WARNING: this review of Sunday lunch does not contain any sticky toffee pudding. Other desserts were consumed in its making.

STP is the culinary equivalent of Himalayan balsam on our riverbanks. Since it was introduced in the 1980s, it has taken over pub menus, driving out all other desserts. It has particularly colonised the roast dinner market where it follows beef and Yorkshire pudding as surely as Monday follows Sunday.

But not at the Cross Keys in Eppleby, where the kitchen has recently been taken over by Alastair Ross, formerly of the Fleece Hotel in Richmond and before that at the highly regarded, but terribly small, Oak Tree at Hutton Magna.

So does this STP-free menu show a daredevil determination to tear up convention, or that a little imagination has been put to work on the time-honoured Sunday roast?


Eppleby is among the pleasant villages scattered in the quiet countryside to the west of Darlington. The Cross Keys closed when the pandemic struck in 2020 and did not reopen until October 2022, when it gained a redecoration making it fashionably grey inside – even a tartan grey carpet.

We visited on Fathers’ Day, and learned that the starter specials included harissa minestrone soup and a haddock and mussels broth, even though the regular menu had five interesting-looking starters, including an Indian spiced Scotch egg.

Smoked mackerel pate

Between four of us, we shared two dishes. The warm salad of Hoisin pork belly (£7.75) was lovely, the soft meat coated in rich sauce sitting on a green, crunchy salad of lettuce and cucumber with the middles cut out – apparently, cucumber seeds contain moisture that might comprise the crunchiness of the lettuce. It was a generous-sized dish, and grandma thought she might have liked it as a main course, with a few chips.

Hoisin pork salad

Our other starter was an artfully shaped dollop of smoked mackerel pate (£7.95) which came with a nice fishiness and plenty of “grilled toast”, although it was really made by the accompaniments: there was an earthy, beetroot-coloured puree that may have had a dash of horseradish through it, and there was a great sharpness from turmeric-pickled onions.

Roast beef - awaiting the vegetables

For her main course, grandma chose the time-honoured roast beef (£17.95), which came, as tradition suggests it should, with two types of potato and a Yorkshire. There was also cabbage, pureed swede, plenty of roast carrots and cauliflower cheese, and the meat was good quality.

Theo, our son, was tempted by chips and so opted for the homemade beefburger (£15.95) which was nicely smothered in cheese.

Beef burger


Wild mushroom pasta Petra, my wife, went for the wild mushroom, spinach and parmesan orza pasta (£15.50) (there was also sea bream for non-meat eaters) which she thoroughly enjoyed, with the great big chunks of powerful, juicy mushrooms being the stars of the show.

The Moroccan-spiced lamb at the Cross Keys, Eppleby

Meanwhile, I surprised myself by ordering Moroccan-spiced slow cooked lamb for my Sunday lunch, served not with Yorkshire pudding but with cashew-tempered rice (£18.95).

It was a lovely choice, the fragrant, almost perfumed, chunks of tender lamb having just enough heat about them for it to be noticeable. I didn’t get much cashew from the rice, but I loved the peas that came with the lamb as they popped in the mouth for a little juicy explosion.

The lemon panna cotta and summer fruits compote at the Cross Keys, Eppleby

To finish, there were four desserts (all £7.95), and not one of them was STP. There was, though, a twist in its ubiquity as there was a sticky ginger pudding in butterscotch sauce which may have placated those whose Sunday is not complete without it.

Petra, though, had lemon panna cotta topped with summer berry compote – the subtle lemon was rather lost by the overpowering red berries but the marriage of the cold custard and the rich fruit still worked very well.

Mint ice cream and chocolate mousse and brownie bits at the Cross Keys, Eppleby

I argued with myself over whether I should have the SGP or the dark chocolate mousse with brownie crumb and mint ice-cream.

Mint choc chip is as ubiquitous in ice cream parlours as STP is on Sunday lunch menus, and I always shy away from it: its lurid green colour puts me off, along with its strident super-minty taste. I feared the dessert would be ruined by it.

But bravely I ordered it, and when the dish came, I was non-plussed by the sight of a cream, rather than green, ice-cream. I thought I’d been fobbed off with common old vanilla.

This, though, was ice-cream made with gentle garden mint. It had a fragrant waft of the herb-bed about it and none of the chemical colourings that I had feared, and it went really well with the sturdy mousse and bits of brownie to create a fine dessert.

It summed up the meal. There was a conventional Sunday roast here if you wanted it, but there was also plenty of imagination leading to little deviations from the norm that created a very memorable meal.

The Cross Keys, Eppleby DL11 7AZ

Phone: 01325 718118

Facebook: The Crosskeys Inn - Eppleby


Food quality 8

Service 8

Ambience 7

Value for money 8