EACH December my old school friends and I meet up, catch-up on gossip and dish out our secret Santa gifts.
Because it’s one of the few times of the year when we clear our diaries to spend time together, we always try to host this annual Christmas shindig somewhere special.
This year, the Black Horse in West Boldon was our venue of choice.
It’s a particular favourite eaterie of mine thanks to its winning combination of quirky decor and top-notch grub.
Let’s face it – the decoration was never going to be boring magnolia and mahogany with charismatic Pete Zulu, he of Toy Dolls fame. at the helm.
And as you walk into this traditional English pub you’re greeted by a plethora of knick-knacks adorning the walls, from ’50s Playboy magazines to skis and typewriters and atmospheric black and white photos taken by the man himself.
Even the menus are made from old records and I chose my meal from behind a vintage Elvis LP.
In keeping with the festivities, there was a Christmas-themed menu as well as a non-seasonal choice of food.
The Christmas menu runs throughout December and boasts lip-licking gastronomic gems such as smoked haddock kedgeree with soft-boiled egg and curry oil to start and roast turkey, gingerbread stuffing, creamed sprouts and roasted root vegetables for main.
Vegetarians needn’t miss out on the taste bud treats, either with options such as steamed field mushroom and caramelised onion pudding with spinach, chargrilled spring onions and mushroom gravy.
This option is good if you’re watching the pennies with two courses at £17 or three courses for £20.
Shocking, I know, but I’m not a great fan of Christmas dinner, so while the majority of our group filled their boots with roast dinner, I chose from the standard menu.
Service was prompt and pretty soon after ordering, my starter of dippy egg asparagus and Parma ham soldiers, pictured, was whipping its way to our table. It was a little pricey at £7.50 but I savoured every mouthful and loved its novelty factor.
Other standard starters include crab lasagne with Gruyère cheese (£7.50) and seared scallops with chorizo, black pudding and potato salad (£8.50).
The main meal menu isn’t vast but it contains a selection of hearty meals from slow-cooked beef with bacon, shallots, mushrooms and mash potato (£15.95) to Cheddar and leek soufflé with baby gem, tomato and basil salad (£12.75).
I chose from the grill section and went with the vegetarian option of Camembert. The meal comes with fat chips, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes or baked potato and tomato and red onion salad.
With a night of dancing ahead of me, I steered clear of the stodge and asked for extra salad. I had asked for just plain rocket and tomato salad but it arrived laced with red onion.
I asked for a new salad and was charged for the pleasure, which was a little annoying, but the taste soon made up for the mishap.
Drinks-wise, a bottle of house wine comes in around the £15 mark whereas a Fosters will set you back £3.20 with spirits and a mixers also a little over £3.