THE Castle Eden Inn was a sight for sore eyes on the drive back to Newcastle from a bright and breezy break at Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.
The handsome coaching inn occupies a pretty village setting in Castle Eden, just minutes drive off the A19, so broke up the journey home nicely.
But the real draw – aside from prolonging the holiday feeling – is the fact that former BBC2 MasterChef finalist Dave Coulson is head chef at the establishment.
Dining at the Castle Eden Inn has been on the wish list for some time and since we were passing within five minutes of the door, well, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
And even better, Dave was at the stove that particular Saturday lunchtime we called by.
Many will recall Dave reached the finals of the culinary show, Masterchef: The Professionals, in 2010, along with fellow North Easterner John Calton. In a gripping, drawn-out final, Claire Lara from Liverpool was crowned winner.
The Castle Eden Inn features in the Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2012 and is very big on local produce, with the menu spelling out all the local credentials.
Fish comes from W Hodgson of Hartlepool, meats from Robin Hirst at Neasham Grange Farm, Darlington, eggs from the village itself and veg from the esteemed Ken Holland at North Country Organics, while creamy blue cheese is sourced from Durham Cheese Company.
A forthcoming ‘MasterChef’ gourmet evening was also being advertised for £59 per person.
We were togged out in trainers and waterproof jackets – fresh from a stop-off at Sandsend seaside village – so opted to eat in the bar area.
The adjoining restaurant, with its tables draped in fresh crisp linen, looked smart and inviting. But that would save for another visit.
We found a quiet spot in the contemporary bar, decked out in grey paintwork and snazzy patterned wallpaper, to peruse the menu. In a feminine touch, there was an eye-catching vase of pink lilies sitting on the bar.
We sipped soft drinks as we chose from the bar menu, all dishes reasonably priced between £4.50 and £12.95. The soup of the day was described thus: ‘Changes like the Chef’s mood!’
I hoped Dave was in a good mood when I ordered my main of Hodgson’s smoked haddock, leek and Banty egg pie with seasonal veg, £10.95.
No fears there – and all dishes were served up with a smile by the friendly, smartly-dressed waiting staff.
Mine was a hearty dish of fishy goodness, with a thick layer of mash topped with melted cheese.
Flavour-wise, it was delicious, the smoked fish packing a punch, big chunks of soft-boiled Banty egg and delicate slivers of leek in the mix, but the creamy sauce was a tad runny. There was so much of it I really needed a spoon to do the dish justice!
It came with a generous portion of colourful, steamed, al dente veg – courgettes, carrots, green beans, turnip and peas among them.
The other half’s choice was steak and Guinness pie, with mushy peas, gravy and chips, £10.95. It was a terrific homemade pie, completely encased in light pastry, the meaty filling rich and tender. The chunky chips were singled out for praise and the meal came with a little jug of thick, dark gravy.
The older daughter’s beetroot, goat’s cheese and walnut salad, £6.95, was fresh and colourful, a tangle of mixed leaves and slices of red onion and cherry toms, studded with large chunks of soft and creamy goat’s cheese from Yellison Farm in North Yorkshire. The younger one’s freshly battered cod and chips with tartare sauce from the children’s menu was excellent value at £5.50 (or two courses £7.50).
Other choices included Robinsons of Wingate sausage and mash and handmade cheeseburger.
Quality choices for kids, so a big thumbs up.
It was served up as three large goujon-style pieces, perfect for smaller ones, and the crispy batter encasing the fresh white cod was superb, as light and crisp as I have ever tasted.
The food was top-notch, the atmosphere relaxed and civilised in the bar, a few local footie fans having a quiet pint before the match.
I had one eye on the clock for getting home and a few loads of washing under way, but the kids, never ones to turn down dessert, had their eyes on the dessert menu.
A portion of warm chocolate brownie from the children’s menu, meltingly soft in the middle, with chocolate sauce and accompanying homemade shortbread biscuit was demolished in no time.
Cold chocolate fondant with chocolate ice-cream and choccie sauce, £6, was so rich and decadent, like eating luxury chocolates off a spoon. It, too, came with shortbread biscuit and strawberry garnish.
Our meal with drinks came to just under the £50 mark, which was excellent for dishes of this calibre.
Well worth the diversion off the A19. And Dave’s a MasterChef truly deserving of the title.
Address: Castle Eden Inn, Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Hartlepool, Cleveland, TS27 4SD. Tel: 01429 835 137
Open: Restaurant, Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30 pm; Mon-Thur, 5pm-9pm; Fri/Sat, 5pm-9.30pm; Sun, 12-6pm. Bar food, Mon-Fri,12-8.30pm; Sat/Sun, 12-6.30pm.
First impressions: Handsome historic coaching inn in attractive village setting; in striking distance of A19.
Style, design and furnishings: Smart, contemporary interiors. Attractive bar area for meals and more formal restaurant.
Cuisine: Gastropub-style modern British dishes given a MasterChef twist. Big emphasis on local produce.
Service: Staff on the ball and smartly dressed.
Disabled facilities: Accessible.