Our buffet car pulled up at Widdrington Station this week to have a look at the recently-refurbished Junction Restaurant.
As we were approaching our destination, with bellies sorely lacking fuel, red, flashing lights pierced the night-time darkness and the traffic was held up by a train passing on the east-coast mainline.
It was only a temporary delay and we were soon rattling over the track into the village.
We came to a halt at a quite ordinary building. The owners had obviously put in some effort to make it look attractive and, at night, it worked. The bright signs of the Junction and neighbouring Sidings Bar drew us in.
The welcome we received was second-to-none – cheery and warm on a bitter evening.
We were shown to our reserved seats next to a huge, floor-to-ceiling mirror, which gave the impression of a restaurant twice the size.
I was expecting to gaze around at railway memorabilia and decor, given the location, but no, it was quite stark and chic without being pretentious. Light-sage paintwork, wooden parquet flooring, pristine, white tablecloths and napkins and that mirror dominated the scene.
To me, it was reminiscent of an American diner, although the silver candelabras countered even that impression. Perhaps the fabulous rock ’n’ roll music from the ’50s – by the likes Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis – playing in the background helped.
We ordered drinks – a glass of house red wine and a Caffrey’s beer – while surveying the menu, although we could have chosen from a selection of nibbles: Tear-and-share cheese garlic bread (£4.50), mixed olives with garlic and feta (£2.95), freshly-baked bread (£2.80) or home-made hummus with pitta (£2.95). There are restaurants that offer complimentary entrées.
The menu, in general, was very old-school, with steaks, burgers and fish and chips dominating, although with a bit of room for vegetarian options and lighter bites. For example, the description for the mixed grill went like this: 8oz American hanger steak, piri piri quarter chicken, pork chop, rare breed pork sausages, 8oz gammon, black pudding, white pudding, served with twice-fried chips in dripping, beer-battered onion rings, grilled beef tomato, flat field mushroom and free-range fried egg (£19.95) ... phew, try saying that lot in one breath!
There were plenty of references to local produce, such as Craster smoked salmon, Northumbrian beef and Spurreli (Amble) ice-cream.
Most of the dishes were traditional – I ordered the salt beef hash to start (salt beef, slow cooked and pan-fried with potatoes and onions, served with a fried, free-range egg; £5.95) and we weren’t left in the waiting room too long before the food arrived. The dish was pleasant enough and quite filling but a bit one-dimensional – I would have liked more seasoning to give the flavours a kick.
The Old No7 buffalo chicken wings (£4.95) caught Mrs L’s eye. The description told her the meat had been dusted in seasoned flour before being deep-fried and bathed in the Junction’s own Jack Daniels Old No7 sauce.
It was a spicy affair and she just wanted to dive in hands first but the lack of finger bowl meant she had to be more refined and use knife and fork. Her crisp, fresh salad countered the spices.
For the main course, I quite fancied lamb hotpot (slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with sliced potato, onions, carrots, turnip and leeks, finished with crisp, sliced potatoes and rich gravy; £8.75).
It was first class – the thick, meat gravy and twice-fried chips took me back to the days of my mother’s homely cooking. The accompanying veg – carrots, green beans, mashed swede and Savoy cabbage – were slightly overcooked for my liking, but would have suited my mother down to the ground! My wife was back on track with her quest to find the perfect lasagne, this one a mix of lamb and beef cooked with lashings of red wine. It was the red wine that took her fancy! It was just the ticket, not just in quality and flavour but also size – not too big to leave her bloated.
The choice of dishes was not extensive but should suit most tastes, and that extended to the desserts, with just five – in the main, home-made.
We were intrigued by Margi’s cheesecake (£4.95), which came in several flavours (Dairy Milk chocolate, vanilla, mint Aero and lemon). We shared the latter – it was a fittingly traditional end to the meal, but we weren’t sure about the combination of lemon and dark chocolate base. It’s presentation also lacked flair, with not a sprinkle of something or a swirl of something else in sight, no ice-cream, cream or sauce of any description. It did look a bit lonely on the plate.
The Spurreli ice-creams sounded cool though and included some intriguing flavours.
THE PLATFORM FOR A FIRST-CLASS VENUE
It was clear from our fellow diners that The Junction was popular with families. There is a separate children’s menu boasting the likes of bangers and mash, fresh, locally-sourced cod bites and chips, roast of the day, chicken nuggets and French fries, spaghetti bolognese and omelette. Add a dessert of ice-cream and you’ll pay £4.99.
The Wednesday Steak Club also looks tempting, with choices including two steaks and a bottle of wine (£19.99), two gammon steaks (£15.95), burger and a beer (£10.95), and Steak Club combo of 10oz rump steak and piri piri chicken quarter (£16.95).
There is the basis of a very good restaurant here and I’m sure, with tweaks and modifications of the menu along the way, I’ll be making the Junction a regular stop.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Chef’s soup of the day......£3.95
Caramelised onion & goats’ cheese tart......£4.95
Craster smoked salmon......£5.75
Traditional fish & chip supper......£9.75
Braised feather blade of Northumbrian beef......£8.65
Homemade steak pie......£8.95
Bangers & mash......£7.95
10oz rump steak......£10.95
8oz fillet steak......£19.95
16oz gammon steak......£14.95
Date & sticky toffee pudding......£4.95
Homemade chocolate fondant......£4.95
Mixed Spurreli ice-cream......£4.95
STAR RATINGS (OUT OF 10)
Quality of food......7½
Value for money......8½
Children catered for......9
Use of local food......9½
Access for disabled......8
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Warm welcome, decent fare at good prices.
Contact: 01670 790888 or online at www.thejunctionrestaurant.co.uk