MEAL REVIEW: Sunday lunch at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington

Half a roast chicken at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.
Half a roast chicken at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

It was a day out planned before the weather turned nasty – a trip to one of the county’s newest landmarks, Northumberlandia, with Sunday lunch at a nearby inn. And there was no going back!

As a howling wind chilled us to the bone, the first part of the excursion ended rather sooner than we had expected.

Burger and spare ribs at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

Burger and spare ribs at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

We scaled The Lady of the North quicker than you can say carrot and coriander soup.

It was absolutely Baltic on the peak of the big Lady – her forehead. So, after a quick selfie to prove we’d been there, we scurried back down the spiral pathway and off towards the appropriately-named Snowy Owl a few hundred yards up the road.

Shivering and ever so slightly hungry after the brief but breath-taking exercise, what we really needed was a proper, roaring log fire.

What we discovered in the Snowy Owl was several proper, roaring log fires.

Mushrooms in beer batter at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

Mushrooms in beer batter at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

It was a rustic heaven – just like walking into Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins, all oak beams, mushroom-coloured walls and a rabbit warren of snug alcoves, not to mention those magnificent hearths.

The Snowy Owl dates back to the 1500s and certainly earns its place in the olde worlde class, complete with the extra ‘e’s. It was on the site of Plessy North Moor Farm, originally part of the estate owned by the Ridley family of Blagdon Hall, and, when converted to an inn, it was named The Plessy Farm.

Now it is owned by Vintage Inns, which also boasts The Badger at Ponteland and The Falcon’s Nest at Gosforth in its portfolio.

Once you get into the realms of pub chains, you tend to find the menus lose their individuality, the food becomes blandly similar or mass produced and chefs’ creativity is hampered. We were pleasantly surprised to find there are always exceptions to rules.

Carrot and coriander soup at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

Carrot and coriander soup at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

It was Sunday lunchtime, probably the busiest dining session of the week, and we had to hijack a waitress to discover that we should find ourselves a free, unreserved table before we could be served.

Mission accomplished, we were expecting one of those long, agonising waits, but none of it – our young waitress was prompt, efficient, charming and helpful.

The Sunday offering is not quite as extensive as the full midweek and Saturday menu, but it’s not far short.

It can safely be described as classic, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. But the firm favourites are available – steaks (£11.49 for rump), pies (beef and merlot, £10.75, and chicken, £8.75), Sunday roasts and a reasonable smattering of vegetarian dishes, all at not unreasonable prices.

Rhubarb, plum and cherry oaty crumble at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

Rhubarb, plum and cherry oaty crumble at The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

We kicked off with two traditional starters – today’s soup, which just happened to be the aforementioned carrot and coriander, served with crusty bread and butter, not in foil pats, you’ll be pleased to learn (v, £3.50), and beer-battered mushrooms, with caramelised garlic and parsley mayonnaise (v, £3.99). They were both delightfully presented and splendidly tasty. The soup, in particular, was delicious, quite sweet, thanks to the carrots, thick and flavoursome.

There was a homemade feel to both dishes that augured well for the rest of the meal.

I chose a roast half-chicken dinner (boring, I know, but comfort food was the order of this particular day) served with stuffing and a pig in a blanket (£10.95). All the roasts come with Yorkshire pudding, duck-fat roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables, honey-glazed parsnips and gravy.

Only here was mass catering at a busy time exposed. The peas, parsnips and carrots were limp and the roast potatoes dry and hard. The tiny serving of stuffing was bullet-like and the gravy very salty. But it certainly ticked the box marked ‘filling’. I didn’t feel as if many of the ingredients had been locally sourced.

My wife, on the other hand, steered away from the roasts, as she always does where possible, and went for the British beef burger, chargrilled and served in a crusty cob with smoked Cheddar, sweetcure bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, with smoky tomato salsa and seasoned chips (£8.99). For £3.95 extra, she added a half-rack of barbecue pork ribs and for another £1 she opted for thick-cut chips, which were amazing!

She was very impressed with the quality of food, the cooking and the taste. It was a fair old concoction but she savoured every mouthful.

The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

The Snowy Owl, Cramlington.

A SWEET ENDING TO A COSY SUNDAY LUNCH

For me, the desserts represented a return of the individuality of the chefs after the slight disappointment of the roast dinner. After a lot of umming and arring, I opted for rhubarb, plum and cherry

oaty crumble, served with vanilla ice cream and custard in a nifty little pot (£5.45). Belgian chocolate brownie, with chocolate fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream (£4.25) was delivered across the table. The presentation of both was immaculate and they both had the mmm-factor associated with well-made desserts. It was a fitting end to what had been a cosy and ultimately satisfying Sunday lunch.

SELECTION FROM THE SUNDAY MENU

STARTERS

Salt beef hash......£5.95

Oak-smoked chicken liver pâté......£4.95

Baked Cornish brie and onion marmalade brûlée (v)......£4.45

Prawn cocktail......£4.95

Fried spiced calamari......£5.75

MAINS

28-day aged rump of beef......£10.45

Mushroom, leek and cashew nut suet roly-poly (v)......£8.95

Roast turkey £9.25

Loin of sweetcure pork......£9.75

Fish and chips......£10.95

Seared salmon with Mediterranean vegetables......£11.95

Pan fried rolled belly of pork......£12.50

Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb......£13.45

DESSERTS

Peanut butter cheesecake......£4.95

Sticky toffee and apple pudding......£4.75

Raspberry crème brûlée......£4.99

STAR RATINGS (OUT OF 10)

Quality of food ......8

Choice ......8

Vegetarian choice ......7

Children’s menu......8½

Value for money ......8½

Atmosphere ......9

Use of local food ......none mentioned on menu

Service ......8

Access for disabled ......9

Toilet for disabled ......Yes

Overall rating ......8

Verdict: A decent Sunday lunch in a very comfortable setting.

Contact: 01670 736111 or visit vintageinn.co.uk/thesnowyowlcramlington

Last week’s Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed No 1 Hotel and Wine Lounge, Wooler, and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.