Horses for courses goes the phrase and this applies to dining as much as anything else – and not just as the basis for a bad horse-meat lasagne joke.
What I mean is that just as there are horses for courses, the eating establishment that you may want to go to very much depends on what you are doing.
As a big foodie, I enjoy à la carte dining experiences and high-end restaurants, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also have a hankering for a takeaway or fast food.
Likewise, while a light, fresh salad may hit the spot on a summer evening, a monster portion of roasted beef with lashings of gravy and horseradish is more what I look for on a cold, wet, wintry Sunday.
The Valley Cottage Café, at Ingram, is very much set up as the right horse for that particular course - a sparsely-populated area of the Northumberland National Park, but one which attracts healthy numbers of visitors, largely walkers and cyclists.
The former is exactly what we had been doing and having walked from Hartside Farm up to the very pretty Linhope Spout on a very bright and mild Sunday in February, the café offered the perfect place to grab some lunch before heading home.
I was perusing the menu and struggling to make a choice – not because of a lack of options as there was plenty on there I would happily eat – but more due to that feeling of being hungry to such an extent that it makes it difficult to know exactly what will best satisfy that need.
At that moment, the woman behind the counter said the words that could not have been more welcome at that moment: “We still have some pie left.”
Lo and behold, the fridge to the left contained two slices of pie – one mince and onion, and one chicken and mushroom – so I even had a choice and having noted that my pie came with mushy peas (£6.95), my decision was well and truly made.
The fridge also yielded something to tempt Mrs O – handmade quiche (£6), this one featuring peppers among other goodies.
Choices made on the food front, I was even more pleased to note the other fridge, the one behind the counter featuring an array of beverages which confirmed that this was a licensed café.
A cold – and very reasonably priced – bottle of Peroni was just what the doctor ordered to go with my pie, potato and peas after a trek through our beautiful countryside, while my wife was more restrained and opted for a Fentimans elderflower soft drink.
After a short wait, long enough to reassure us that the dishes weren’t just chucked on a plate and nuked in the microwave for 30 seconds, two very appetising plates appeared to me.
As mentioned before, my pie came with mushy peas, a personal favourite, as well as mashed potato.
The peas were great, the pie had a rich, meaty filling while the pastry was crisp and flaky, and the mash was as good as I’ve had anywhere in a long time – buttery, soft, smooth and, very often overlooked, well-seasoned.
Across the table, the quiche, which was very tasty in its own right, had been equally embellished with a simple salad, coleslaw, homemade chutney and some crisps.
The whole lot left me a few coins’ worth of change from a £20 note and we both felt very satisfied with what we had had.
The initial plan had been to follow our savoury dishes with one of the delicious-looking cakes, but as tempting as they looked in their cabinet, we decided that it was a bridge too far given the generous main-course portions.
Plus, it would be silly to burn off some of Friday and Saturday’s excess via the walk and fresh air, only to pile it all back on before getting home.
I certainly wish to return to sample their sweets and taking a stroll in that area of the National Park is no hardship so it proves that having the promise of a tasty treat when you finish a walk is a very effective means of attracting visitors, at least if they’re as fond of food as we are.
LEARN SOMETHING WHILE YOU EAT
Valley Cottage Café is situated within the former National Park Visitor Centre at Warden’s Lodge in Ingram. It features information about the Park and its activities and attractions. As well as crafts and other bits and bobs for sale, there is also an archaeology exhibition on display, through the second dining room, which enables visitors to learn more about the history of the peoples of the Breamish Valley.
I had a quick look round while waiting for my food and it was very interesting and the suggested hillfort walk from the nearby Bulby’s Wood is one we now want to try.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
(Sandwiches are available. Toasties available in brown/white/gluten-free bread)
Cheese and red onion......£4.50-£6
Ham and tomato......£4.95-£6
Ham and cheese......£5-£6
Extra toastie fillings......50p each
Also available: Bacon and brie, tuna and cheese, tuna and red onion.
Fillings include butter, beans, cheese, tuna mayonnaise, coleslaw, BBQ pulled pork......£2.50-£4.95
Extra fillings......75p each
Soup of the day......£4.95
Beef quarter-pounder......£7 Ploughman’s lunch......£7
Star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Access for the disabled......8
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: After a walk in the hills, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Contact: 01665578948 or https://www.facebook.com/valleycottage/