6 November 2016


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

Wark on Tyne
nr Hexham 
NE48 3LS 

01434 230 209 

Accessibility: Yes 
Gluten free options: Yes 

If you ever needed an excuse to get out into the Northumberland countryside, there’s none better than right now. As we drove up the North Tyne valley from Hexham, the dramatic palette of golds, browns and ochre reminded us that we were bang slap in the middle of the most glorious Autumn. 

This valley is one of the most beautiful parts of one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And nothing shows it off better than a mantle of multicoloured leaves. For once, we had made a plan: we wanted a walk by the river before lunch, short enough not to be tired out, but long enough - just long enough, mind - to justify the three-course feast we were looking forward to. We timed it perfectly, arriving at Battlesteads full of fresh air and hunger. 

A half pint of something hoppy by Allendale Brewery in the pleasingly old-fashioned pub lifted the spirits still further. Today was going to be special; until we went through to the restaurant, and then everything went slightly off-kilter.

This is a tricky place to grade. On the one hand, they have a kitchen with some knowledge and ambition, and a few dishes were right on the money. But elsewhere lurked some outright clangers, kitchen nightmares that caused brows to furrow and moods to darken. The restaurant’s service matches its cooking, with a style that could politely be described as capricious. 

I have to say at the outset that I did rather well with my own choices. It isn’t often that I’m allowed to time travel back to the 1970s, so I grabbed it with both hands. 

My starter of ‘crayfish Marie Rose salad’ was an attractive bowlful of bouncily fresh shellfish, mixed leaves, tomato and cucumber. In the 1970s, prawn cocktails were all about the sauce; this one was a winner, pepped up with plenty of tabasco and perhaps a good dose of Dijon. 

My nostalgia-fest continued with a fine slice of grilled gammon, served, properly, with a fried egg and chips. It only needed a ring of tinned pineapple to seal the retro-deal. The meat wore a crisp ribbon of unctuous fat but retained some moisture and depth of flavour within. This is the sign of good quality pig. Modern British it wasn’t; tasty it was. 

My companions (we brought along some friends for the ride) fared less well. Mrs Diner’s starter of beetroot semifreddo was the most cheffy dish of the day and had lovely earthy flavour for a spoonful or so, before the sweetness became overpowering. Pickled beetroot helped a bit, but there was nowhere near enough of that. This was a dessert served two courses too soon. 

Elsewhere a fine starter of cured meats and cheeses was followed by a badly beige dish of Cajun chicken served with astonishing quantities of sautéed (which were actually deep-fried) potatoes, when the plate was calling out for something - anything – green. 

Battlesteads says it prides itself on its home-grown vegetables. We saw no sign. My friend asked for a side salad. It never showed up. 

To my right, a perfectly nice starter of grilled goats cheese with a thoughtful accompaniment of grape salsa was succeeded by a really bizarre “Wark butcher’s beef burger”. 

This was a dense and mealy puck of cow topped with the thinnest smear of Birdoswald cheese (a most non-burger-appropriate addition), and 3 large fried onion rings placed precariously, like a David Mach assembly, on top. This whole installation was balanced on - I kid thee not - a thin slice of toast. No, no, and again: just no. 

A plate of fish and chips was unremarkable.  Not even one remark, I'm afraid.

The setting for this feast of confusion was fitting. Having left the attractive dark wooded pub bit, we had our lunch in the adjoining conservatory which has been done out by someone who appears to hate attractive dark wooded pubs. In here, peach and pine are the order of the day. 

“It’s like someone welded Alan Partridge’s Linton Travel Tavern onto a lovely old pub,” said our friend. Quite. 

Service, from a troupe of eastern European girls, lurched from extreme friendliness to the sort of barely disguised contempt that makes you wonder if you had accidentally insulted someone’s Mum. We asked for a wine list. We got one alright: it was fairly thrown onto the table. We exchanged looks and tried to figure out what we’d done wrong. 

More happily, the list itself is rather good, and it supplied us with an enjoyable bottle of Chapel Down’s Bacchus, England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. It’s as highly recommended as the last time I raved about it. 

After all the drama, our puddings were almost disappointingly competent. A sort-of Eton mess featured fine meringue... 

...while a banana parfait was rich, sweet and well made. 

My whisky and marmalade bread and butter pudding could have used a freer hand with the whisky. And, for that matter, the marmalade. Nice custard, though. 

Battlestead only gets two stars, in no small part due to that terrible aberration of a burger. Its inconsistency would normally mean: don’t risk a visit.   

Except that here I’m making an exception. Go: see what you make of it. They’re doing a lot of things that should be encouraged, from growing their own produce in a rather lovely garden, to focussing on environmental sustainability (they use induction hobs in the kitchen, which did nothing for that burger). 

See if you get the same eccentrically oscillating experience as we did. See if you like the peach and pine, or the neatly framed display of novelty teapots. Maybe you can make the grumpy waitress smile.

Do let me know how you get on. Our lunch might have been nowhere near as enjoyable as the walk that preceded it, but it was way more intriguing.

1 comment:

  1. If I read something as negative about the service (as important as the food if I'm going to enjoy myself)as this, I'm not going to go.

    To hell with paying good money to be treated like an enemy.