For starters, anywhere that has Susan Green’s Proof of the Pudding sponges on the menu gets my vote immediately.
When I say ‘for starters’, I don’t mean that literally because that would be both strange and greedy.
The sticky toffee, ginger or chocolate puddings out of the Alnwick stable are quite simply the best in the land and deserve to be on every menu!
The rest of the dishes at the Masons are pretty standard fare, although there is a continental twist, which takes you completely by surprise.
It is called Foreign Shores and sits alongside the deep-fried cod, gammon steak, scampi, lamb cutlets, etc.
The section boasts chicken tetrazzini (smoked chicken pieces sautéed until tender with musrooms, peppers and onions with a hint of garlic, blended with cream, mixed with pasta and topped with grated cheese and grilled until golden) or Szechuan shredded beef (tender pieces of beef in Indian spices, sautéed off in hot olive, mixed with crisp vegetables and blended in a traditional Szechuan sauce served with rice) or Singapore seafood pasta (pasta mixed with prawns, ham, mushrooms and various vegetables mixed with a soy, chilli and oyster sauce with the addition of garlic, ginger and curry powder), among others (all £9.50).
And along with Proof of the Pudding puddings, the Masons menu also pays homage to local produce, including crab salad (£5.50) and Craster kipper pate (£5.25) as starters and Northumbrian sausage ring (£10.50), steak and local ale pie (£9.95) and Doddington’s ice cream (two scoops £3.25; three scoops £4.75).
The second big advantage with the Masons is kids eat free from the children’s menu when accompanied by paying adults – you can’t argue with that.
The old coaching inn is a curiosity wrapped up in an enigma. Despite the friendliest human welcome you could wish for, there is something cold about the pub itself. You begin by entering through the back door, past the loos and kitchen and into the rear of the bar.
The pub is split into two by a chimney breast and solid-fuel stove. Both have chunky, square tables set for meals.
Even the bar-room has a canteen-like row of characterless tables and seemingly no space for regular drinkers – not so much as a bar stool in sight. The dark beams, deep green panelling, tartan carpet and various hunting, shooting, fishing memorabilia create a traditional English pub feel, which is equally old-fashioned. We had dropped in on a Sunday evening and, judging by the conversations, were among holidaymakers.
It gave the impression that the pub caters primarily for visitors to the associated holiday accommodation, although I’m certain locals and tourists are equally welcome.
I started the meal with crab salad and it was neatly presented with a fresh salad drizzled with a mustard seed vinegarette and three oatcakes.
The crab came in two layers, a dark meat paste on top of some chunky white meat. It was most enjoyable .
My better half chose the Craster kipper pate and found the strong smoky flavour to her liking. The bread inher case and oatcakes in mine were more supermarket buys than rustic artisan; likewise, the butter came in plastic pots.
Our daughter’s chicken wings, plucked for free from the children’s menu, turned out to be the spicy variety from the adults’, too tangy for her delicate taste-buds.
The main courses were more challenging to choose, such was the variety on offer.
I gave in to the chicken Stilton (chicken breast stuffed and rolled with smoked bacon, served with a creamy Stilton sauce), only to be informed very politely later that their delivery of Stilton was in fact blue cheese and I could change my order if I wanted. I stuck with it and had no regrets, only that despite its extra richness, I could have done with more sauce to counter the dryness of the bacon.
The vegetables were cooked to perfection for me – not soft nor crunchy.
My wife went for one of the foreign dishes – chicken tetrazzini. Her pasta was too soggy but the taste was good if not dramatic and the volume of food defeated her.
Homemade chicken goujons and chips (again free) for our daughter completed the hat-trick of poultry main-courses. She took great delight in polishing off the whole lot.
The food was well-presented and solid but lacked that spark to take it to a different level. The best word we could conjure was ‘nice’.