Chris Lloyd heads to Sedgefield to eat at the Pickled Parson

In 2018 there was a sour note when the conservatively-named Crosshills in the middle of Sedgefield was renamed the Pickled Parson and letters to The Northern Echo complained about the new, trendy “silly name”.

In 2020, when we visited on Saturday evening, there was just one sour note in an otherwise fine meal as a sharp tang of lemon overpowered the creaminess of the garlic mushrooms.

The Northern Echo:

The sauteed wild mushrooms – a bit too lemony for our liking

But in 2018, the complainants were wrong because the Pickled Parson was a real person. He was John Gamage, the absentee rector, who only ventured north infrequently, his visits usually coinciding with annual rent day on December 20, when local farmers were obliged to pay him their tithes.

His absence wound up local people, so he took out a High Court case compelling them to pay. Then, in August 1747, he died, leaving his widow, Mary, with a conundrum: no rector, no tithes.

The Northern Echo:

Pickled Parson at Sedgefield

So she explained to villagers that he had been hurriedly called down south, and set about preserving his body – some say she cured him in salt; others say pickled him in brandy. Either way, five months later, on December 20, she propped him up in an upstairs window in the rectory of Ceddesfeld Hall, a stone’s throw from the pub, and everyone waved at him as they came to deliver their annual fees.

The Northern Echo:

The amazing charcuterie platter for one, above, was so big Petra didn’t finish it all

Next morning, she announced that he had suddenly died, and a local doctor testified that he was thoroughly dead. Mary fled with all the money but her husband had a pang of remorse, and so the ghost of the pickled parson was said to haunt the hall until it burned down in 1792.

So, in 2020, perhaps I could be wrong about the sauteed wild mushrooms and garlic, topped with a soft poached egg and hollandaise sauce. For a starter for £8 they were expensive, but there was a nice medley of mushrooms and soft oozy egg added to the gentle creaminess that is expected of garlic mushrooms.

But the bread had caught on the toaster, which added a burnt bitterness, and then the vinegary sharpness of the lemon in the hollandaise sauce cut through, obliterating any hint of garlic.

The Northern Echo:

The perfectly balanced ham terrine starter came with fruity sauce and crunchy piccalilli

It was a surprise, because my son Theo’s starter was beautifully balanced. His pressed ham terrine (£6.50) had a lovely saltiness to it which was cut through by the fruitiness of a Cumberland sauce and then contrasted by the sharp crunch of piccalilli.

And perhaps I was wrong. The Pickled Parson is darkly minimalist, with grey tiled walls and wooden floors lit by spotlights, and the virus-proof distance between the tables makes it a little echoey. On a nearby table was a man desperate to impress his new love with his loud and encyclopaedic knowledge of films, and when his garlic mushrooms arrived, he exploded enthusiastically: “Oh, these are so lovely.”

Each to his own taste.

The Northern Echo:

The Penne Arrabbiata at the Pickled Parson

And none of our other dishes disappointed. In fact, the main course which Petra, my wife, had ordered was quite wonderful. It was the charcuterie platter (£16), a plank of wood with a bed of rocket on which laid a variety of cheeses – from blue to parmesan – and a selection of meats – from parma to salami – which was topped by an assemblage of accompaniments: caper berries, olives, sweet pickled onions, bell peppers… The enormity of it all inevitably defeated her.

My burger (£14.50) came with a fabulous cheesy, mustardy mayo which gave it some pizzazz – Genevieve, my daughter, recognised the same exciting Monterey Jack sauce on her Mexican spiced three bean burger (£14.50). They came with excellent skinny fries, a cleanly pickled gherkin and a really good and crunchy slaw.

The Northern Echo:

The Pickled Parson of Sedgefield Burger, with great slaw and chips

Theo’s Penne Arrabbiata would have been £14, but we added the chicken to it for a further £4, and it was a very nice tomatoey pasta, although not cheap.

For dessert, Genevieve had the sticky toffee pudding (£6.50) which was light yet sticky, and Theo had the baked vanilla cheesecake with raspberry coulis (£6.50), which was the real deal – a sturdy, creamy topping on a biscuity base with a sweet sauce, and none of the chilled mousse that less authentic places pass off as cheesecake.

The Northern Echo:

A tower of tiramsu

I chose the tiramisu (£5), which could not be faulted for the classic coffee and chocolate combination, and the balance between the sponge and the cream was just about right.

Service by the fully masked staff was good throughout, and the pub has been thoughtfully set out to maintain social distances. Although several of the prices were a pound or so high, the pub was fully booked and turning people away at the door.

The Northern Echo:

Proper baked cheesecake and raspberry coulis

So everything at the Pickled Parson was perfectly balanced. In the gents’ toilets there was even an impossible choice between handwashes: fig and ginger, or honey and mango?

Everything apart from the one sour note of the garlic mushrooms.

The Pickled Parson, The Green, Sedgefield TS21 2AB. 01740-213131 or

Food quality: 8

Service: 8

Ambience: 8

Social distancing: 8

Value for money: 7