The new owners at Three Horse Shoes have got off to a flying start in breathing new life into this pub by paying homage to the site’s aviation history.
As it once stood in the shadow of RAF Usworth – now the aircraft museum – there’s a proud military theme running throughout the venue, from the 607 Reformation ale, named after the squadron formed at Usworth Airfield, to the history of celebrated airmen and squadron crests adorning the walls.
This new Three Horse Shoes is almost unrecognisable from the former one which had grown tired and dated, and it’s got enough of a unique theme to draw you to this out-of-the-way pub.
Though pretty isolated down a country lane, it’s only a short drive off the A19 with plenty of parking. There’s also an outdoor play area for little legs, that would put some park versions to shame.
It’s been completely stripped of its old decor. The name – though the sign is new – is the only thing that remains.
As well as a nod to the comfort of an officers’ mess, in which even Biggles would feel at home, there’s also a country cottage-style theme going on, thanks to a herd of the ubiquitous stags’ antlers, exposed brickwork, tartan chairs you can sink into and an open fire.
It all blends together well to make for a comfortable pub with a stylish edge.
While the pub area serves bar meals, there’s a more formal dining area with its own food choice, the 607 menu.
We visited on a Monday night after reading up on the squadron-themed menu. On arrival there seemed a bit of confusion as to which area we should sit in and whether or not it was table service. But once seated, we enjoyed reading up on the history of the place on the walls – and the menu was a good read, too.
While the bar menu is focused on sizzlers, sandwiches and pub classics, the 607 version has more of a fancy flair with options such as Moroccan lamb stew and stuffed belly pork.
It’s a concise menu, but it’s easy to navigate and it didn’t take us long to choose our starters of smoked salmon blini (£6.25) and fish cake (£5.45).
Unfortunately, our service wasn’t as speedy as our decision-making. Despite the pub not being particularly busy, it took 45 minutes for our first course to arrive.
Was it worth the wait? My salmon was indeed beautifully presented and a perfectly light and refreshing way to start the meal, though it seemed over-priced for the portion-size. It comprised of a dainty pancake topped with a couple of slivers of salmon and a poached egg, the yolk of which was disappointingly solid.
The fish cakes were more meaty and came drizzled in curry ketchup, which added some oomph.
Our waitress apologised for the wait and when asked about the delay said it was down to the chef getting used to a new menu after being away on holiday.
Though he may be playing catch up, we couldn’t fault the chef on his presentation skills.
The mains, which arrived 70 minutes after ordering, were also picture perfect and reasonably priced at £13.75 for a rump steak and £10.25 for salmon fillet. The steak comes with chips and onion ring, though I asked for it with salad instead, which wasn’t a problem.
It was a generous slab, perfectly pink and tender, just as I’d requested. As it’s got more flavour than most cuts, the meat didn’t need drowning in sauce, so the swirls of a smooth, buttery béarnaise sauce which circled it were the perfect accompaniment.
For pudding, we chose to share the Blackadder cheesecake (£4.50) named, not after the TV show, but the flight lieutenant once at the helm of 607 squadron.
Hats off again to the presentation and it tasted just as good as it looked - a beautifully crumbly base topped with a moreishly light cheesecake, which was just the right side of creamy. Fresh fruit added splashes of colour and an extra layer of flavour.
Though the service wasn’t exactly Concorde fast, the rest of our experience was ‘plane’ sailing.