St. Mary's Inn

When I heard in that St. Mary’s Inn was closing I was a little sad. Fast forward to 2018 and the lovely place has reopened; with their rooms available from Monday June 4 I thought I’d re share my review.

It was going to be a long and busy week and the thought of a Friday night away just the two of us was what was keeping Richard and myself going.

The rural getaway was at St. Mary’s Inn the little sister to the renowned Jesmond Dene House. St. Mary’s Inn is in the village of Stannington north of Newcastle and just a hop, skip and a jump from the town of Morpeth.

Dinner, bed breakfast and fingers crossed a lie in; here we come.

The journey

Stannington is really well signposted off the A1 and there are signs for St. Mary’s Inn and even more poignantly St. Mary’s Hospital which are easy to follow. I knew my way to the Inn from memory but the winding road may benefit from a couple more signs.

Arrival

We arrived at 5:00pm and were welcomed by Zoe who showed us to our room we decided we quite fancied a nap before dinner.

Our bedroom – Greenlee Lough

When we opened the door we were greeted with an expanse of space and beds so high they were reminiscent of ‘Princes and The Pea’ – yay and I know a certain daughter of mine would have loved to bounce on them.

I’m a stickler for white bed linen and I was not to be disappointed. I love a chunky pillow or two and we got four, plenty to go around. The duvet was heavy but not too heavy. Simple quality. Of course “Mr. I sleep on the thinnest pillow in the world” didn’t like the pillows but he could cope for one night.

There was not one, but two sitting areas, one right next to the TV and the other with a lovely table to sit and read or work at.

bedroom

Having worked with Marlish Water in the past I was happy their water was on the tea tray alongside another local brand, Ringtons. I’m sure fresh milk would have been available if I had requested it too.

I crossed my fingers before I entered the bathroom. I so wanted a bath, we moved house in Feb 2015 and we have a double shower instead of a bath (this seriously needs to be rectified) and hotel stays are the only time I get to take a dip and luxuriate in some bubbles.

The bathroom was great. I loved the velux window in the ceiling, the sumptuous towels and I was looking forward to trying the products supplied as I hadn’t tried them before.

Relaxing time before dinner

I love the fact that Richard had packed us a cheeky bottle of prosecco, a perfect accompaniment to a bath filled with lovely bubbles (which H2B ran without prompting). I truly relaxed. We lay on the bed and drank and chatted before dinner (the TV wasn’t working). It was lovely. Even though we live together it seemed like an age since we’d had a chat that wasn’t interjected by, ‘mummy or daddy’ or the sound of our baby boy.

Thank you St. Mary’s Inn for the peace and quiet.

Dinner

Although tempting to stay in our lovely room, we were hungry so headed over the outdoor courtyard and downstairs to the bar admiring the frequently changing artwork on the way.

Before dinner, Richard opted for a pint of Peroni whilst I chose  St. Mary’s Ale made by the wonderful Wylam Brewery as my tipple. I knew from first sip that I’d be drinking it for the rest of the night unless of course I got the taste for gin!

At 7:30pm we decided to head along to the restaurant and I loved all of the areas and the relaxed feeling throughout. It was akin to a warren, people all chatting away with quite a few dogs (both real and wire sculptures) looking happily at home.

We were greeted by Phil the Duty Manager and chatted about the menu. He was genuinely enthusiastic about both the menu and St. Mary’s Inn. I appreciated the fact that many of the items on the menu were sourced locally, so locally in some cases that the chef could reach out of the window and place the veg onto the ‘Entremetier’ station.

The short and simple menu featured many starters and main courses that we wanted to try. To start, Richard opted for Lamb Koftas and I chose Smoked Haddock and Clam Chowder with Whisky and Bacon. Both were really tasty, but I wouldn’t have chosen to have mussels as part of the chowder.

starters and mains

For main H2B had the Aberdeen Angus Beef Burger which came with cheese, mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, pickles, coleslaw and home made fries, he’d sworn he was off bread but couldn’t resist.

I chose the steak and went for the bone marrow and parsley fries. The steak was cooked to my liking medium rare and the fries were good but I had chip envy and loved the look of the chunky ones on a nearby table.

