Venturing out into the beautiful heart of the Esk Valley on Thursday night, we could not have timed it much better.
A teatime booking of 6pm and the warmest day of the year so far meant only one thing – al fresco dining in the garden of the Horseshoe Hotel at Egton Bridge, a charming Grade II listed building next to the meandering waters of the River Esk.
A quick diversion was made to a local supermarket to buy our seven-year-old son a Lego Bionicle character – a stroke of genius by she who must be obeyed as it kept him occupied for the duration of the meal.
There are certain places where it pays to arrive hungry and the Horseshoe Hotel is one of them.
A scan of the blackboard menus presented a quandary of whether to go for the usual starter and main, or perhaps go straight for the main and finish with one of the tempting looking desserts.
So we decided to share a starter, in this case the chicken goujons, which came accompanied with fresh salad, a fiery chilli dip and a garlic dip.
Without wanting to sound anti-social, we shunned sitting in a compact bar full of local characters, if only because we could dine outside with at least an hour before the sun was due to set. The location was never going to disappoint and neither did the grub.
The goujons were moist and tasty and the chilli dip had just the right kick without stripping layers of skin off the tongue.
They tasted all the better for being washed down with friendly bartender Jim’s recommended tipple Spring Zing – a light, refreshing ale which went down extremely well on a balmy spring evening where the thermometer reached a pleasant, if unremarkable compared to recent years, 15.3C.
The main course was a slight gamble – I chose the belly pork with a little hesitation, as my previous experience with this dish elsewhere saw me part company with a substantial wedge of cash for something which left a lot to be desired.
No such worries this time – and even better still, we did not even have long to wait.
The belly pork had the thickest slabs of crackling, a more than generous dollop of mashed potato with cider and apple cream sauce and vegetables, while my wife kept up the pork theme by opting for medallions in a creamy Dijon and mushroom sauce.
Both mains were hearty in their presence and good value for money. No longer can I tell pork belly fans that their favourite meal is over-rated, and for that I am truly thankful.
Our son, unusually for him not hungry until we got home and remembered he had half an After Eights Easter egg in the fridge, was quite content with his ham, egg and chips, a course that was punctuated by retrieving several pieces of Lego which had rolled down one of the gaps in the wooden table and landed in the thick grass below.
So the only decision left to make was whether to squeeze in a pud – but when you’re reviewing an establishment’s board of fare, it is only polite to try what you can.
So with that in mind, I went for the rhubarb and orange cheesecake while Emma road-tested the sticky toffee pudding and toffee sauce, both of which were perfectly decent.
Overall Rating: 8