But as we tentatively emerge from lockdown, this was a first taste of normality, a flavour of freedom that we simply could not resist.
Mrs L and I, armed with the semi-protection of a single jab apiece, a couple of facemasks and the warmest of coats, headed for the picturesque village of Felton on the banks of the River Coquet, having booked a table in the 6pm slot. There was also 2pm, 4pm and 8pm to choose from.It was a good decision – we had worked up a decent appetite throughout the day and the temperature hadn’t quite plummeted to its night-time depths.
We were also happy to pay a £10 deposit each, which was later taken off the bill.
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The Northumberland Arms is one of many gastro-pubs in the area that have gone the extra mile to open at the first opportunity on the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, albeit serving food outside only for now. They have erected a sizeable tipi in the car park opposite the pub.
It houses several tables and is made as homely as possible with flags and lights. Such endeavour should be rewarded with our custom – it is vital we support those who are doing their best to serve our needs and keep the county's economy ticking over.
The hostelry itself is now under the wing of the owners of another popular country pub, The Blackbird in Ponteland.
So what’s on this particular al fresco menu? We took it all in over a delicious pint of Run Hop Run, an IPA from the local Rigg & Furrow brewery, and a glass of Rioja.
Five starters included soup of the day (£5.50); wasabi salmon (£7.95) and venison bolognese (£7.95). A wider choice of ‘classic’ mains boasted fish and chips (£12.95); ribeye steak (£18.95); pie of the day – curried mince when we visited (£11.95); Moving Mountains vegetarian burger (£12.95); and garlic roast chicken breast (£16.95).
There was also a range of ‘street food’ options, such as chicken chow mein noodles (£9.95) and sweet Korean pork bao buns (£8.95).
So, knowing that food temperature might be an issue, we started with the cold platter for two, with Italian meats, fabulous truffled Camembert and various pickles (£16.95). Although not substantial, it hit the right spot as a sociable, grazing option with which we could take our time, soak up the atmosphere and revel in a rare trip outside the house.
I then plumped for the pan-fried salmon (£15.95), while opposite, the Northumberland Arms burger (£12.95) took my wife’s fancy.
How delicious was my salmon? It was perfectly cooked with a crispy, seared skin and moist flesh. It was accompanied with my favourite combination of green vegetables – asparagus, spinach and peas – daintily paddling in a pool of buttery mustard sauce.
Mrs L’s burger and fries also received a thumbs up, despite missing the promised salad.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we extended our stay to include desserts.
From an understandably limited choice, I went for my go-to sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice-cream (£6.95); and Mrs L had the grapefruit posset with lemon shortbread (£6.95). Needless to say, we both found ourselves in gastronomic heaven. I always judge the standard of any sticky toffee pudding against, in my opinion, the finest in the business, that from Susan Green’s Proof of the Pudding, and this certainly was up there with the best –moist, tasty and worth a visit on its own! We also marvelled at the thinness of the shortbread which came with the posset – a considerable art.
We could also have chosen chocolate terrine (£6.95) or selection of ice-creams (£4.95).
It was fantastic to be back at a dining table once again and the Northumberland Arms had done a sterling job in difficult circumstances.
The service was excellent, despite the added hurdle of crossing the main road through the village while juggling plates; the food, a few teething problems aside, was good; and the whole experience convivial and worth repeating, particularly when we are all allowed to eat inside again. Well done everyone!
Northumberland Arms, Felton, Northumberland NE65 9EE, call 01670 787370 to book a table; check out the full menu at northumberlandarms-felton.co.uk