Buffeted by the prevailing westerlies, we bustled into the welcoming lobby of the Pheasant Inn, at Stannersburn, near Kielder, windswept and dishevelled and looking for respite.
It was one of those days when the sun dodged elusively behind billowing clouds, peeking intermittently from smudged edges, like a shimmering temptress beckoning us to sunnier climes.
After a cancelled trip to Coquet Island, a pub lunch was the only cure and a country inn within a 17th-century farmhouse in the heart of the Northumberland National Park, recently named as the best national park in the world, seemed like a good place to eat away the sea-faring blues. The family-run inn offers bed and breakfast, hearty home-cooked food, good beers and wines; all with the added charm and character of a traditional coaching inn.
I had booked ahead to avoid jeopardising a lengthy trip from Newcastle and an empty stomach so had a table for 2pm on Saturday.
The interior was cosy, with oak beams and open fires, doubtless the envy of walkers in winter months. Remnants of an agricultural past hung tellingly on walls in between tapestry and watercolour depictions of pheasants.
We were seated in the bar area where two small parties were finishing up their meals.
I was praying they would leave before the starters arrived and the gratuitous, review-obligatory food photography commenced. Heaven forbid if they were to think we were a pair of Facebook foodies! Luckily, they vacated their seats in good time, allowing for shameless attempts at flattering food photos.
The lunch-time menu offered a range of dishes, from a seafood platter to a steak and kidney pie. The seafood option seemed a fitting tribute to a failed sea mission so I plumped for the sweet marinated herring with garnish (£5.50) and fresh-dressed crab from the Northumberland coast with salad and potatoes (£12.50).
My companion chose the ham hock terrine with chutney, homemade bread and salad garnish (5.95), followed by homemade lasagne (£9.50).
Both starters and mains came with a knoll of crisp, colourful greenery. No wilted supermarket salad, but an abundant array of assorted leaves, tossed with grapes, celery, apple, pepper and tomato, topped with a gracefully-fanned cucumber and subtle vinaigrette dressing.
The herring was delightful, perhaps more sour than sweet, and came with triangles of buttered bread, which we decided could possibly have been homemade too. The ham hock was politely impressive and flaked easily, complimented by the mild chutney and warm, crisp baguette.
The crab arrived, topped with a lone claw clutching a sprig of parsley. Although I’ve always thought unadulterated crab meat superior to the shredded variety, it was lovely and I was pleased that the dressing was more tomato than mayonnaise, making it a lighter option to the often too rich and creamy filling.
The perfectly-cooked buttered boiled potatoes were nicely soft, but retained enough bite to be substantial. I delved into the lasagne and was pleasantly surprised at its lightness – it didn’t come in a sea of sauce as they so often do.
Feeling virtuous after our increased salad intake, dessert was not something to decline. The lemon and lime cheesecake (£5.50) and two scoops of Beckleberry’s ice-cream (£3) – mint chocolate and maple and walnut – seemed a fitting end to the meal. The cheesecake was satisfyingly sweet and evidently home-made; the base was crisp, but not crunchy, and the tart citrus was offset by the luxuriously creamy filling. It was complemented sumptuously with a strawberry and cream. The Blaydon-based purveyors of fine ice-cream had satisfied the criteria for a light last course.
Intrigued by which stretch of the Northumberland coast my herring and crab hailed from I was surprised to discover it was a Tyneside catch. Given the central location near Kielder, seafood isn’t strictly authentic but I had hoped for a more northerly point given its description. Call me pedantic.
We washed down our fare with Wylam Brewery’s North Down, which was pleasant but not their finest creation. Ever the fan of a good ale, I was pushed for choice with the only other ale option Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. I would have welcomed a greater selection on tap, but noted there was a choice of bottled ales.
All in all, this little gem is definitely worth a look in on your trip to Kielder.
NOT JUST A VENUE FOR LUNCHTIME
Although lunchtimes appear relatively quiet, we were told things liven up in the evenings with a mix of locals and guests from the campsite or the inn itself. Nearly all the tables had reservations on when we left. There was an outdoor seating area which I imagine would be well used on less blustery days and the restaurant room looked decidedly more modern than the rustic bar interior.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day & bread roll......£4.50
Pâté & toast with garnish......£5.95
Melon & blackcurrant sorbet......£4.95
Roast Northumbrian lamb with rosemary and redcurrant jus......£11.50
Cider-baked gammon with Cumberland sauce......£10.95
Northumbrian ploughman’s with three local cheeses......£9.50
Smoked salmon salad, bread and butter......£11.45
Caramelised red onion and goat’s cheese tartlet with salad and new potatoes......£9.50
Northumbrian cheese plate......£6.95
Hot chocolate fudge cake......£4.95
Warm Bakewell slice......£5.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Value for money......8
Use of local food......Yes, but how local?
Access for disabled......5
Toilet for disabled......No
Verdict: All in all, this little gem is definitely worth a look in on your trip to Kielder. You will leave feeling healthier.
Contact: 01434 240382 or visit www.thepheasantinn.com