Who said that pubs were dead? Well, whoever it was should pop along to the renovated and rejuvenated Northumberland Arms in Felton.
We arrived on a bitter, midwinter Thursday night to be faced with a sea of people and a hive of activity. How refreshing in these days of virtually virtual everything! Folks actually conversing, laughing and having a good time, not a telly nor computer screen in sight.
Thursdays are quiz nights, but it is no mystery why all evenings have become popular at the welcoming Arms. The refurbishment has given it a fresh look and a warming ambience that just scoops you up and gives you a great big hug.
A roaring fire was like manna from heaven to these two travellers who’d come in from the cold.
Rustic furniture, stone-slab or wooden floors, bare stone walls, feature alcoves – all the ingredients of a cosy evening.
We settled down with a glass of red wine and a pint of Red Kite, a fruity, ruby ale out of the Wylam Brewery nest, brewed to celebrate the re-introduction of the red kite to the North East after an absence of 170 years.
We had booked, but could not be squeezed into the main dining room and had to make do with a lounge area between restaurant and bar. Barely were we seated than we were delivered menus, a basket of complimentary Running Fox bread and butter and a carafe of water. We were made to feel special from the outset.
This attention to detail gave us the confidence to relax, put our trust in the chef and simply enjoy the experience.
The Running Fox bakery and café over the road has already built itself a fine reputation, which has led to this expansion into the Northumberland Arms. This reviewer was certainly impressed with the smaller cousin just over the river on an earlier trip.
The selection and description of dishes on the Arms menu is ingenious, designed to make your mouth water and teeming with local ingredients. But stripped bare, the underlying theme is all about pub favourites with a local and upmarket twist.
Mrs L is a sucker for kipper pâté and smoked salmon, so she was sold by a starter including both: Craster kipper pâté and smoked salmon, port and orange marmalade and toasted Running Fox breads (£5.50). I plumped for deep-fried Shetland scallops in panko crumbs on black pudding with pea puree (£8.95).
Both starters promised much and delivered even more. My scallops literally melted in the mouth, releasing a subtle flavour than combined so well with the black pudding. Beautifully presented with a smear of pea puree, this was a highly-enjoyable course. My pea puree was chilled and I would have preferred a more even temperature, a small criticism that didn’t spoil the dish.
The pâté was plentiful (two large, oval scoops) and very, very tasty. There was an abundance of bread from the pre-dinner offering, so my dining companion was more than happy.
Having said she could eat a horse, my wife chose cow for her main course – Turnbull’s of Alnwick rib-eye steak served with chunky chips, slow-roasted beef tomato, onion rings and peppercorn sauce (there was also bordelaise or blue cheese sauce)at £18.95. It was a splendid affair, beautifully cooked, with some plump, scrumptious chips – naughty but nice!
I was in a quandary. Should I go for something more challenging for the chef, the pheasant breast stuffed with haggis (£12.50), perhaps, or the parmesan-crumbed, baked escalope of chicken with wild mushroom and asparagus risotto and rocket salad (£11.95)?
In the end, I went for the chicken and leek pie (£10.95) from the small specials board. I, too, needed something substantial and that’s exactly what arrived – a proper, homemade pie, with a crispiness about the crust, accompanied by lovely duck-fat roast potatoes. ‘Bashed carrot and swede’ provided the only vegetable and there was no gravy, though.
Mrs L was well and truly defeated, but I managed to squeeze in Neville’s raspberry and vanilla cheesecake with white chocolate ice cream (£5.50), which was as good a homemade cheesecake as you’ll get, soft, creamy topping on just the right amount of biscuit base. Well done, Neville!
The quality of food was excellent and we didn’t choke at the prices. Staff were attentive and knowledgeable and we had a thoroughly good evening.
SOLUTION TO DISABLED ACCESS ON THE CARDS
Although the Northumberland Arms is currently difficult to access by wheelchairs due to steep steps at the front door, there is a remedy in the pipeline. Disabled access and toilets are planned for the side of the building where the conservatory now sits.
There were only a couple of starters and a main-course option for vegetarians – not the greatest of choice. The specials board boasted roast pepper and tomato soup (£5.50) and asparagus, mushroom and black truffle risotto (£9.95).
Little people have their own menu too – fresh fish bites (£4.95), chicken strips (£4.95), cheese and tomato melted on Running Fox bread (£4.95), Green and Sons sausages (£4.95).
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Chef Alan’s soup of the day with Neville’s bread £5.50
Craster kipper pate & smoked salmon, port & orange marmalade and toasted Running Fox breads £5.50
Roasted red pepper & shallot tarte tatin with goat’s cheese & wholegrain mustard dressing £5.95
Rustic fresh fishcake, lemon-dressed salad & local red rascal dipping sauce £5.25
Deep-fried Shetland scallops in panko crumbs on black pudding with pea puree £8.95
Northumberland Arms bruschetta with brie, tomato and basil pesto dressing £4.50
Seared North Shields squid with garlic, coriander, chillies and fresh lime £5.50
Turnbull’s of Alnwick rib eye steak £18.95, T-bone steak £22.95, fillet steak £28.95 served with:
chunky chips, slow-roasted beef tomato, onion rings and your choice of peppercorn, bordelaise or blue cheese sauce.
Grilled fillet of salmon with smoked haddock, prawn & saffron sauce, parsley potatoes £12.95
Confit duck leg with chorizo mash, steamed broccoli and spiced plum jus £11.50
Parmesan crumbed baked escalope of chicken with wild mushroom & asparagus risotto and rocket salad £11.95
Braised shank of Northumbrian lamb, heritage mash, roasted vegetables and mint gravy £12.95
Northumberland beef & Alnwick ale pie, bashed carrot & swede and duck-fat roast potatoes. £12.95
Beer-battered North Sea cod with chunky chips and homemade mushy peas £11.00
Grilled sea bass with olive crushed potatoes, salsa verde and fresh green vegetables £11.95
Northumberland pheasant ‘En Croute’ – pheasant breast stuffed with haggis with pancetta buttered cabbage, duck-fat roast potatoes and redcurrant sauce £12.50
Mixed bean ragout with parmesan topped vegetarian suet dumplings, creamy heritage mash (v) £8.95
Apple cinnamon & pistachio crumble with custard or Jersey ice cream £5.50
Creamy lemon posset served with handmade shortbread £4.95
Northumberland Arms sticky toffee pudding, butterscotch sauce and Morwick’s Jersey ice cream £5.50
Warm raspberry and almond tart with fresh cream or custard £5.50
Barry’s gooey chocolate brownie served with Morwick’s ice cream and a shot of local chocolate and raspberry vodka £6.50
A selection of local sourced cheeses - Three cheeses £6.00 / Five cheeses £7.50
A selection of ice creams and sorbets £4.95
star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food 9
Vegetarian choice 6
Value for money 8
Local food 10
Children catered for 8
Access for disabled 1 (steep steps)
Toilet for disabled No
Overall rating 8½
VERDICT: High-class pub grub in fabulous surroundings.
CONTACT: 01670 787370 or email the email@example.com. Sample menus are on the website www.northumberlandarms-felton.co.uk