Seven Stars, Shincliffe
NUDGE your way just slightly south-east of Durham, and you'll be spoilt for choice for food.
All the way down by the A1, you'll find Bowburn Hall Hotel, a top-notch venue, especially for Sunday lunches. At the top end of Shincliffe, you'll find the Rose Tree, which got a hearty thumbs up from this column back in January.
In between the two, you'll find the Seven Stars, which has quite the reputation, and whose name keeps popping up come awards time.
Pulling up outside on Monday lunchtime, I couldn't help but notice the buzz of cars parked up outside this particular honeypot. Inside, there is a snug-like bar, a relaxed lounge area and the quite simply gorgous restaurant area. It was here I settled, next to a window which added dappled light to the assorted lamps and candles scattered around the room.
It's easy to imagine how this must be on an evening, with the beautiful surroundings making the perfect spot for a romantic evening out. The gentle jazz music playing in the background certainly didn't hurt the mood either.
Regular readers may have noticed when I'm reviewing I always tend to opt for the unusual, the oddity, the peculiar item on the menu. And yet here I found myself looking at the set menu and saying that'll do nicely.
I started with a warm black pudding salad. Now, black pudding isn't posh, far from it, but ecky thump, they sure made it seem so with their presentation. Elegant oblongs of black pudding scattered around the central salad along with small segments of bacon, crowned with a smidge of onion in sauce, all served neatly in the centre of a large, square plate. As for the taste, my head kept telling me to slow down, slow down, savour the taste, but my tastebuds won out as they demanded more, more, more.
The chap serving from table to table with an affable manner scooped up the cleared plate and, before long, the main arrived, a simple affair of pork and leek sausages on a bed of creamy mash in gravy and served with an extra boat of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. I must admit, delicious as the main meal was, I did regret my choice afterwards, but only because there really is only so much you can do with bangers and mash, and this seems to be quite a special kitchen. The food was lovely, though, with the vegetables especially spot on.
I really shouldn't have, but I had decided after the starter to go for the dessert come what may. Sticky toffee pudding with a scoop of ice cream rounded matters off very nicely, and it was even nice for the waiter to chip in with an apology for a delay in serving the dessert that I hadn't even noticed, such was the relaxing atmosphere in the Seven Stars.
All done, with bill settled at £18.35 for three courses and three glasses of orange juice, I took a peek at the evening menu, which offered such temptations as venison with a chocolate sauce. I think I'll be back.