For anyone not working at Nissan, this is somewhat of a destination venue.
So if you’re going to draw in the masses you need to dangle enough of a carrot to lure them down this country lane.
Have the new owners succeeded?
Family-friendly atmosphere: check. Plenty of free parking: check. A good choice of good food: check.
I last visited this pub over the summer when it had undergone a major makeover. Though the decor was certainly impressive, the service was a little lacklustre.
In January, it reopened again. This time with Tavistock Hospitality Limited, the Sunderland-based leisure firm which runs the Roker Hotel, at the helm.
They’ve kept the decor which made an impression on my last visit. And I’m glad they did. The squadron crests and military paraphernalia doffs its cap to Usworth Airfield, which once stood in the area.
It’s a great slice of local history and helps to give what could have easily been a run-of-the-mill boozer a unique identity, which can only add to its appeal. It’s got the comfort of an officers’ mess too, with open fires and large, high-backed tartan chairs to sink into.
What has changed significantly though is the menu.
Tavistock, which also runs the Lambton Worm in Chester-le-Street, has stamped its own brand of locally-sourced home comforts on the food choice.
It’s all belly-filling stuff with starters such as meaty pork ribs (£5.75) and pressed ham terrine (£6.25) and mains such as chicken and chorizo burger (£9.95) and sausage and mash (£8.95).
Tavistock isn’t just about food, if you’ve been to any of the other venues you’ll know they’re big on booze too. So much so, they make their own.
As well as handy suggestions of which tipples from their Sonnet 43 brew house complement each dish on the menu, such as a bourbon milk stout suggestion next to the pig platter and steam beer amber ale with the shepherd’s pie, they also incorporate their tipples in the kitchen. As such, the salmon in the sandwiches has been cured with Poetic License Old Tim Gin – the company’s own brand gin which is distilled at the Roker.
I chose a half-pint of prawns to start, served old school-style in a glass.
They certainly tasted fresh with an added kick from a Blood Mary sauce, though I expected more prawns for £6.45.
They were over-shadowed by our side order of salt and pepper crackling sticks (£2.95). Lighter and crisper than pork scratchings, these moreish sticks were worth cracking our teeth over, and were perfect for plunging into the apple ketchup accompaniment.
For mains I chose the 8oz fillet steak. At £19.95, it’s the most expensive choice, but there’s more purse-friendly options, especially a two courses for £8.95 deal on selected specials.
It was worth every pound, a buttery soft springy centre with a slightly smokey edge thanks to it being wood fired.
Steaks usually come with double-dipped chips, tomato and mushrooms but, in an attempt to shave off a few calories, I’d substituted it for salad, which was no problem for the cheery and attentive staff.
The atmosphere was enhanced by a live band on a Friday night, helping to make this a destination venue worth travelling to.