The Inn Collection Group has hit on a winning formula – quality bar food, with a smattering of local offerings at decent prices in comfortable, traditional, rustic surroundings.
Family-orientated meals are the focus of the inns, where local real ales and comfortable lodge-style rooms are also on the menus.
Food is ordered at the bar and each venue boasts a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Among the outlets are the Hog’s Head Inn, at Alnwick; The Bamburgh Castle Inn, at Seahouses; and The Lindisfarne Inn, at Beal.
But one from the stable breaks the mould. The Seaton Lane Inn, at Seaton, prides itself on a more haute cuisine menu, a formal restaurant and waiter service from the outset.
The menu may have a familiar ring to it, with pub standards aplenty, but finer dining it was too – quite a treat for foodies like us.
We arrived mid-afternoon, a little earlier than we would normally choose to eat, but having spent a veritable fortune at the nearby Dalton Park factory outlet, my wallet had called time on shopping!
It was not what we were expecting. Hugging a busy road, this former blacksmith’s forge was inviting without being spectacular, it’s creamy-yellow walls adding a ray of sunshine to a peaceful village a stone’s throw from Seaham.
Inside, there was a boutique, almost gothic feel, with dim lighting, particularly in the bar area, and blood-red seat covers rubbing shoulders with outrageously patterned cream-and-black wallpaper. Monochrome movie stars gazed down at us from the walls, prompting much nostalgic discussion.
As for the menu, the familiar-sounding courses have a blue-ribbon twist.
Let me give you an example or two. The pan-fried salmon fillet (£14.95) comes on a bed of stir-fried green vegetables with a blood orange and red chilli drizzle. Tempted?
And the shoulder of lamb (£16.95) is slow-roasted and pulled, served with rissole potatoes, crisp carrots and a minted gravy.
I spied with my little eye something that would tickle my taste buds – pork and chilli meatballs, served on a bean sprout, coriander and spring onion salad, with lime dressing (£5.95).
Meanwhile, Mrs L plumped for chicken liver pâté starter, which was described as smooth chicken livers scented with orange and thyme, served with onion marmalade and toasted ciabatta (£5.95).
Both starters hit exactly the right spot – they were beautifully presented and combined flavours that simply worked. The kick of chilli in the meatballs was balanced by the lime dressing on a fresh, crunchy salad. And across the table, the chatter halted while the warm swirl of pâté and generous portions of ciabatta took hold.
I find it hard to resist the delicate texture and taste of sea bass and so my vote went straight to the seared sea bass fillets, served with a warm salad of seasonal greens and new potatoes, with a dill and lime butter (£15.95). Just writing it makes me salivate! And I wasn’t disappointed – it oozed freshness and was cooked to perfection.
So to desserts – all homemade and, at £4.95, all reasonably priced.
I went for the sticky toffee pudding, with accompanying butterscotch sauce and vanilla bean ice cream, which was exquisitely moist and a canny way to conclude what had been an entirely pleasant meal.