Sunday lunch is one of the greatest of British traditions and when you don’t have to cook it yourself, it’s even more enjoyable.
I can think of few more pleasant ways to spend a chilly, but bright, Sunday afternoon than driving through the north Northumberland countryside – complete with view of snow-capped Cheviots – and stopping off at a well-run hostelry for some hearty fare.
And you can do far worse than heading to the Percy Arms Hotel in Chatton, based on my experience last week.
Recently refurbished, the interior is great; cosy and comfortable, modern yet retaining a tradtional country inn feel.
It is owned by the same people behind The Northumberland Arms and The Running Fox Café, both Felton, who are making a name for themselves in the area.
When I was handed the menu, delightfully presented with loose sheets pegged to a wooden chopping board, I was pleased to see that there was some choice outside roast dinners for the main course as well as a nice range of starters.
Sometimes, Sunday lunch offers pubs an excuse to serve up soup for starter, two different meats for main and little else. In the end, I did opt for a roast dinner – although the pan-fried sea bass with a white wine and oil cream sauce (£13.95) almost got my vote – and was pleased to see that by going for the pork loin (£9.95), I would get a pork-specific gravy made with wholegrain mustard and apple.
My better half went for the roast leg of lamb (£11.95) and both were served with an extremely large and fluffy homemade Yorkshire pudding, potatoes – both roast and mashed – and vegetables.
Particular plus-points were the quantity of meat, the size of the Yorkshire pud and the fact that a jug of extra gravy came with each plate.
A slight criticism was that the vegetables were uninventive; carrots, peas and a couple of florets of cauliflower and broccoli, but I was pleased that it all came on one plate – personally, I can’t be bothered with giant side dishes of veg with my Sunday lunch, although others will, I’m sure, disagree.
Overall, we both really enjoyed our roasts and I thought that my gravy in particular was really flavoursome.
Prior to that, having both gone for meat for main, we had both chosen fish dishes for our starters.
Across the table was kipper paté, using Swallows of Seahouses kippers, served with toasted Running Fox bread (£5.95). Kipper paté is a favourite of ours and this was a particularly good example, plus you can’t fault the local focus, with fish from Seahouses and bread from Felton.
That lighter option may have been the more sensible choice, but mine was certainly the more exciting choice – smoked haddock chowder containing saffron potatoes and leeks served with homemade cornbread (£5.95).
It was rich, creamy and packed full of tasty, flaky smoked fish, while the bread was a good accompaniment to soak up some of the chowder.
As well as being pleasing on the palate, both were easy on the eye with the paté served on a slate (a common modern trend, but this one was round) and my chowder in a delightful little dish.
Despite the generous portions for both the first courses, we decided that given a few minutes’ breather, we would be able to tackle a dessert.
Again the selection on offer was very good and as well as four puds, there was an array of ice creams, sorbets and cheeses, all from nearby Doddington Dairy.
I was pleased to spot a childhood favourite on there, and one that seems to be fairly rare on restaurant menus.
And when it arrived, I wasn’t disappointed by the homemade vanilla rice pudding, served with homemade jam (£4.95).
It was warming, rich, thick and creamy, with a healthy kick of vanilla sweetness – everything a good rice pudding should be.
Meanwhile, the other half went for one of her firm favourites – Running Fox warm chocolate brownie served with heather honey ice cream.
It too went down very well, with the honey ice cream adding an interesting extra note, and I was pleased to see that it was definitely a brownie, not a cake or tart or torte or ganache.
As with the starters, a fair bit of effort had gone into the presentation of the puddings, with the aforementioned round slates making another appearance.
The slight problem with them is they are slightly tricky to pick up by the waiting staff, who usually have to slide them across the table in order to be able to get underneath them.
THE WAY TO RUN A PUB THAT SERVES FOOD
They certainly seem to know what they are doing at the Percy Arms. We felt relaxed as soon as we arrived, the food was great and the service was helpful and courteous with no long waits despite being a relatively busy lunch service.
The range of drinks is good as you would expect and there were three real ales on offer when we ate, a great way to wash down a plate of roast dinner.
SELECTION FROM THE SUNDAY MENU
Homemade soup of the day......£4.95
Chicken liver parfait, red onion marmalade and rocket salad......£5.95
Crispy haggis balls, swede purée and whisky and mustard sauce......£5.95
Percy Arms pie of the day......£10.95
Roast sirloin of Northumberland beef......£13.95
Roast brisket of Northumberland beef......£9.95
Baked butternut squash stuffed with tomato ragu......£10.95
Sticky toffee pudding......£4.95
Doddington ice creams and sorbets – one scoopc £1.65, two scoops £3.30, three scoops £4.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Value for money......8
Use of local food......8½
Access for disabled......7
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Unpretentious, tasty and well-thought-out food in a relaxed and cosy setting.
Contact: 01668 215244 or online at percyarmschatton.co.uk
Last week’s Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed the Wetherspoon’s pub, The Electrical Wizard, Morpeth., and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.