I eat out more than the average person. Once or twice a week is pretty standard, which does admittedly make slimming a little hard sometimes but it’s a habit that I’m not willing to give up. Not every trip out makes it onto the blog because more often than not I’ll head back to places I’ve been before or, if the food or service somewhere is very disappointing, I don’t tend to give it a feature. St Mary’s Inn is one of the places I know I will visit again and again because on our first visit we were planning a return even before we’d finished our main course.
Based in an old hospital building at Stannington village on the outskirts of Morpeth, St Mary’s Inn isn’t too easy to find. We went along on a Friday evening in March when the night sky was pretty damn black. We had to navigate through the housing estate the gastrob pub is based in without too many signs to guide us. If I had a criticism of the place it would be this, though if too many people start being able to find St Mary’s, it may well become one of those venues where it’s impossible to get a table!
We’d been invited to review St Mary’s by the owners and had heard many good things before our trip, which is to be expected when you consider the place is owned by the same people as Jesmond Dene House (as featured in our Aldi Christmas post). The building itself towers above the houses of the estate, which I’ll give to you as a tip to find it. Inside, the old hospital has been divided into different areas – a bar, some little cosy corners where you can sup a pint mid dog walk (dogs are welcome and bar snacks are available, which means Ruby is definitely going to St Mary’s at some point too) and of course, several larger dining areas complete with large tables and some booths. Ooh, not forgetting an outside patio I spyed that will be lovely when the sun finally springs up in Northumberland! It was a fairly chilly night and we were pleased to find the staff stoking the fires when we arrived. Despite the size of St Mary’s Inn there are lots of cosy spots and there were many of family groups and couples dining when we arrived.
Our menu choices weren’t easy to make – there are lots of locally inspired plates on the menu and while meaty choices caught our eye on this occasion, the vegetarian options seemed equally appetising and it was nice to see more than one token veggie choice available. You can take a peek at the menu, which also features an afternoon tea option here.
Service throughout our meal was excellent and while our waitress may well have known we were there at invitation of the owners, we observed attentive service at all tables and at the bar area too. We were particularly impressed with our servers’ knowledge of the menu as she recommended different side selections based on what would come with our main course automatically and was able to talk about all elements of several main courses to help me make my decision. It sounds like a simple thing all waiting staff should be able to do but I’ve been pretty depressed by how little some restaurant staff seem to know about the food they are serving recently. Anyway, I digress.
For starters we chose chicken liver parfait, onion jam and truffle brioche (£7.20) and a rather awesome looking piece of pork pie with homemade picalilli (forgot to write the price down but think this was about £6). There was pease pudding elsewhere on the menu, so the other half was extra cheeky and asked if he could try some with his pie.
The very generous portion of pate was beautifully smooth, complemented by the sweetness of the jam. The pork pie was meaty with lovely jelly and thick crumbly pastry. I didn’t feel the truffle element of the brioche was particularly necessary but the bread was delicious all the same.
We’d chosen some very meaty main courses – I selected the mince and dumplings (£12.00) and Steve chose the maple glazed pork chop (£15.00). We both got some delicious roasted root vegetables (Steve as a side and mine as part of my main). The herby dumplings came in a deep bowl with some top class mashed potato and cabbage on the side. The massive chop came with vine roasted tomatoes and a pot of wholegrain mustard.
I liked everything about my comforting main course and could happily have drunk the rich meat gravy through a straw had I not been in public and the gravy itself not been so deliciously thick. The pork chop was lightly glazed and well cooked, though Steve did lament that the fat wasn’t cooked quite so much on one side, which was a really minor thing all in all. I must confess, we decided to have dessert not because we were hungry but because the previous two courses led us to believe we’d be in for a treat. Still, lack of free stomach capacity dictated we would have to share a dessert and we opted for a warm almond and apple tart with ginger ice cream (£6). It came served with an apple crisp.
It’s been a while since I raved about a place as much as I have St Mary’s following our visit. A friend who lives on the estate recently confirmed my suspicions that the food is consistently good and recommended I try the afternoon tea next time I visit. There are rooms above the pub and restaurant and we are almost tempted to book one just so we can both sample the best of the menu and the bar in one evening. Along with 40 whiskies on the bar, that outdoor area that will soon be coming alive for spring and the little nooks where we can relax with a pint of Apsall without leaving Ruby the dog at home, we have many reasons to return to St Mary’s Inn.