it a rustic sophistication that is both comfortable and pleasing on the eye.
Horseshoe murals, antler light shades and chunky wooden furniture complemented the country ambience, while the plain brown and cream walls gave it an urban style – some might say shabby chic.
This was an early Valentine’s Day celebration, with the planned intimacy somewhat shattered by the presence of a ravenous (always ravenous!) son who had just entered his final teenage year and wanted to mark his birthday, ‘volunteering’ to be the designated driver.
It was quite dark in the restaurant, with tea lights guiding most diners to their food.
The menu was interesting, peppered with local ingredients, but lacking a bit in vegetarian options – just one main course.
Armed with a bottle of Terres d’Azur merlot (£16.95) and a half-pint of Coors Light, we perused the choices.
As an entree, or alternative starter, was a selection of nibbles ‘to graze on’, priced at three for £9.95 or five for £18.95 – artisan bread and olives; Northumbrian pork pie; homemade chorizo Scotch egg; seasoned and spiced potato skins; fries, parmesan and truffle salt; petit prawns; tempura tiger prawns; salt and pepper calimari; and crispy courgettes – a kind of Northumbrian tapas.
We opted to go for more traditional choices, so for me it was pan-seared scallops, buttered mash and squash puree, with chorizo oil and pea shoots (£8.95).
Despite being tempted by the cream of broccoli soup, Mrs L plumped for black-lip mussels in rich tomato provencale sauce, with crusty bread (£6.95), while son went for black pudding and bacon salad, with a crispy hen’s egg and honey wholegrain dressing (£5.50).
All three arrived in reasonable time, barely had our conversation been given the chance to warm up.
My three scallops, arranged a little haphazardly, landed with an accompanying dreamy aroma. None of the constituent parts were explosions of flavour, but a dab of chorizo oil gave the subtlety an inviting kick.
There was an audible ‘wow’ across the table, when a splendidly generous bowl of mussels was delivered.
The tomato-based sauce offered a tasty alternative to the more common creamy white-wine marinade
In fact, Mrs L discovered a new favourite and vowed to return on the strength of the starter alone – we could have left then and made it a cheaper night all round!
A delicious combination of ingredients in the black pudding and egg salad went down a treat with son.
We were spoilt for choice with our main courses, but I couldn’t see past the pan-fried lambs liver, creamed leek mash, smoked onion puree, back bacon and sausage (£10.95).
The liver was very rich, but perfectly cooked and offset nicely by the leeky mash.
Resisting the urge to have mussels for mains as well, Mrs L chose beer-battered cod and chunky chips, with ‘real’ mushy peas and homemade tartar (£13.95).
The fish was a whopper, resting on a line of the chunkiest of chunky chips, like paving slabs.
If she was hungry at the start of the evening, this soon sorted her out and I was on hand to help her out – it was rude not to!
The fish was bright white and just as thick as the chips. I always think you can’t beat a fish from the chippy, but this came mighty close.
The cream of the crop was son’s in-house oak-smoked 10oz flat-iron steak served medium-rare with a rustic salad and chips (£13.95).
The meat was beautiful, a bit gristly but full of flavour and cooked to perfection.
And so to dessert ...
Our ‘Valentine’s meal’ had progressed at a comfortable pace, and so to the question of dessert. I am rarely able to look beyond sticky toffee pudding (£6.95), in this case, home-baked and complete with ice-cream and whirl of cream. Son’s brownie and peanut butter sundae (£6.95) was more hardcore but suited his sweeter tooth. Mrs L went for a de-caf coffee with a decadent dash of Kahlúa (£5.95).
The Northumberland Arms is open seven days a week 11.30am–11pm (10.30pm Sundays). Lunch is served noon–5pm; light grazing menu 3pm–6pm; restaurant open for dinner 6pm–9pm (except Sundays); Sunday lunch noon–8pm.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Baked Camembert to share......£8.95
Soup + morning-baked bread......£5.95
Homemade pie of the day......£10.95
Butterbean, sweet potato and spinach curry (v)......£9.95
Prime beef burger......£12.95
Northumberland venison Wellington......£18.95
Kilo black-lip mussels......£13.95
Baked loin of cod......£14.95
Butterflied chicken supreme......£14.95
28-day dry-aged 10oz Northumbrian sirloin steak......£19.95
Marinated leg of lamb......£14.95
Pear frangipan, Doddington’s ginger ice-cream......£5.95
Northumbrian cheese board......£8.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Vegetarian......a few starters, one main
Use of local food......9
Verdict: Fresh food, lots of local produce, well cooked, atmospheric.
Contact: 01670 787 370; www.northumberlandarms-felton.co.uk