Hurworth on Tees
Mon to Sat: 12 - 2.30pm, 6 - 9.30pm
Sun: 12 - 4pm, 6.30 – 8.30pm
You can tell this is no ordinary pub by the garden at the back. The tables have big umbrellas advertising Nyetimber. Any place that advertises England’s best sparkling wine rather than mass-produced French champagne gets my vote.
It’s pretty indicative of the standard they’re aiming for here: it’s a quintessentially English pub with a very upmarket offering. And quite a few surprises.
However, I’m pleased to report that a meal here isn’t going to break the bank. That’s why they’ve just been awarded their fourth Michelin “bib gourmand” – given to places offering three good courses for less than £28.
Amazingly the 2015 guide, published this week, lists only four North East bib gourmands . Yet again the inspectors have missed out quite a few of our regional gems, but you'll find all of them on this site.
In fact The Bay Horse, just down the road from Rockliffe Hall, has one of the best value lunches in the North East – a three course fixed menu for just £16.95, and also a mid-week evening “market menu” for £25.
When we arrived the lunchtime menu offered mushroom risotto with truffled salad or smoked cod fishcake, followed by grouse pie or Dover sole, and it all looked very good as it reach the packed tables around us. However, Mrs Diner and I decided to hit the à la carte.
This is an extensive menu offering a range of classics – mains included daube of beef, slow cooked chicken, belly pork with pea purée or pan-fried hake, all at less than £20, or there was 28-day “Grand Reserve” fillet steak. There are sandwiches, salads, a burger (made with the same “Grand Reserve” fillet for just £9.95), and other pub favourites like a “posh” ploughman’s lunch with “Petit Salad”. I’m not sure if the portion was small or the leaves.
It’s an attractive, welcoming place, with candles on the tables in the bar, a second seating area with more tables, and a slightly more formal room next door. It’s relaxed, friendly, and very efficiently run – exactly the sort of pub you’d want in your own village. Well, I would.
This is the flagship of three Teesside eateries owned by Marcus Bennett, the genial chef who used to be at the Cleveland Tontine. Many of his team have been with him for years, and it shows. Their cooking is confident, but still ambitious. When some of our plates were brought to the table there were oohs of admiration from people around us – you don’t get that very often from a pub lunch.
I started with a pleasantly minty pea risotto with little crispy cubes of Doreen’s melting black pudding.
Mrs Diner had black pudding too, but the French boudin noir variety, surrounded by pieces of pressed Toulouse sausage, beetroot, and a beetroot remoulade, while on top was a little stick of feuilleté, the puff pastry concealing a thin line of more boudin noir.
It was a beautiful little starter, and to remind us that this was an English pub, not a French bistro, it was dressed with Worcestershire Sauce mayonnaise and a dollop of cream laced with Colman’s mustard.
The main courses were presented on huge platters, filled with interest. Some might find them a touch over-complex, as if they’d taken one pre-requisite for Northern pub food – quantity – and responded by throwing as many flavours and textures onto the plate as the kitchen could manage. That would be a little unfair: I could find nothing redundant on the plate.
My roast grouse (though not as pink as I’d expected) came with confit potato, Cumberland sausage en croute, a scattering of blackberries and blobs of blackberry jelly, little rolls of roast celeriac standing in celeriac puree, blackberry gel, bread sauce, a little cylinder of salsify – but best of all was the jus, a tribute to properly made veal stock, glistening, rich, intense.
Mrs Diner’s hake was just as spectacular and intricate, arriving on a beautiful ‘antique’ dish. The perfectly cooked fish sat surrounded by a patchwork quilt of orange, green and white. Butternut squash purée lay sweetly next to the sharper sauce Gribiche, spread around clams, delicious in beurre blanc, and some clever little gnocchi made with reduced shellfish oil, which combined beautifully with the potato.
We’d also ordered handcut chips, which tasted of beef dripping, and then wished we hadn’t, for afterwards we saw the dessert menu and wanted everything on the list. I mean, how could anyone resist the delights of salted caramel parfait, lime pannacotta, strawberry mousse, sticky toffee pudding, rice pudding... it was an ultimate pudding list. So we ordered the lot.
They call it a “Tasting of Bay Horse desserts” and it costs £14.95. The entire room went aah as it was brought to our table. A huge platter of delights, we should really have passed it round the pub, for Mrs Diner and I could scarcely make a dent in this collection of sweet wonders.
For me the star turn was the rice pudding, brûléed in its own little pan. I also liked the lime panacotta, and the sticky toffee pudding had its own little piece of crunchy bar on top. Oh yes, this was ultimate comfort food, and yet, with a glass each of house wine, the whole meal for two came to less than £80. Welcome to the North East’s first five star gastropub.