Our quest to sample the restaurants, pubs and cafés throughout Northumberland took us on a bit of a journey south – to the very edge of the county.
The beautiful Seaton Sluice Harbour, just north of Whitley Bay, was our port of call.
It’s a picturesque location, looking down on a meandering haven for boats to shelter from the sea – almost like something out of Toy Town.
Perched above the harbour and next to a bridge that leads to Rocky Island, which was created by a channel basted through the rock in the mid-1700s to allow direct access to the sea, is the picture-postcard King’s Arms pub, a bright, white beacon of hospitality in a landscape of adventure and daring-do.
We were attracted to the hostelry by some good reviews on TripAdvisor and by the pledges made on its own website.
They promise ‘honest, value-for-money, home-cooked food’ with ingredients sourced ‘wherever possible’ from ‘local small businesses’.
The menus, available online, boasted pub-grub classics, different size portions to suit your appetite – small, standard and large, in many cases – and separate, quite extensive selections for a gluten-free diet and for children.
It all looked encouraging and we could almost smell the meals as we drove down the coast!
From the outside, the King’s Arms looks like a real pub and, once inside, it feels genuine too. While other venues have gone down the modern gastropub route, this pub has stuck firmly to its traditional routes – good beer, bustling atmosphere, solid, dark furnishing and the obligatory deep red, patterned carpet.
It is not the brightest interior and perhaps some better lighting might not go amiss, but it felt homely, with wood burners adding to its general comfort.
We had booked but could only be squeezed into the bar area rather than the restaurant, which was not a problem, but meant that we had to order our food at the bar.
The menu posed a conundrum that took a while to resolve.
With such a great selection of comfort food, tried-and-tested family favourites, there was nothing to do but drool and stick a pin in it! I mean, how can you choose between sausage and mash (£9), half-shell mussels (£10), spicy cod bites (£9.50), 10oz rump steak (£12.50), mixed grill (£15), handmade burger (£9.50) ... the list goes on. So, for me, pin it was!
There were only five to choose from and my random selection was grilled Stornoway black pudding on a bed of creamy mashed potato and a drizzle of peppercorn sauce (£4.95).
Opposite, a more convention selection method came up with potato skins topped with red onion and cheese, served with sweet chilli dip and garlic mayo (£4 single; £6 double).
You can’t beat Stornoway black pudding, it really is delicious, the finest you can buy in my humble opinion. It is so smooth and tasty, the king among black puddings. That, combined with the creamy mash, meant my pin had landed in just the right place.
The potato skins were mountainous – there was not a hope of Mrs L getting through it. But she made a brave attempt.
They were more potato than skin and the very definition of pub grub – a good belly-filler.
We certainly weren’t going to head home hungry.
For mains, I landed gourmet whole-tail scampi coated in a real ale batter served with hand-cut chips and salad (small £6.50, standard £10, large £14).
I have to say the scampi did not live up to the size of the venue’s reputation. They were among the smallest I have been served, albeit they were fresh and full of flavour.
My salad was crunchy and colourful – carrots, red onion lettuce, red cabbage, etc.
Mrs L took on the homemade lasagne served with garlic bread and the same salad as mine (small £6, standard £9), but she likewise found the standard portion was not monstrous.
It was, however, quite delicious – and that coming from a lasagne connoisseur.
... and so to desserts!
Just like the rest of the menu, the sweets board boasted pub standards at £4.50 each.
We decided to share one and went for toffee apple crumble (£4.50), a good choice, as it turned out. I prefer custard while my better half detests custard and wanted ice-cream. To avoid a domestic punch-up, the waitress agreed to serve a little of each.
It was a splendid final course. Our oblong plate was decorated with The Kings Arms spelled out in a chocolate powder – a nice touch.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day......£4
Sausage and mash......£9
Sweet and sour chicken......£9
Lamb’s liver and bacon......£9
Mince and dumplings......£9
Haggis, neeps and tatties......£9.50
Pie of the day......£9
Mixed pepper stroganoff......£8.50
Fish and chips......£9.50
Honey and lemon salmon......£10.50
Desserts (all £4.50)
King’s mess, banana split, chocolate M&M cheesecake, peach melba ice-cream sundae
chocolate orange sponge with ganache
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......8
Access for the disabled......7
Toilet for the disabled......No
Verdict: Homemade pub classics cooked with an experienced hand.
Contact: 0191 2370275 and http://www.thekingsarms-ne.co.uk