There is a hint of melancholy hanging in the air at just about every restaurant in the weekends after Christmas and New Year.
Tables sit empty as customers rest their stomachs and bank accounts after the festive excess, and there’s little the last embers of Christmas lights can do to bring cheer against the January blues.
The warm, rustic interior of Tavistock at The Board Inn and the cornucopia of company at a friend’s birthday meal, however, managed to put a sizeable dent in my post-festive ennui.
There were 18 of us, and I hope the traditional January lull prevented them from having apoplexy when they took our booking.
Since taking off from their namesake former premises in Sunderland, Tavistock Leisure – owners of eateries such as Tavistock Italia Retro at the Roker Hotel – have a track record of transforming glum pubs into successful restaurants.
The Board Inn is no exception. Its frontage has been lifted with the chain’s trademark decor, and inside a cosy wood-paneled bar leads through to the restaurant, which features an earthy dining room and airy conservatory.
It had earlier been established that I was to be banker for the night for both myself and my housemate. She had forsaken a trip to the bank machine, while I had taken extra cash in anticipation of this situation.
I was soon pawed for a pre-dinner drink in the bar.
Standing a vision of femininity and sophistication in a black dress and heels, she ordered a pint of Boddingtons – and I was pleasantly surprised when this plus a diet coke and a lime and soda cost little more than £5.
The size of our party meant we were neatly accommodated on a giant L-shaped table, and I was quite happy tucked by a windowsill, decked with a dilapidated gas lamp, vintage flour tin and array of hardback books.
What is an Italian restaurant without an ersatz interior? It’s as essential as bruschetta and red wine.
I ordered both. The former cost £3.95 and was as big on taste as it was generous of portion.
I did, however, sit gazing with a certain amount of cheese envy at my housemate’s sizeable formaggio di capra.
The oozing goat’s cheese topped with roasted red peppers was the second most expensive starter, but looked well worth its £6.75.
For mains, my tagliatelle ortolana (£7.95) was a little undersold with the description “mixed vegetables in a tomato sauce”. It was simple, but pleasing – though perhaps I prefer my pasta a tad firmer.
My housemate was more adventurous in her selection and chose penne contandina from the “Moderno” menu of “contemporary and new pastas”.
Prepared with wild mushrooms and strips of beef fillet in a rich red wine sauce, it looked suitably luxurious for an £8.50 dish.
Tavistock is among those happy few restaurants who have cottoned on that over-stuffing your customers with huge amounts of starchy pasta and stodgy pizza presents a lose-lose situation, and the sensible portions allowed room for dessert.
I lacked sufficient sugar lust to enquire as to the possibility of a vegan option, but my housemate was on the lookout for something sweet and fruity.
She chose a pear and ricotta cheese cake, only to be disappointed by the low ratio of fruit.
“It was nice, but I wanted something fruity,” she said. A fair enough judgement, I suppose.
Our share of the bill, including a glass of red wine each, came to £45. Not bad for what we had, even if the cheese cake could have been fruitier.