THE Feathers Inn at Hedley on the Hill, near Stocksfield in Northumberland, is the sort of rustic winter warmer that’s a sight for sore eyes on a freezing cold night.
The cosy glow that emanates from the landmark pub positioned at the top of the hill is really very enticing. And once inside, the heat from their wood-burning stoves is enough to warm the cockles of your heart.
The pub, which has made a name for itself with its use of local produce and interesting menus, has won a clutch of awards in recent years.
That’s down to the dynamic young husband-and-wife team who have been at the helm for the last three- and-a-half years. Rhian Cradock, who is also head chef, and his wife Helen Greer have wholeheartedly embraced the ethos of supporting local producers.
In fact they use over 60 local suppliers, the main ones of which are listed on the backs of their menus, which Rhian changes daily.
Their support of local food producers has seen them commission photos of their food heroes, which adorn the walls of the pub.
It’s this dynamic approach and the emphasis on dishes’ provenance, as well as Rhian’s undoubted creative flair in the kitchen which has seen the pub win so many awards.
As well as being listed in the illustrious Good Food Guide 2011, recent accolades include winning Good Pub Guide’s Northumbria dining pub of the year for 2011, for the fourth year running. They also scooped a national award this month at the RSPCA Good Business Awards for their ethical menus.
Inside, the stone-built former drovers’ inn is fairly small, which adds to the intimacy, but very cosy.
We sat as a family of four in a window seat, pumpkins decorating the windowsills, and masses of cookery books to hand to delve into.
Old beams, toasty stoves and solid wooden tables add to the characterful interiors.
It was a chilly, blustery Saturday evening when we turned up, so hearty fare was the order of the day.
The pub excels with its choice of wines by the glass and I opted for a tipple of the English Three Choirs Classic Cuvee, while the other half had a half of Wylam Bitter.
Just a note of warning, the pub is now so popular that booking is highly recommended for dinner at weekends. We had our table for a couple of hours before it was booked out again that evening, which we were told about in advance. It suited us fine as we weren’t after a late night.
The menu is a real treat for foodies and always changing. Choose from starters such as Vallum Farm organic pumpkin soup, home-cured Chopwell Longhorn pastrami or Rhian’s home-made black pudding, with mains of Haydon Bridge Northumberland sausages, Hedley rabbit stew and Hedley leek and Doddington’s cheese pie to tempt.
These were really difficult choices as we liked the look of them all!
However decisions were made and my salad of endive, with Legram’s blue cheese, red wine pears and hazelnuts, at £6, was sweetly sublime. The strong flavoursome cheese contrasted beautifully with the soft pears, poached in the most exquisite sweet wine, the crunchy endive adding texture.
Husband’s choice of potted North Sea shrimps, with toasted home-made sourdough bread, watercress and lemon, £6.50, came as an impressive tower of tasty, mildly seasoned, buttery, fishy morsels; the bread with its toasty crust and soft chewy texture just perfect.
Teen daughter’s caramelised onion and Madeira soup with giant Doddington’s cheese crouton, £5, was a strongly flavoured brew, perhaps more suited to mature palates. I tried it – for research purposes, of course – and loved the punchy flavour, the generous amounts of sweet onion, all served in a rustic earthen pot.
Meanwhile, cassoulet of white beans with wild boar sausage, home-cured ham hock and smoked morteau sausages, £6.50, was the choice of the younger one. This was a smoky meat-fest in herby tomatoey sauce, the beans adding crunch appeal; nourishing and filling fare.
My mains choice of twice-cooked Mrs Kirkham’s cheese soufflé with heritage beetroot from nearby Vallum Farm, and Carroll’s Heritage potatoes, and damson vinaigrette, was priced at £11.
I got the most appetising wafts from my souffle as it was presented to me, turned out on the plate, surrounded by Carroll’s Pink Fir potatoes, and beetroot and vinaigrette. The rustic looking soufflé with toasty top was extremely flavoursome; this one not a puffed-full-of-air version, but rather a more hearty, twice-cooked variety. It was so filling I really couldn’t manage it all.
The vinegary beetroot and accompanying rich vinaigrette added colour and texture, the potatoes simply boiled, waxy and full of flavour.
Husband’s choice of roast leg of Hedley Herdwick lamb, came from a few fields away. How’s that for provenance! The sweet and juicy, pink-in-the-middle slices of meat, came served with hot pot potatoes, intensely flavoured young carrots and fresh taste-of-the-garden mint sauce, £13.
The teen’s choice of beer-battered North Sea cod, chunky chips, tartar sauce and mushy peas, £11, was a whale of a fish, the flesh pure white, fresh and chunky. Pots of tart tartar sauce and divine mushy peas were a nice touch, the home-made chips with crispy coating very moreish.
Game season is under way and the younger daughter was delighted when we told her that her choice of partridge in a pear tree might contain shot.
The roast grey leg partridge with roast potatoes, cabbage and bacon, bread sauce, fried bread crumbs, red currant jelly, watercress and game gravy, was priced at £13.
When we asked where the partridge was from, the waitress said her dad had shot it at nearby Minsteracres!
The meat was firm and dark with a strong, earthy, gamey flavour. We weren’t sure how the daughter would take to it, but she loved it. But her search for shot was in vain.
I sometimes don’t know how we do it but desserts beckoned. And what an enticing choice of comfort food dishes.
My quince and almond tart with local cream from Wheelbirks dairy and quince puree, £5, was a surprisingly light offering. The tart contained chunks of soft, pink, delicate tasting quince, although I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t more almond flavour. The quince puree was an inspired touch.
Husband’s steamed bread pudding with rum punch sauce and vanilla custard, £5, was light and airy, packed full of currants and cherries. Sublime.
Wheelbirks’ chocolate ice cream, £5 for three scoops, brought big smiles to the teen’s face.
The creamy creation comes from the dairy down the road at Stocksfield, and is made from their pedigree Jersey cows.
But the piece de resistance was Rhian’s home-made rib-sticking sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce, £5. Rich, toffeeish butterscotch moat surrounding a hearty date-filled spongey concoction was hard to beat.
A memorable and treaty evening, the food is really something special.
Address: The Feathers Inn, Hedley on the Hill, Stocksfield, Northumberland, NE43 7SW. Tel: 01661 843 607
Open: Lunch, noon-2pm, Tuesday – Sunday. Evening food, Mon 6pm-8pm; Tue-Sat, 6pm-8.30pm.
First impressions: Handsome pub, former drovers’ inn. Warm, inviting, characterful.
Welcome: Smiley staff efficient and engaging.
Style, design and furnishings: Old beams, wood-burning stoves, warm ambience.
Cuisine: Traditional British with local produce a strong point.
Service: Very good. Young staff were very busy but were knowledgeable.
Value: Superb for the quality of foodie offerings.
Disabled facilities: Not accessible, steps to negotiate at doorway and inside.
Rich, toffeeish butterscotch moat surrounding a hearty date-filled spongey concoction was hard to beat