I am all for giving a place a second chance, particularly when there is a change of management or, more pertinently, a new chef.
My last visit to The Sun Hotel at Warkworth was not covered in glory and my review was correspondingly scathing.
But the venue has undergone a change of personnel and there are positive noises being made about the food now on offer. The Amble & Warkworth Rotary Club call The Sun home for their regular meetings.
“We have a set meal (two courses – starter and main or main and dessert) for £10,” an insider told me. “At this price, we can’t expect Northumberland Arms or Cook and Barker standard. But, we have noticed an improvement in the quality and presentation of the food.
“For instance, we had belly pork at a recent meeting and it was surprisingly good. The Christmas dinner, which we had with our ladies on December 17 was voted as quite good.”
Our visit was Sunday after Christmas, that strange period between two festivities when you never know whether to stick or bust, try another recipe for left-over turkey or venture out for another treat.
We landed at 12.30pm, prime time I would say for Sunday lunch, yet we were the only customers in the glorious conservatory. We’d walked through a grand refurbishment of the lounge bar – all deep, dark colours and suit of armour in a Regency style – and into the bright, spacious glasshouse, with its view of the castle. Ever wondered what Alice felt like arriving in Wonderland?
We had already ordered a couple of pints at the bar and noticed an improved range of real ales, including one brewed on-site.
The menu was a simple affair, it being a Sunday, just a couple of starters and four main courses, although a glance at the regular à la carte selection revealed a similarly slick, inventive choice of four starters and six mains.
In the interests of informative reviewing, we elected to have different starters. Mrs L fancied the pork and chicken liver pâté served with red onion and balsamic chutney and crusty bread (£5.50), which left me with the soup of the day (£4.25), which we discovered was ham and barley broth once the waitress and popped off to consult with the chef.
Both were palatable, well-presented and simple – not quite the pinnacle of fine dining we had expected, let down by ‘supermarket’ crusty rolls and foil-packed butter.
The dish of broth was modest in size but gigantic in flavour, a bit too watery but slipped down with ease.
The pâté was smooth and rich and the accompanying salad fresh and crunchy.
We noted that there was nothing for vegetarians in round one. With that in mind, my wife initially chose the penne tossed in sweet pepper, petit pois and Napoli sauce (£9.95) but when she was later told the chef didn’t have any pepper (although the dish was still available), she plumped instead for the roast gigot lamb, with slow-braised red cabbage, olive oil mashed potato, topped with cranberry and mint gravy (£9.95).
I had the roast topside of Northumbrian beef with Yorkshire pudding (£8.95). The highlights for me were the bed of mashed potato beneath the slices of tender beef, the divine, meaty gravy, the genuine, crunchy and plentiful roast potatoes and the basted carrots and parsnips. My only issue was a dry and hard Yorkshire pudding.
My wife’s lamb received praise too and was swiftly polished off. There was a decent-sized portion of meat and vegetables and she declared herself satiated (or words to that effect).
It took all my persuasive powers to urge her to have a dessert – and the fact that it was £16.95 for three courses! She plumped for the cheese and oatcake, with red onion marmalade, apple and celery (which turned out to be strawberry) (£6.50).
I swerved round the sticky toffee pudding, to avoid being labelled boring, and selected the iced Baileys semifreddo with a bitter chocolate sauce and crushed honeycomb. It was actually very, very good and I’m not a fan of overly sweet desserts.
Slices of ice cream fused with Baileys Irish Cream liqueur sat well on the palate with the bitter chocolate sauce. And full marks for presentation on this dish.
The cheese and oatcakes was a meal in itself. The large chunks of three cheese varieties almost finished off Mrs L!
Two hours after we had arrived, it was a different story – the waiting staff were scurrying around as table after table became occupied. Next door, in the main bar, the Newcastle match was showing on on big TVs and it was heaving – great to see. The Sun is going in the right direction – up!
IMPROVEMENTS IN ALL AREAS AT THE HOTEL
I was delighted to see gradual upgrades had been made to the 17th century coaching inn, where we held our wedding reception almost 20 years ago. The atmosphere was flat in the convervatory, with no background music, until other tables started to fill. My Rotary contact said: “The bar has improved with a range of real ales. Two new TVs in the bar will appeal to some. Both dining room and sun lounge have undergone much-needed re-decoration and with new furniture. The new decor may not be to everyone’s taste but is an improvement.”
THE SUNDAY LUNCH MENU (3 courses for £16.95)
Homemade soup of the day £4.25
Pork and chicken liver pâté £5.50
Roast topside of Northumbrian beef £8.95
Braised belly of pork £8.95
Roast gigot lamb £9.95
Penne tossed in sweet pepper, petit pois and Napoli sauce (v) £9.95
Cheese and oatcakes, red onion marmalade, apple, celery £6.50
Choux buns filled with vanilla ice cream with a salted caramel sauce £5.50
Iced Baileys semifreddo with a bitter chocolate sauce and crushed honeycomb £5.50
Sticky toffee pudding with ice cream and butterscotch sauce £5.50
Star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food 8
Vegetarian choice 7½
Value for money 8
Local food 8
Children catered for 8
Overall rating 8
Verdict: Tasty, imaginative and well-presented food; friendly staff; lacked atmosphere.
Contact: 01665 711259; email firstname.lastname@example.org; website www.thesunhotelwarkworth.co.uk