Richard swore he didn’t want desert but there were two that I fancied so gluttony prevailed and I ordered both.

DESSERT

To satisfy my sweet tooth I opted for the custard tart with honeycomb and vanilla ice cream and for my savoury love was the selection of British cheeses with rye crackers and preserves. This was my absolute favourite course and Richard did help me (I promise). The custard tart was amongst the best I have ever tasted and instead of the typically dense consistency this was delicate and the bitterness of the honeycomb cut through the sweetness.  The selection of cheeses was just enough to end the meal.

Phil tried to lure us into coffees but we were embracing the no child night and the calling for bed was so loud.

We made our way to our room but we were waylaid by the bar as I did fancy a gin and I was happy that they stocked Fentimans tonic. Richard’s eyes were heavy so I selected a book from the shelves in one of the snug areas and we headed to bed.

Sleepytime

Our tummies were completely fit to burst so up the dancers we went. We crawled into bed at 10:30 and he was asleep within 10 minutes. I lay and read for a while which was an absolute luxury.

Alas I woke up a few times in the night as it was so warm (thermostat set to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, I have no idea what that is in metric) I’m also used to being awoken several times in the night and thirdly I thought I’d lost my other half, turns out that the bed is sooo big we could easily fit our family of four in the bed with room to spare.

Breakfast

This can be an absolute deal maker or breaker for me.

Zoe showed us to our table, she assured us she had been home as she was still serving at the bar when we went to bed.

This was the room we could see from our bedroom. It was light and bright and there was just us (well for a few minutes until many faces that we saw during dinner the night before).

continental and full English

Our toast and drinks order was taken and then we got to peruse the continental breakfast and gluttony raised its head again. Smoked salmon and meats donned our plates and the quality was fantastic.

We both ordered full English breakfast no beans for me, we both ate the lot, oink, oink. We drank copious amounts of coffee we have definitely missed our breakfast dates.

Full English

Before checkout I had little nosey in all of the nooks and crannies and decided that I really did like this place and would love a local like this.

Overall opinion

Although it’s known as Jesmond Dene House little sister I think St. Mart’s Inn has  everything it needs to have a stand alone reputation. It isn’t trying to be something that it is not. It is by definition a house providing accommodation, food, and drink, especially for travellers and this was done to perfection. I even forgot that it is unmanned overnight so the guests are left to their own devices, well sort of, we couldn’t have our very own lock in.

Having the right staff is so important and I think the brilliance of the staff shone through with their friendly and knowledgeable demeanour and nothing was too much trouble even bringing up an iron and ironing board before dinner.

We had a fabulous time and with a few tweaks it would be perfect. Before I left I was already recommending the Inn to a friend who was coincidentally staying at Jesmond Dene House as a surprise anniversary treat from her husband: major brownie points.

Incase you fancy a visit St. Mary’s Inn is open 8am to 11pm each day with dining until 9:30pm. Remember to book your table don’t just turn up and expect to be served.

Our stay would have been £140 for dinner, bed and breakfast and personally I think that it was most definitely worth that.

Now for the unexpected personal bit which I chose not to place at the beginning of the review.
There was a distinct reason that I wanted to stay and it wasn’t until we were offered a meal at the Inn that I looked into the history and I felt like an idiot when I put two and two together. I actually got a knot in my stomach and a tear in my eye.

As you may have already read St. Mary’s Inn is situated in what was the administration building of St. Mary’s Hospital, the old Gateshead Borough mental institution. We were originally supposed to just head there for dinner but when I read the history of the site I asked if we could stay. A member of my family had spent quite a lot of time at St. Mary’s hospital and visited him often and unfortunately he didn’t have a pleasant stay there. I hoped a visit would air some demons. I haven’t taken the turn off for Stannington since 1995 and I was on auto pilot driving and the hospital signs were still in situ and threw me. What the heck was I doing when potentially I was unearthing a bad memory of a location.

I am glad I came as even though the admin building is clearly recognisable there were very few other points of reference and thinking of my uncle made me smile.

You can keep up to date with St. Mary’s in via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you Phil and Nicky for having us and we hope to visit again when we are in the area.

