After driving through the picture-postcard village of Romaldkirk – set against the rolling pastures and rugged, open moorland of the Teesdale countryside – we were welcomed into the bar area of the Rose & Crown by a friendly team of waiting staff. As we ordered two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, we were left to look through the à la carte menu under the original oak beams of this 18th century coaching inn, which still retains its rustic charm today. On a cooler evening, we could easily imagine the log fire crackling in the stone fireplace as we sat back in the wooden, pew-like benches, cushioned with a homely assortment of patchwork and sheepskin cushions.
The menu offered a rich array of traditional British fare (with plenty of vegetarian options available). As we were contemplating our choices, our table was being prepared in the polished oak-panelled restaurant – where flickering candles cast an intimate ambiance over each table – so when we were seated we were met with our wine and a carafe of water on the table.
Before our starters arrived, two home-baked cobs of crusty bread were brought, still warm from the oven. I had opted for the prawn and brown shrimp cocktail with Marie Rose sauce (£7.50) to start and it arrived piled generously on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes, dusted with paprika. My dining partner had the sweet potato, lemongrass and coconut soup (£7.00) which was decoratively garnished with coriander croutons, alongside a sumptuous-looking Cotherstone cheese scone.
I followed my starter with the homemade Raby estate venison pie (£17.50). The filling had been slow-cooked in a red wine gravy with chestnut mushrooms and smoked pancetta, and the pie was cushioned by creamy mashed potato, savoy cabbage, turnip and melt-in-the-mouth carrots. My dining partner had chosen the braised beef (£19.00) – which fell off the fork, it was so expertly cooked – served with red cabbage, Jersey royals, baby vegetables and a tarragon jus. It was difficult to be entirely jealous when I had such a delicious meal in front of me, but I will admit that the beef looked exquisite. Together, the mains were everything we had hoped they would be: traditional, rustic fare with a flourish of culinary expertise, beautifully presented and enriched by the knowledge that many of the ingredients were from the dales around us.
We challenged ourselves to a third course and were not disappointed. While my dining partner’s face lit up at the sight of a sticky toffee pudding (£7.00), drizzled in butterscotch sauce and accompanied by vanilla ice cream on a crumbling biscuit base, I was equally impressed by the selection of local cheeses (£8.00). The White Hilton was creamy with a nutty, lingering flavour; the Yorkshire Blue was mild and refreshingly sweet for a blue-veined cheese; the Cotherstone was crumby in texture with a citric, slightly tangy aftertaste, and was the perfect accompaniment to the last of the Sauvignon in my glass. These had all been sourced within 10 miles of the Rose & Crown and were accompanied by two slices of homemade brack, grapes and chutney.
The Rose & Crown is a culinary institution in these parts and it’s not hard to see why. Its rustic charm set the tone for a relaxing dining experience; the waiting staff had an easy rapport with returning customers, while welcoming us as first-time visitors with an attentiveness that was never overbearing; and the food was sublime. While it’s a little off the beaten track, it’s more than worth the trip.
What we expected: A country inn serving British comfort food
What we got: Delicious, innovative dishes, locally-sourced and served in a charming setting
What we wish we’d tried: The pan-roasted fillet of Hake, with champ potato, wild mushroom, caviar cream and tempura king prawn.
The Rose & Crown at Romaldkirk
Barnard Castle, County Durham DL12 9EB