Pub tea is order of the day for Katie MacFarlane

THERE’S something about a pub tea that never gets old, even if we are experiencing ridiculously hot weather at the moment.

And after helping my colleague Lizzie on her fabulous hat and fascinator stall at the Barnard Castle 1940s weekend, Ali and I decided a pub tea was in order to see off Saturday night.

There are always good pubs to be found in Teesdale, but it was on the recommendation of my colleague Catherine that we decided to give The Cross Keys, in Hamsterley, a whirl.

I had originally booked the table for 6.30pm but as the fair ended a bit earlier than we expected and our grumbling tummies would not wait, we turned up an hour early expecting to have to wait.

However, when we walked into the bar area – which was already alive with regular punters enjoying the early evening sunshine – I was pleasantly surprised that we were told we could be seated at once instead.

The atmosphere felt warm and inviting with the contrast of dark wood with checked carpets and an open fire – something we were grateful was not on.

We were led to a table at the top of the restaurant – a long narrow room the early evening light streaming in from the windows on one side.

It was a dinky little table with a wooden bench on one end and thankfully cushions to sit on and I thoroughly enjoyed ordering a gin and tonic (£3.10) while the designated driver opted for a coke (£2.30).

As we perused the menu it didn’t take us long to decide what we were having as we were so hungry.

For starters I chose the chicken goujons (£5) while Ali went for the king prawn and chorizo salad (£5.65).

They both arrived in a timely fashion and were presented on large white plates which brought out the colour of the salad.

My three goujons were chunky and wrapped in a delicate breaded batter. I could only eat two so Ali polished off the third one and I really enjoyed the side salad with cucumber, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.

Ali’s salad was again, full of colour and packed full of chorizo and prawns on top.

The prawns were delicate and melted in your mouth while the combination of flavours with the chorizo and salad surprisingly worked really well.

We both polished our starters off quickly and when the mains arrived we were not disappointed.

I chose the signature 8oz fillet steak (£19.95) with peppercorn sauce (£2.95). I always find this is a good dish to compare to other restaurants especially as it normally the most expensive on the menu.

I asked for my steak to be cooked medium rare.

Ali, on the other hand, chose the American-style chicken burger (£10.95) to test the chicken with it being his favourite food on earth.

My steak was quite thick and juicy. It was cooked just ever so slightly more than I would have liked but was still satisfying especially with the silky smooth sauce that I kept dipping it in from the gravy dish it was served in.

The Cross Keys also get top marks for their chips which were light and fluffy but also chunky and complement the steak along with the mushroom and tomato also on the plate.

I had never seen a burger as big as Ali’s either as it took over most of his plate and the huge bun oozed cheese from the sides.

It looked a bit overwhelming for me but Ali certainly enjoyed it with the tender chicken and chips. He finished it in no time as squaddies normally do.

We both gave a satisfied sigh after polishing off what we could of the mains but also couldn’t resist the chance to look at desserts.

I chose the chocolate gateau while Ali went for the pub classic sticky toffee pudding (£4.50) each.

My eyes were a little bigger than my belly on this one and I did have to give some to Ali but the rich combination of milk and dark chocolate was so satisfying to slice into. It also came with velvety ice cream which went down far too easily alongside it.

Ali’s sticky toffee pudding came just the way he liked it, as a square slab covered in creamy sauce and again, ice cream on the side.

I don’t know how we did it but again both were polished off. By this point we couldn’t really move but did go home very satisfied.

All in all, I’d recommend this pub especially in the summer when you can enjoy the beer garden but also generally Hamsterley which is so tranquil at this time of year.

It’s ideally situated for Hamsterley Forest too if you wanted to enjoy a meal after a day out.


The Cross Keys

TYPE: Restaurant

Where: Hamsterley, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL13 3PX

Contact: 01388-488457

Open: Open seven days a week from noon until 11pm. Food served Monday to Friday from 5pm until 9pm; Saturday from noon until 9pm and Sunday from 5pm until 8pm. Sunday lunch from noon until 4pm.

Food offer: Traditional pub food.

Cheap and cheerful: Homemade soup (£4.60)

Top dollar: 8ox fillet steak (£19.95)

Scores on the doors (food hygiene rating): 5 (Very Good)

Food quality: 7/10

Surroundings: 7/10

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10