How time flies! It has been eight years since we last ventured out to The Apple Inn, at Lucker.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but some things don’t change.
The venue is still in the middle of our glorious countryside, despite a fair amount of development in the village.
It is still welcoming, well-decorated and comfortable, with a homely ambience.
But, equally, much has changed at Lucker.
The Apple Inn was bought and reopened by the family-run leisure business, Stablewood Group, just over a year ago. The company also converted the former nursery opposite into The Apple Core, a pizzeria and creperie.
It is also looking to double the capacity of the inn and, along with existing holiday cottages, add a new leisure complex with a pool, gym, sauna and spa for the cottage guests; a hairdressing salon, nail salon and spa for use by the public; and group offices.
We rocked up for a midweek evening meal, having last sampled the Sunday lunch.
We were surprisingly accompanied throughout by a collection of rock music, when something more soothing might have been expected.
It was not loud and actually quite refreshing, although not to everyone’s taste, granted.
I perused a trim menu, with the apple of my eye opposite, as Queen’s Somebody to Love played and a zesty pint of Alnwick IPA and a fine glass of Merlot were delivered.
Starters are the best part of any meal in my book. They catch you at your hungriest and there’s never enough to leave you bloated.
My Perogative, by Britney Spears.
I chose local black pudding and melted, smoked applewood cheese stack on a bed of salad with spicy tomato relish and balsamic glaze (£4.95). Is your mouth watering at the very description?
It certainly should because the combination of flavours, textures and aromas was divine. The black pudding was light and fluffy and the cheese a perfect match.
A crisp salad with pleasant dressing topped what could have been an overly rich dish but, in fact, hit just the right note. And it was simply,but artistically presented.
Across the table, an equally delicious, homemade sweet potato soup, with artisan bread and a ramekin of butter (no foil pats here!) landed. The soup was tasty, with a light but discernible kick. Great value at £4.75.
There was a choice of just over a dozen main courses, mainly pub standards.
I Predict a Riot – the Kaiser Chiefs.
Sea bass, rib-eye steak, battered fish, gammon steak, cheeseburger, lamb shank – firm favourites the lot.
We experienced a bit of a role reversal. Controversially, I plumped for the lasagne (£10.95), normally the preserve of Mrs L, a lasagne aficionado. It was a decent version, a good balance of mince, fluffy cheese sauce and tangy tomatoes. The chips were definitely hand-cut but slightly underdone. My salad was the same one that had accompanied my starter – fresh, yes, crisp, yes, colourful, yes, but the same.
Opposite arrived a rather splendid-looking steak and ale pie, with piped mash and seasonal veg (£11.95). A dainty jug of gravy was the crowning glory. Particularly impressive was the unusual combination of veg – beetroot, kale, carrots and broccoli – very funky. The gravy inside the pie was more like a jelly, but apart from that, it was a very balanced meal, well-cooked and good value.
Mrs L’s second glass of red wine was delivered to the strains of Ruby – the Kaiser Chiefs again.
The lure of homemade desserts proved too much. We took the plunge. Mine was apple crumble, jug of custard and a delightful apple-shaped shortbread biscuit (£5.25).
The crumble was exactly that – loose and oaty – and the apple was chunky and tart. A strong cinnamon flavour was countered by the thick, creamy custard.
Double ginger ice-cream (two scoops £3.95; three scoops £4.95) from the Doddington stable and the shortbread was enough to send Mrs L into raptures. She enthused about the quality, texture and taste of the ice-cream.
It had been a relaxing visit, with upmarket, home-cooked pub fare and friendly service. We left Robbie Williams to conclude Old Before I Die to the rest of the restaurant.
CHILDREN GET TOP TREATMENT
The Apple Inn offers a range of sandwiches (£4.95 – £8.95), jacket potatoes (£4.95 – £5.25) and lighter bites for lunchtime visitors.
Children have their own menu (one course £5.95; two courses £7.95; three courses £9.50), which includes the likes of potato skins, garlic bread, toad-in-the-hole, mince and dumplings, chicken goujons, rocky road sundae and jam roly-poly. Oh to be a child again!
There is also a Sunday lunch menu (one course £9.95; two courses £13.95; three courses £15.95), including roast pork and beef.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Tempura king prawns......£6.95
Spankopita (Greek filo pie)......£5.75
10oz gammon steak......£11.95
Sea bass on wild rice......£14.95
10oz rib-eye steak......£21.95
Inn’s chicken (specials board)......£12.95
Grilled sea bass......£14.95
Warm chocolate brownie......£5.25
Raspberry Bakewell tart......£5.25
Lemon meringue stack......£5.25
Banoffee brandy snap basket......£5.25
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......8
Toilet for disabled......yes
Cater for kids......yes
Verdict: Home cooking in a friendly atmosphere. Well worth a visit.
Contact: 01668 213 824 or visit www.theappleinnlucker.com
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Nelson’s at the Park, Swarland. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.