First published: 15 Feb 2016

MPW loves PA

On a warm Thursday evening in the centre of Newcastle a plethora of ‘food-a-holics’ got together and sampled the wares of a very talented chef named  Paul Amer at his home in Marco Pierre White – Fenkle Street, NE1.

Being made suitably dizzy from parking on floor eight of Grainger Town Car Park* it was just a five minute walk to the destination for the evening .

MPW had a happy atmosphere, staff and diners happily taking and finding out about about each others days. A semi private area (behind a curtain rather than a door) is where the story unfolds and we 12 diners sit and gorge. Sitting down with a glass of Chardonnay new and old faces alike up and share stories.

It was now time for the main character to appear and for us to find out more. Paul an animated character ran through his menu and fielded lots of our questions and he was calm and unfazed. His passion for food was apparent and good presentation is something he’d love to feature even more in the menus. Dipolmacy is a good trait witnessed in this resturant’s main man.

Before the food even arrived the tables were adorned with baskets of bread and olives. With bread as a downfall it’s best to atleast TRY to stay clear of the bread but my will was weak. For the olives no holding back was required, they are greatly loved and healthyish.

The food on the evening was plentiful.

Course one features both field and sea in the formation of Rillette of smoked mackarel with lightly pickled vegetables.

STARTER

Pleasing on the eye the course was full of flavour and was extremely well balanced. The mackerel was rich and needed something to lift it and Paul thought of something that has never adorned a savoury dish when I’m cooking…a blackberry. Who knew they go so well with fish? This is definitely banked and to be used in future.

Slow roasted tomato soup with basil pesto was on offer for course two.  Mr. Amer please don’t judge but when reading this menu the wonder of of how you would to top the ’57 Varieties’ sprung to mind. You took the gauntlet without realising it and won by a landslide majority. The soup was utterly delicious, creamy, smooth and thick in texture. Mopping in resturants may be considered a little uncouth but the hunk of bread called out to be dunked.

SOUP

LIGHTLY CURRIEDCourse three was a lightly curried smoked haddock risotto.

If this course was deconstructed into curry, haddock and risotto a definate appeal would be there but married together alas didn’t work for me.

The word ‘lightly’ definitely needs to be removed unless the person who made tonight’s offering was a little heavy handed.

Also is there really enough space on a tasting menu for two fish dishes?

 

Move over fish and hello meat.

 

 

 

 

Course four featured slow cooked belly pork, vale of Mowbray black pudding, pommes puree and roasted cauliflower puree. An excellent coupling of flavour and textures. The asparagus was a nice surprise. The crackling was a little well done but nice and crispy. Paul could this be one of the dishes that requires a presentation upgrade?

MAIN MPW

Desert time come with Course five in the form of Raspberry & Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with mini meringue, raspberry sorbet

Wow! I DON’T as a general rule ‘do’ dessert but my heart did a little leap. Panna Cotta can be done so badly but not today, the texture was perfect and the balance with the sorbet worked so well. The meringue was nice but a little bit of a gooey centre never hurt anyone. Overall this was the star of the menu.

Yummy!

Footnote 1: Thank you to Emma Wright (Sales & events co-ordinator) and Rachel Kershaw (MPW Newcastle Ambassador) for the invitation and I’m glad to be back. Having turned down every food review invite since Nov 2016 my welcome back to food blogging was definitely selected well.

Footnote 2: I’m not sure if it’s because I’m over forty, suffered from gallstones or because I usually have a small child in tow but I always like to check out the ladies. These ones get a thumbs up especially when Elemis is their hand wash and hand cream of choice, I’m a sucker for a British Brand.

* There is limited parking at the restaurant and on Fenkle Street. The restaurant is also only five minutes from the nearest train/metro station. Grainger Town car park is part of the Alive after Five scheme  which equals free parking after 5pm Monday – Saturday

I was invited by MPW to review the Paul Amer menu. All thoughts are my own.

Victoria Sponge

We love baking in our house and when I saw ‘Children’s Book of Baking (Usborne Cookbooks)‘ sitting on the shelves of our local charity shop I simply had to buy it and got a little excited to try out some recipes. Since it’s Valentine’s we thought we make a Victoria sponge, well who doesn’t love cake?

Apron donned and hands washed let the cooking commence….

