MEAL REVIEW: The Oaks Hotel, South Road, Alnwick

Craster stew at The Oaks Hotel, Alnwick.
Craster stew at The Oaks Hotel, Alnwick.

Don’t go to the Oaks Hotel if you’re peckish – wait until you’re ravenous!

You will certainly not leave hungry.

Starter combo (tempura prawns, cheesy garlic bread and potato skins) at The Oaks Hotel, Alnwick.

Starter combo (tempura prawns, cheesy garlic bread and potato skins) at The Oaks Hotel, Alnwick.

We had returned late from work and just needed to pop somewhere for a quick, lazy bite to eat.

It has been a while since we had a meal at The Oaks Hotel, the inn that lends its name to the roundabout it overlooks. The venue used to be our daughter’s favourite haunt for Sunday lunch – she developed a real liking for the gravy! As she was a very fussy eater, that was enough of a recommendation for us.

Since then, the venue has changed hands. Its menu has a familiar look to it, but is not as massively extensive as I remember. Gone are the kangeroo burgers and the shark steaks.

What remains, though, is a familiar collection of British classics and pub standards – Aberdeen Angus burger (£11.95), chicken burger (£11.95) or 12oz gammon and egg (£11.50), with a sprinkling of a few more ambitious numbers, like sautéed king prawns and scallops finished with an avocado and asparagus veloute (£15.95) and roast supreme of salmon set on creamed leeks spiked with scallop (£14.95).

Lamb and haggis meatballs starter

Lamb and haggis meatballs starter

The Oaks was not busy when we landed, with son in tow – he is never one to miss out on a free nose bag.

We ordered drinks at the bar (a pint of Hobgoblin for me, a large Merlot for Mrs L and a Coke for the designated driver), then chose to sit through in the restaurant.

Our seat in one of the bay windows allowed us to watch the world whizz round and round.

The dining area had been significantly smartened since our previous visit, with plums and creams replacing creatures of the forest on the walls, and a tartan carpet underfoot. The ambience was slightly let down by vases of plastic flowers.

Lasagne

Lasagne

We were stumped for starters, so decided to take up the challenge to ‘create a combo’ (three for £9.95 or four for £12.95). Our trio – tempura prawns, potato skins and cheesy garlic bread – was a bit random, but sounded good at the time. We could also have chosen spicy chicken wings, barbecue ribs, sweet potato fries, pit beans, onion rings or olives.

It was a feast in itself – three huge king prawns in lovely, crispy batter; an entire stick of garlic bread; and a mass of freshly cut and fried skins. We were fairly full even at that stage but stuck to our guns and ploughed on.

Son selected lamb and haggis meatballs, with neeps ’n’ tatties bubble and squeak and wee dram sauce (£6.95). He said it could have done with spicing up a tad but demolished it nonetheless.

I was pleased I had chosen a fishy main course, expecting something a little lighter. But my Craster stew (£16.95) was rammed with mussels, cod, crab, scallops, prawns and king prawns – all in a creamy white wine sauce. Phew! And it was accompanied by another whole bread stick and a dish of butter pats. It was delicious and could have fed the five thousand (well, almost).

Belly pork

Belly pork

Old habits die hard and Mrs L refused to look past the homemade lasagne, with hand-cut chips, salad and garlic bread (£9.95). I thought she might be biting off more than she could chew, and so it proved when her overflowing platter landed. She was impressed with the quality and the flavours but overwhelmed with the quantity.

It certainly makes a massive difference when the dishes are homemade. Hats off to the chef.

Son chose slow-cooked belly of pork, with bubble and squeak, black pudding, apple brandy and mustard sauce, and a side dish of veg (£12.95) and barely uttered a squeak as he did his best to fashion a dent in his meal, which was neatly cooked and very moreish.

We almost managed to side-step desserts but the strawberry and cream cheesecake (£4.95) and the lemon sorbet (three scoops, £3.95) were just too tempting. We all tucked in.

The cheesecake in a glass was splendid, although the cream on top was a step too far and the biscuit base quite hard to penetrate.

This was good, old-fashioned home cooking, served with a smile, that made us feel all warm inside and positively glowing outside.

Strawberries and cream cheesecake

Strawberries and cream cheesecake

SOME SPECIAL DISHES AVAILABLE

You can’t beat a big, hearty meal and a pint or two to welcome the start of autumn. The Oaks offers comfortable surroundings, a friendly atmosphere and plenty of grub! The specials board is definitely worth a look. On our visit, it included BBQ chicken breast topped with smoked applewood cheese and bacon (£12.95); strips of beef in a teryaki sauce with wild rice (£9.95); and pan-roasted salmon fillet on crushed new potatoes with a prawn and caper sauce (£14.95).

SELECTION FROM THE MENU

Starters

Homemade soup of the day......£4.25

Homemade potted pork......£6.95

Tempura king prawns......£7.25

Mozzarella & tomato salad......£5.95

Bantry Bay mussels......£6.95

Potato skins......£4.95

Mains

Beer-battered cod......£10.95

Breaded wholetail scampi......£10.95

Homemade steak & ale pie......£9.95

Homemade chicken curry......£10.95

Northumberland sausage......£9.95

Vegetable lasagne (v)......£9.95

Polenta & bean burger (v)......£9.95

Lindisfarne chicken......£12.95

Lamb Jennings......£14.95

8oz sirloin steak......£19.95

Desserts (£4.95 each)

Crumble & custard; sticky toffee pudding; warm chocolate fudge cake

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Quality of food......8

Presentation......8

Choice......8

Vegetarian choice......7

Atmosphere......7

Use of local food......8

Service......8

Access for the disabled......8

Overall rating......8

Verdict: Wholesome comfort food, freshly cooked and very generous portions, the like of which you don’t see much these days.

Contact: 01665 510014 or visit http://www.theoakshotel.co.uk/

The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed The Jolly Fisherman on the Quay, Newcastle. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.

Lemon sorbet

Lemon sorbet

Inside The Oaks Hotel restaurant.

Inside The Oaks Hotel restaurant.