Even with the light failing on a misty, murky April afternoon, the drive from Alnwick to Rothbury is one of the most dramatic Northumberland has to offer.
The view across to the Cheviot Hills from the top of Alnwick Moor, by Corby’s Crag, is simply spectacular and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
And heading down into Rothbury, past the idyllic Cragside is breathtaking.
Once there, our breath suitably taken, we parked up and skipped across the road to The Queens Head, a traditional, family-run inn, built in 1792 and originally called the Golden Fleece.
The name changed to commemorate the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837. It has been run by the same family for more than a dozen years.
Nowadays, apart from being a 4-star inn, it is also famously home to Rothbury Roots, a monthly music evening attracting some famous names – local, national and international performers – in the acoustic and British roots music scenes.
We landed with time to spare before the food service began at 6.30pm, so there was nothing for it but to soak up the atmosphere – and the beer!
I had an Old Speckled Hen ale and my wife Karen went for her customary pint of Guinness – for medicinal purposes only, you understand!
Both had been well kept; the Guinness, in particular, was as nice a pint of the Irish dry stout as you’ll find anywhere.
The bar (to the right of the front door) was traditional with a capital T – beamed ceiling; cream, pannelled walls with local pictures dotted around; maroon, patterned carpet; highly polished tables; and a mixture of chairs from solid, wooden carvers to leather, studded armchairs.
The ancient, leaded windows are a real throwback feature that will appeal to those yearning for a return to the good old days.
Amid this nostalgia-fest, a large screen, showing music videos when we were there, seemed a little out of place.
Apart from the array of ales for human consumption, we noticed a couple of beers to keep our four-legged friends happy – Bottom Sniffer Beer or Pawsecco for dogs and cats were amusing additions.
At 6.30pm on the dot, we were shown to our seats in the restaurant. It was like a different world – light, bright and airy, with an expansive wooden parquet floor – quite a contrast.
But we were sitting next to a rather annoying electronic service buzzer, which was plugged in at the opposite side of the restaurant to where the waitresses were gathered, and was therefore quite loud.
The menu was bar-food personified, loaded with the usual suspects – prawn cocktail, bangers and mash, fish and chips, scampi, lasagne, pie of the day (steak and mushroom for our visit), gammon, steak, etc.
It wasn’t extensive, which is always promising – there’s more chance of the dishes being freshly prepared and cooked. So we started with favourites of ours. I had the homemade black pudding fritter and poached egg (£5.75), while Karen went for the chef’s homemade chicken liver pâté (£5.25). Before they arrived, a lovely and generous basket of bread with foiled butter was delivered, which was a canny touch. Both the starters had hand-crafted elements, so sounded quite promising, and both were indeed pleasant, not mind-blowing, but certainly pleasant. The ‘red wine reduction’ with my starter was more like a gravy smear.
The pâté was gloriously rich and accompanied by red onion marmalade and toast – this was a decent first course.
We had barely finished when our mains were before us. I had plumped for the ‘Queens Head Signature Dish’ – Lindisfarne chicken, at £13.50, one of the most expensive, while opposite, it was lasagne again (£8.95).
The chicken was ‘pan seared with shallots and finished with grain mustard, cream, honey and whisky sauce and served on mashed potato’.
The story was similar to the starters – nice enough – although both meals were a bit dry and the potato was quite lumpy.
The flavours were solid, not spectacular. In a pub environment, the meals would have been fine, but restaurant standards are higher.
Having said that, we polished off the lot and had no major complaints.
JUST ENOUGH ROOM FOR DESSERTS
We somehow managed to save a bit of room for desserts. The hot ones, we were told, were bought in but the cold ones were homemade. We opted for one of each. I had the lemon and Easter egg cheesecake (£4.65), which was quirky, fun and no less tasty. Mrs L took on the sticky ginger pudding challenge and coped admirably. The accompanying ice-cream was excellent, with flecks of vanilla giving it so much flavour. The online menu is slightly different to that in the venue and does boast the use of as much local produce as possible. The Queens Head opens from 10am to midnight. Lunch is noon to 3pm and dinner is 6.30pm to 9pm.
The Queens Head Hotel has a five-star food hygiene rating from the Food Standards Agency and the county council.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Homemade soup (v)......£4.20
Pork and apple stack......£5.75
Caesar salad (v)......£5.55
Creamy garlic mushrooms......£5.25
Deep-fried beer-battered fish......£9.95
Whitby wholetail scampi......£9.95
Chef’s pie of the day......£9.95
Sausages and mash......£8.95
Chicken and haggis......£13.50
Horseshoe gammon steak......£10.75
Extra mature sirloin steak......£19.25
Desserts (all £4.65)
Sticky toffee pudding; hot chocolate pudding; chocolate fudge cake; white chocolate and raspberry roulade
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......7½
Use of local food......8
Value for money......7½
Verdict: Pub grub that was both hit and miss in a restaurant setting.
Contact: 01669 620470 or http://www.queensheadrothbury.com