The Inn Collection Group has hit on a winning formula – quality bar food, with a smattering of local offerings, at decent prices in comfortable, traditional, rustic surroundings.
Family-orientated meals are the focus of the inns, where local real ales and comfortable lodge-style rooms are also on the menus.
Food is ordered at the bar and each venue boasts a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Among the outlets are the Hog’s Head Inn, at Alnwick; The Bamburgh Castle Inn, at Seahouses; and The Lindisfarne Inn, at Beal.
But one from the stable breaks the mould. The Seaton Lane Inn, at Seaton, near Sunderland, prides itself on a more haute cuisine menu, a formal restaurant and waiter service from the outset.
We decided to take the trip down to give it a try as part of Mrs L’s big birthday bash. It was combined with a stay at another Inn Collection venue – The King’s Head Inn beneath the distinctive Roseberry Topping in the Tees Valley.
The menu may have a familiar ring to it, with pub standards aplenty, but finer dining it was too – quite a treat for foodies like us.
We arrived mid-afternoon, a little earlier than we would normally choose to eat, but having spent a veritable fortune at the nearby Dalton Park factory outlet, my wallet had called time on shopping!
It was not what we were expecting. Hugging a busy road, this former blacksmith’s forge was inviting without being spectacular, it’s creamy-yellow walls adding a ray of sunshine to a peaceful village a stone’s throw from Seaham.
Inside, there was a boutique, almost gothic feel, with dim lighting, particularly in the bar area, and blood-red seat covers rubbing shoulders with outrageously patterned cream-and-black wallpaper.
Monochrome movie stars gazed down at us from the walls, prompting much nostalgic discussion.
The tables were immaculately laid
As for the menu, the familiar-sounding courses have a blue-ribbon twist.
Let me give you an example or two. The pan-fried salmon fillet (£14.95) comes on a bed of stir-fried green vegetables with a blood orange and red chilli drizzle. Tempted?
And the shoulder of lamb (£16.95) is slow-roasted and pulled, served with rissole potatoes, crisp carrots and a minted gravy.
I spied with my little eye something that would tickle my taste buds – pork and chilli meatballs, served on a beansprout, coriander and spring onion salad, with lime dressing (£5.95).
Mrs L took the weight off her shopping feet and plumped for chicken liver pâté starter, which was described as smooth chicken livers scented with orange and thyme, served with onion marmalade and toasted ciabatta (£5.95).
Both starters hit exactly the right spot – they were beautifully presented and combined flavours that simply worked. The kick of chilli in the meatballs was balanced by the lime dressing on a fresh, crunchy salad. And across the table, the chatter halted while the warm swirl of pâté and generous portions of ciabatta took hold.
I find it hard to resist the delicate texture and taste of sea bass and so my vote went straight to the seared sea bass fillets, served with a warm salad of seasonal greens and new potatoes, with a dill and lime butter (£15.95). Just writing it makes me salivate! And I wasn’t disappointed – it oozed freshness and was cooked to perfection.
Opposite, the choice was mussels (£9.95), with a side order of the chunkiest of chunky chips (£2.50). I have to admit to muscling in and pinching a mussel and a chip – both were heavenly!
So to desserts – all homemade and, at £4.95, all reasonably priced.
I went for the sticky toffee pudding, with accompanying butterscotch sauce and vanilla bean ice cream, while Mrs L opted for ginger sponge, forgoing the condensed milk and vanilla custard in favour of ice cream.
The puddings were exquisitely moist and a canny way to conclude what had been an entirely pleasant meal.
ALL ARE WELCOME AT THE INN
Vegetarians are adequately served, with three starter and main course options. I particularly liked the sound of blue cheese, spinach and toasted pine-nut linguine pasta, bound in a rich à la crème sauce (£9.95).
Children have their own menu, bosting the likes of homemade chicken or fish goujons, pizza, cheeseburger, sausage with gravy and tomato pasta, all served with a choice of chunky chips, french fries, mashed potato, new potatoes or rice and a side of salad, peas or beans, all for £5.95.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Deep fried potato skins (v)......£4.95
Ham hock terrine......£6.95
Duo of fishcakes......£6.95
Mediterranean veg tart (v)......£6.95
Battered fillet of haddock......£10.95
Smoked peppered mackerel......£9.95
8oz ribeye steak......£19.95
Angus beef burger......£9.45
Steak and Guinness pie......£10.95
Oven-roasted chicken breast......£11.95
Thai green curry......£10.95
Stuffed chicken breast......£14.95
Potato gnocchi (v)......£9.75
Pasta arrabiata (v)......£9.75
Homemade Desserts (all £4.95)
Double chocolate brownie, cheesecake of the day, apple & rhubarb crumble, peach & raspberry tart
RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......7
Verdict: The finer side of pub dining, beautifully served, sensible prices.
Contact: 0191 581 2038; http://www.seatonlaneinn.com
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed fine dining at The Sanctuary Restaurant, Alnwick Castle. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.