Here’s what you will need if you’d like to join in;

Cake

2 x 20cm cake tins

4 medium eggs

225 g softened butter

225g caster sugar

225g self raising flour

Filling

100g softened unsalted butter

225g icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

4 tablespoons of strawberry jam

Victoria Sponge making

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.

Wipe the insides of the tins with cooking oil. Place parchment paper in the bottom of each tin.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat together with a fork.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat them until they are pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time and if the mixture curdles pop in a little bit of flour.

Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold in with a metal spoon.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins.

Smooth the top (Emily and I find this really tricky).

Bake the cake in the oven for 25 minutes. Pop on some oven gloves and carefully remove the tins from the oven.

Press the cakes to check they are cooked.

Leave the cakes in the tins for five minutes to cool. Then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto a wire rack.

For the filling

Put the jam in a bowl and beat it. Spread it over the top of the bottom cake.

Make the butter cream by mixing the icing sugar and butter together until they reach a delightful texture then spread that over the bottom of then top cake (we ignored this and tried to pop it on top of the jam but this didn’t leave a nice clean typical Victoria sponge white and red line but more of a gorgeous pink marriage).

Sandwich both cakes together and gently press together.

Scatter some caster sugar on top. We decorated our cake with strawberries but this is optional.


TYummy cakeotal Time
: 70 mins Taste: Fabulous (if we do say so ourselves).

Check out Emily on Instagram.

Be our Valentine

Love from Sofa Stories x x

Suzanne HarissaNow when it comes to lovely dining, Sandyford in Newcastle might not spring to mind but our recent trip to ‘Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen’ has definitely opened our eyes. In fact we were a little reticent to share this gem of an establishment but since the blooming ‘Secret Diner has outed it as, “being so good he visited it twice” I only think it’s fair to give our view too.

This place most definitely has curb appeal and we were greeted by the owner (James/Jamie – depending on what day of the week it is) and we instantly felt as if we were at home, quite strangely as if we were going to a friends for dinner. Jamie was so friendly we were sure we’d already met him but couldn’t place where!

With a glass of ice cold water in hand, I started to talk to Jamie whilst Nicola took photos aplenty. My first question was; “What is Harissa” as I had visions of bottles of Harissa sauce in my head as my partner is a lover of all things spicy!  I on the other hand am a bit of a wuss, so Jamie talked through the menu and helped to select flavours that married well but weren’t overly spicy on the taste buds.

flowersThe decor is clean and crisp with such fab attention to detail. Jamie let us into a secret about the copper piping on the ceiling housing the Edison lamps (we’re not going to reveal his secrets though!).

Once all in-situ we were introduced to the restaurant and the concept of Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen or Harrisa for short.  Jamie explained the history of sister company Food Nation (at which point Nicola and I turned to each other and remembered Simon Preston who we’d worked with when promoting The Great North Eco-Feast way back in 2009 and is a director of Food Nation). You can read more about it here to stop me going off in on a whole other tangent!

Now back to the food. I was starving. I’d done a round trip to Leeds and back that day and Nicola had had a mega busy day and still had some prep for her LinkedIn training she was delivering the next day. Two tired, hungry ladies meant ‘eyes bigger then belly’ food consumption!

We started with a melody of nibbles in the form of spiced roasted nuts (hint go for the ones with less dusting for less spice), Honey, Cumin, Coriander & Smoked Paprika Marinated Olives (they warned us they weren’t pitted so all was good) Lemon, Chilli & Fresh Herbs Harissa House Pickles (punchy and well balanced).

Alongside this we ordered some marinated and char grilled Halloumi and some hummus – great flavours but I don’t think I will ever get used to the squeak of that particular cheese.

Fresh and lovely food Harissa

Next, mains. Be careful not to over order; at one point we had everything on our table as we hadn’t yet finished the starters.

We both opted for slow roasted shoulder of spiced pork with apple, grilled spring onion and crackling – they got me at crackling as it’s one of my all time favorites. It was tasty, but there was something missing and Nicola hit it on the head; honey. The very savoury taste needed to be lifted just a little with something sweet.

Et voila, a squirty honey pot was given to us and it really lifted the meal. Thankfully, the team didn’t think we were cheeky in-fact quite the opposite; the chef is going to make this part of the dish.

