IT WAS the mothership’s 60th on Sunday and I needed to find a grand venue befitting of such a milestone birthday.
I found it only a 20-minute drive outside of Sunderland in the rather idyllic County Durham countryside.
With the rest of Clan Wheeler in tow, we headed up the sweeping driveway to be met by a Grade II-listed manor house that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jane Austen novel.
The estate is heaped in ye olde worlde character, it even has mention in the history books as far back as 920AD, and its open-stone fireplaces and charming features make this a tranquil place for Sunday dinner.
We were led into the bar to choose from the menu over a bottle of Chardonnay.
There’s plenty to choose from on the Sunday lunch menu which is priced at three courses and a coffee for £14.95, or two courses and a coffee for £12.95. Children’s prices are three courses for £7.50 or two courses for £6.50.
To start, there’s a choice of vegetable soup; sweet and sour chop; melon boat; cannelloni verdi; Hardwicke Hall pate or fruit juice.
For your main you can choose from roast beef, loin of pork, chicken, trout fillet and mushroom stroganoff.
Orders placed, we were led through to the main dining hall. After the grand entrance and oak panelled hallway, I was expecting something spectacular.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant enough room. It’s just a little dated – and not in the good sense – it’s more 70s than the Georgian splendour I was expecting.
Still, there wasn’t anyone complaining. The place was packed, booking is advisable, and the tables were well set with fresh lillies and thick linen napkins (I detest paper napkins in restaurants).
The starters arrived promptly. I’d gone with the vegetable soup which was scrumptious, tasty, but not too chunky, and just the right-sized portion.
The rest of the family had chosen the pate, which was a deliciously-rich liver pate. However, I’m not sure the strong garlic bread was the ideal accompaniment as it took the flavour away from the star of the dish somewhat.
There was absolutely no complaints about the main meals.
The beef was jam-packed with flavour and came with a huge Yorkshire pudding which almost toppled off the plate.
Veg-wise, the dish was spot on. You can choose from parsnips, peas, carrots and roast potatoes.
The piece-de-resistance, however, was the mashed potato. It was sublime, just the right balance of fluffy meets creamy and I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
I smothered it in lashings of gravy which tasted almost as good as the birthday girl’s. It was proper gravy, not the stuff out of a tin.
After eating my own body weight in mashed potato, I couldn’t face a dessert.
However, the rest of the family got stuck into the dessert tray and gorged on banoffee pie and a delectable Dime bar cake.
For five of us, our bill came to £67. A bargain price for a stately meal.