After three years of waiting, Rothbury finally has a new road. The main route south, the B6344, reopened on Maundy Thursday after a landslip had closed it on Boxing Day 2012.
So, we headed out to Rothbury for a celebratory meal on Good Friday.
And what a good Friday it had been to herald the Easter weekend, welcome the traditional start of the tourist season and, of course, sing hallelujah for that road. Glorious sunshine, clear, blue skies and barely a breeze. Fantastic.
Having made the required detour from Alnwick to sample for ourselves the £10million stretch of Tarmac, we arrived, rather excitedly, at the Newcastle House Hotel, slap bang in the heart of the village.
It is an imposing building, with a view over the village green. Once inside, we were faced with a choice of several doors off the entrance hallway. We took a right and headed for the restaurant. The decor was dated but homely and the atmosphere warm, even lively.
The friendliness of the staff and manageress could not be surpassed – they had a real ‘nowt’s a bother’ attitude that made us feel properly at home.
Most impressive, though, for a lover of local food like me, was the huge boards above the kitchen area declaring the neighbouring suppliers: Rothbury Baker; Laidlers Fruit and Veg; Callaly Estate (game); Greenbrae Farm (meat); R Green & Son butcher’s, Longframlington; Harehope Farm, Powburn (potatoes); Frank Round, North Shields (fish); Mad Jam Woman, Rothbury.
More restaurants should take a leaf out of this particular book – if you use local produce, shout about it!
The choice of dishes was on a blackboard, the final throes of a winter menu, we later learnt, that was due to change the following day. Timing! A selection from the new menu is listed below.
It was typical pub fare, with a smattering of things adventurous. Fish and chips (£11.50/£8.50), scampi (£9.90)and ham, eggs and chips (£8.50) rubbed shoulders with chargrilled cajun salmon (£12.95), mushroom and pepper stroganoff (£9.50) and beef strips in black bean sauce (£9.95).
We stuck a metaphoric pin in the five starter options and came up with chicken liver pâté and toasted soda bread (£5.95) for me and garlic mushrooms in white wine sauce (£4.95) across the table.
Both were delicious, obviously prepared in-house and fresh as a daisy. The pâté was particularly fine – light, moist and strikingly flavoured by the chicken livers. There was no way that had been inside a supermarket packet, like many a pâté we’ve had at other venues. My only gripe was the foiled butter portions that always lead to a messy fumble – I much prefer pats in a ramekin.
That said, it was a splendid start and set the tone nicely.
The garlic mushrooms were worth making that detour for. I pinched one and apart from the fork stab marks on my wrist (thankfully she didn’t draw blood), I did not regret it – my taste buds are still humming with contentment.
My main course was chicken breast in a garlic, white wine and mushroom sauce (£12.95). Again, it was obviously homemade using the freshest of ingredients. It was very tasty and fulfilling.
New potatoes accompanied the chicken and a side dish of vegetables (carrots, cabbage and peas), while slightly overdone, added colour and a sweet set of flavours.
No prizes for guessing that Mrs L plumped for the lasagne, with chips and salad (£9.50). No need for that metaphoric pin this time!
But is was a great choice – the lasagne was meaty and not overpowered by tomato purée. Aromatic herbs – oregano and basil – took charge of the dish, tempered by the hand-cut chunky chips. It was one of the better efforts, according to Mrs L – and she should know.
Now, we had planned to end proceedings there, but the dessert board was very persuasive. I got the impression that they were very proud of their desserts. All but one was homemade, so how could we refuse (smiley face!)? All were £4.50, apart from the cheese board (£6.50).
The combination of Guinness-soaked fruit, treacle and ginger in a pudding won over Mrs L. The two words beginning with the letter ‘g’ are possibly her favourite in the English language. She uttered another g-word – gorgeous.
My sticky toffee pudding, with a jug of thick, creamy custard on the side, was just as naughty but nice, teeming with dates and deliciously gooey.
The fare is not fine dining, and it doesn’t pretend to be, but the wholesome, homespun recipes do provide hearty, good-value meals.
STAFF COULDN’T BE MORE HELPFUL
Our abiding memory of the meal at the Newcastle House Hotel was the warmth of the welcome and the attention we received. The atmosphere was jovial and it was definitely a place where you could relax and enjoy the occasion. Children have their own menu – a main course with a small drink and an ice lolly to finish will set you back £4.95. The choice for vegetarians on the new menu is quite limited, but as the food is cooked to order and staff are very accommodating, it’s worth asking for non-meat options.
SELECTION FROM THE NEW MENU
Crispy potato skins/dips......£4.90
Feta and olive salad......£6.50
Fillet of pork medallions......£11.50
Cod & salmon fish cakes......£12
Battered North Sea cod......£11.50/£8.50
Confit duck leg......£11
Sea bass, mussels/lemon sauce......£15.50
Beef or mushroom stroganoff......£9.90
Moroccan vegetable stew......£8
Northumbrian beef chasseur......£9.50
Desserts (all £4.50)
Menu varies but on our visit: Cheesecake, hot chocolate fudge cake, apple & rhubarb, spotted dick.
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......10
Disabled access......7 (ramp available)
Toilet for disabled......No
Cater for kids......Yes
Verdict: Home-made, home-cooked food in a homely environment.
Contact: 01665 720345 or visit www.rothburynewcastlehouse.co.uk
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Spice House, Main Street, Seahouses. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.