Mains HarissaDesert. We weren’t going to indulge but couldn’t resist and went for the honey, tahini & pistachio parfait and sesame praline orange and saffron polenta cake. Both were super scrummy but we couldn’t help coveting Laura’s and Kayleigh’s chocolate torte it was a ‘special’ and not on the menu. As we had already ordered it was a tad too late to change so we’ll go for that next time.

honey tahini and pistachio parfait

Overall:

There was a nice blogging buzz in the restaurant and it would be amusing being a fly on the wall watching us all trying to get ‘that perfect angle’! What was even nicer though, was people who saw us eating started to walk in and sit down and were greeted with open arms and the waitress (I’m so sorry we didn’t take your name) looked genuinely chuffed to be helping, ‘real customers’.

Hats off to food, your mission and your fabulous customer service, we’ll thoroughly recommend Harrisa.

Love Suz and Nic. x

 

Kingslodge Inn Durham

Conversation is at the heart of friendship.

It’s on our strap line and it’s certainly true for Suzanne and I. But what we need is a lovely, comfy, friendly place to chat. One that’s so lovely, comfy and friendly you forget to take pictures of the wonderful food you’re eating!

The Kingslodge Inn in Durham one such place. Nestled in a street not far from Durham train station you will find the vision of the new owners coming to fruition in a cosy and welcoming traditional pub with top notch en-suite accommodation (we didn’t see it but the waitresses assured us that it was true), serving beers, local real ales and home-cooked food to appeal to the local community as well as visitors to the area.

With the help of sat nav we were welcomed into the Kingslodge Inn through the metal gates and into their own private car park.

The moment we walked through the door we were greeted by lovely staff who showed us to our booth. And then, we looked up and a couple of hours had passed! Partly due to the fact that we’d not seen each other properly for AGES, partly due to the fact that despite there being a plethora of signs saying to go to the bar to order we patiently waited (until we could wait no more) and thirdly but not least important, because the food was so wonderful we kept ordering, eating and chatting.

The perfect night out!

This would be a pretty useless review if we didn’t mention the actual food! So here we go…

Kingslodge-starter

This wonderful Antipasto was enough to whet our appetites. A tasty selection of cured meats, olives, bread and oils, is a lovely sharing platter (unless you are Suzanne and want to eat the lot). (I’m sorry Nicola but I don’t like sharing ^Suz)

And now we need to be honest….We were chatting away when our mains came and we completely and utterly forgot to take images (sorry but it’s your own fault Kingslodge Inn you shouldn’t have made us so comfortable). That has to be the best testimonial we could give, right? We ordered (and wolfed) down pan seared salmon with creamy lemon sauce, served with wild rice & broccoli and The Kingslodge Burger which consisted of Aberdeen Angus steak mince, topped with melted cheddar cheese & relish, served with fries, salad & coleslaw.

The salmon, rice and broccoli were all well cooked alas the lemon sauce was a let down for Suzanne and she’s glad she asked for it separately – it could just be her though as on the whole she’s not a lover of sauce on fish. The burger and it’s accomplishments were absolutely huge and ever so tasty.

Onto dessert…

Kingslodge cheesecake

Suzanne-icecreamThis cheesecake was as indeed very pretty. Different from the usual cheesecake, it’s a bit mousy but no less flavoursome for it! The sticky toffee sundae was as glorious as it looks below but well and truly defeated us. It was a little too much for one (you can see that it’s nearly as big as Suzanne’s head!), I’d recommend sharing it, unless of course you’re in the mood for a full-tummy treat.

We washed everything down with a couple of glasses of wine from a bottle of house red (the rest we took home) and we’d order the same bottle in future.

After we had finished and our plates were cleared we spent some time talking to one of the waitresses (I’m so sorry I didn’t take down her name). She truly seemed happy in her new role and loved that she was being developed and receiving a lot of training. Investment in staff is so important to both myself and Suzanne and so it was so nice to hear about her story so far and we wish her good luck.

Would we visit again, absolutely infact we can’t wait to try breakfast sometime soon.

I’ve also just visited the newest member of the Inn Collection which is The Commissioner’s Key  in Blyth Northumberland keep your eyes peeled for our review.

Take care

Nic and Suz x