Not wishing to get too cryptic, but there was a time when pubs were pubs and that was it. Now there are still pubs, but there are also pubs that are not pubs in the old sense.
Before you think I’m going mad, I will explain what I mean – the core business of a traditional pub is drinks, but in recent years, changing trends and financial pressures have meant many pubs have switched their focus to their food offering.
The Badger in Ponteland is one of these.
While I am sure you would be most welcome to go there and sup a pint of real ale at the bar, the venue is really set up for serving food and the occasions I have been there have always been for a meal.
Often the reason I have eaten there before – and why it may be of interest to people even in north Northumberland – is that it is extremely convenient for Newcastle Airport – just a few minutes and three roundabouts away.
And although the food may not be cheaper per se, it is certainly better value and is a much more relaxing way of having something to eat before a flight than the often-busy terminal.
The Morpeth Herald, our sister paper, reported before Christmas that The Badger had recently reopened with a new menu to celebrate its major refurbishment.
I have to confess I didn’t notice a major change to the décor, but it remains a cosy, comfortable and welcoming place to be, and a very pleasant spot for a lunch or dinner. I did, however, notice new and updated items on the menu, so perhaps it says more about me; food ranks far more highly in my interests than interior design!
Our reason for eating there recently wasn’t due to us flying off on holiday to sunnier climes unfortunately, but a convenient middle point to meet friends for lunch.
Even arriving at what I would call an early time on a Sunday – 12.30pm – the place was heaving and we were very relieved to have booked a table.
The Badger does have a Sunday menu, but given its focus on food, it goes beyond just roast dinners, although it is not as comprehensive as the usual menu. Nonetheless, there is still an extremely varied choice and none of the four of us opted for your traditional Sunday lunch.
I had the seared fillet of sea bass (£16.95), which came with spring-onion mash (rather than the crushed baby potatoes on the menu, not that this was a problem for me), asparagus and a lobster and samphire sauce. The fish was nicely cooked and the sauce was very tasty indeed; I demolished the plate in double-quick time.
That meant I was able to get a taste of the chicken and thyme pie (£10.50) in a creamy Chenin blanc sauce, topped with puff pastry, served with spring onion mash and seasonal vegetables that the wives had ordered. This too went down very nicely and the portion was very generous, although it did raise the question of whether a bowl of filling topped with pastry officially constitutes a pie. I have to say I’m a purist and it needs to be encased in pastry to count for me.
The fourth choice was the Aberdeen Angus burger topped with smoked Cheddar and served with bacon chutney and homemade onion rings (£12.50), as they had run out of the ‘premium and mouth-watering’ Wagyu burger (£13.50).
We managed to squeeze in a dessert, opting for two raspberry milkshake cheesecakes with raspberries and Cornish clotted cream (£5.75) as well as fruit crumble with custard (£5.95) and a toffee and nut trio (£6.75) – treacle and pecan tart, crème caramel panna cotta and praline ice cream.
My cheesecake tasted like a kids’ dessert – in a good way, reminding me nostalgically of Nesquik strawberry milk, while the crumble did what it said on the tin and the toffee trio was a more grown-up pudding.
Considering how busy it was, the service was very good and the wait for food was not at all bad given the number of diners that kept on coming. For example, our friend asked to swap his normal chips accompanying his burger for sweet-potato fries. The plate came out with regular chips, but without any prompting from us, the waiter remembered and went to change them.
A VARIETY OF DIFFERENT MENUS
Alongside the Monday to Saturday and Sunday menus, there are several other options during the week.
A fixed-price lunch menu (two courses £11.50/three courses £14.50) is available Monday to Friday until 5pm, while a fixed-price dinner menu (two courses £14.50/three courses £18.50) is available weekdays from 5pm to 10pm.
There is also a separate vegan menu, served seven days a week, a children’s menu and a Pie Wednesday menu with up to six pies for you to choose from each week.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Duo of pâté......£5.95
Salt & pepper calamari and tempura prawns......£5.95
Chargrilled lamb koftas......£5.75
Sirloin of beef......£11.75
Slow-cooked lamb shank......£13.50
Roast trio for two......£24.50
Roasted vegetable tart......£10.50
Fish and chips......£11.95
10oz ribeye steak......£19.50
Chocolate ganache tart......£5.25
Melba mallow mess......£5.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......none mentioned
Value for money......7
Access for disabled......7
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: If you fancy a decent meal then you can’t really go wrong at The Badger for ease and choice.
Contact: 01661 871037 or www.vintageinn.co.uk/restaurants/north-west/thebadgerponteland