The Black Bull at Wooler is a throwback to pubs of yore.
It was a scene that is sadly rare these days. Drinkers propped up the bar supping their delicious pints of real ale, a couple of exuberant lads played pool and the jukebox intermittently kicked into action to drown out the buzz of conversation.
The chill in the air early on a Saturday afternoon drove us to the warm refuge of the Black Bull and an early lunch.
It appeared we weren’t the only ones – all the tables in the front bar were already bagged and we wandered through to the rear bar.
The decor was typically traditional, complete with the obligatory chequered carpet, but some pine cladding and more modern furniture gave the back area a lighter feel.
We ordered a couple of drinks (a pint of Tyneside Blonde ale and a red wine) from the chirpy bar-staff before starting a process of table-hopping until we felt comfortable with our lot! Bit by bit, the tables around us became occupied until there wasn’t a seat to be had.
The clientele was a healthy mixture of locals, walkers, caravanners from the nearby holiday sites and the odd dog. Chatter and laughter created quite a vibrant atmosphere. It was great to witness as many pubs struggle to attract enough business to keep afloat.
Time to peruse the menu and it was archetypal pub grub – you could order with your eyes closed!
Choose wisely and you could emerge from the inn having spent just over a tenner for two courses. For example, homemade soup (£3.75), followed by toad in the hole (£6.75).
The choice was not extensive – always a good sign, in my book. I don’t trust menus that are like War and Peace. However, vegetarians might struggle a bit, with only a couple of options on the specials board.
I decided to go for the most obvious of all pub-grub combos – after all, when in Rome...
It had to be prawn cocktail, served on a bed of lettuce with Marie Rose sauce, brown bread and butter (£5.25), to start. I also couldn’t see past the homemade steak and ale pie, served with homemade chips or potatoes of the day and seasonal vegetables (£8.95). I’d read good things about the pie on the likes of TripAdvisor.
Across the table, the selection was only slightly less obvious. Deep-fried brie, served with Cumberland sauce and salad garnish (£5.25), would be followed by, yes you’ve guessed it, homemade lasagne, served with salad garnish, peas, homemade chips or potatoes of the day (£8.50).
We both went for chips and placed our order at the bar. Our wait was comfortable enough – just time to catch up with a little dog next to us who had a phobia of the name Kevin and barked at the merest mention of it. Ours is not to reason why!
My prawn cocktail was very much out of the 1970s.
It was OK but the prawns had been frozen and had lost their texture and instead crumbled in the mouth. The sauce was plentiful but out of a jar and the chunks of tomato and cucumber and the lettuce were fresh and crisp. I can’t say what the bread was like because it didn’t arrive.
Opposite, the deep-fried brie was tasty, the batter was thin enough to put a smile on Mrs L’s face and the salad, again, fresh and crunchy.
Neither scrimped on portion size.
That theme continued into the main courses. My pie was over-done and quite dry. Some extra gravy would have remedied that one, but it was nonetheless full of flavour and the meat, crammed into pastry all round, was beautifully tender. The chips were an absolute delight – homemade, for sure. We were surrounded by people raving about the chips!
The lasagne was ‘decent’ – that coming from a connoisseur – and the complementary chips and salad equally good.
The portion sizes and the fact it was lunchtime meant there was no room for dessert, although they sounded interesting, especially the Bounty cheesecake.
The food wouldn’t win a Michelin star but it was good value and wholesome.
YOUNGSTERS GET THEIR OWN CHOICE
Children are welcome at the Black Bull and are treated to their own section of the menu, although small portions of some dishes on the main menu are also available, for £6.50. Turkey dinosaurs, chicken goujons or cod fish fingers, with chips, peas or baked beans, will set you back £2.25.
The main menu is served from Monday to Saturday, noon to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9pm in the summer. Sunday lunch, very reasonably priced at £4.95 to £9.95, depending on how many slices of meat you want, is served from noon to 2.30pm. Fridays are steak nights – £17.50 for fillet, ribeye or T-bone.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Homemade soup of the day......£3.75
Creamy garlic mushrooms......£4.25
8oz sirloin steak......£12.50
The Bull mixed grill......£12.95
10oz gammon steak......£9.50
Trio of lamb chops......£12.50
Freshly battered cod......£9.95
Chicken Caesar salad......£8.50
Toad in the hole......£6.95
Haggis stuffed chicken breast......£8.95
Giant Yorkie with veg......£5.50
Desserts (all £4.25)
Pineapple upsidedown; trifle; apple crumble; Bounty cheesecake
Quality of food......7½
Access for the disabled......7
Toilet for the disabled......No
Verdict: You’ll not leave hungry, nor with a big dent in your wallet. Comfort food personified!
Contact: 01668 281309
The previous Gazette Eating Out column reviewed the Masons Arms, Warkworth.