UNTIL now, our eating-in-while-pretending-to-be-out has featured pubs striving manfully to beat the lockdown and keep their businesses alive by producing pub classics – parmos, fish and chips, burgers etc – which are a cut above the average takeaway.

But what about a pub that is a cut above again?

Not just a pub but a gourmet pub, one featured in the Inspectors’ Choice Michelin Pub Guide and named in The Times’ Top 100 Gastropubs.

The Bay Horse in Hurworth has been doing its “date nights” for a couple of Saturday nights: £50 for three courses for two, including a bottle of wine (a rather nice Merlot).

But it is the early bird that catches the worm. Menus – there’s a choice of three starters, three mains and two desserts - are released on Facebook at 7pm on a Saturday night for the following Saturday, but there is limited availability. We only secured our time slot by booking it on the Monday before.

We were told to collect at 3.15pm. We arrived on time, and the food was delivered on a table outside the pub on time – all our other collections and deliveries have kept us waiting, so this was certainly a cut above.

But it was all cold, served in tinfoil boxes, each with a bespoke sticker on it bearing the pub’s sundial logo and the name of the dish. In the bag was indepth instructions on how to reheat in the oven – although it soon became clear that our oven’s 200 degrees was cooler than the Bay Horse’s 200 degrees.

For her starter, my wife, Petra, had the smoked haddock souffle which, once it had reached the required heat, was lovely and light with a whiff of smoked fish to it drenched in a rich cheesy sauce.

I had the seafood pancake in a thermidor sauce. The pancake was so light it almost wasn’t there, but it held together chunks of white and pink fish and a couple of prawns in a lick-your-plate-clean sauce. And as there weren’t any sniffy gastropub diners around – our meal was accompanied by Eurovision on the telly – I did.

Preparing the main course was intensive work. In went the beef followed two minutes later by the chicken followed two minutes later by the Dauphinois potatoes followed two minutes later by the beef coming out for a stir.

With everything in the oven for six uninterrupted minutes, I turned my attention to the pomme purree: microwave for one minute, stir, microwave for another minute while simultaneously heating the Vermouth sauce for 30 seconds.

Petra eventually got pot roasted chicken breast served on a fricassee of wild mushrooms with a chunk of Dauphinois potatoes accompanied by a fantastic Vermouth sauce – I knew it was fantastic before she did as I got my timings wrong and it bubbled over in the microwave. I licked that plate clean, too.

The large piece of chicken breast was perfectly roasted but, with the chunk of potato, this was quite a chunky dish to set before a lady.

My nine hour braised beef bourguigon with bacon lardons was exceptional. It reminded me why, after eight weeks of supermarket food in lockdown, you would pay all that money to eat out. The beef just fell apart at the touch of the knife into fibrous pieces which melted gently in the mouth, yet it was accompanied by bacon lardons which had a strong, smoky taste and a chewy texture. These contrasts married together, in a rich red wine jus, into a perfect mouthful.

To my joy, there was oodles of gravy, and Graham Norton didn’t seem to mind how I consumed it.

Dessert didn’t require too much of my attention in the kitchen. I served the cheesecake cold but artfully dribbled the macerated strawberries from their container over it while microwaving my sticky toffee pudding.

Petra is a cheesecake fundamentalist, and believes only a baked cheesecake can be called a cheesecake. This wasn’t baked, but it had a light lemony mousse topping on almondy biscuits with the strawberries – sharp and sweet at the same time – starring.

My sticky toffee pudding was excellent, although there wasn’t enough sauce. The instructions said “serve with cream on the side”, but instead of a container of cream in the bag there was a stray pot of raita, a cucumber, mint and yoghurt side which was presumably meant for some other dish.

The raita now sits in the fridge, waiting hopefully to be united with its gourmet partner, its vibrant and fresh smell a reminder of a great value gastro-meal that really was a cut above your average pub takeaway.

The Bay Horse

The Green, Hurworth DL2 2AA

Takeaway date night on Saturdays only. Collection slots 3pm-6pm

Visit @thebayhorsehurworth on Facebook for weekly menu and to book