An imposing-looking building from the outside, inside The Pickled Parson of Sedgefield is stylish yet cosy; the decor a fusion of industrial chic and rustic vibes – think exposed brick walls with metallic highlights. We arrive just after an influx of customers coming from nearby Sedgefield Racecourse, but although the bar was bustling, we are seated straight away in the more peaceful dining area and offered a drink.
My partner and I are not wine-drinkers, but rest assured the staff at The Pickled Parson are very knowledgeable (gleaned from what I eavesdropped from the neighbouring table) and will be able to recommend the ideal tipple to complement your food. Refreshed with our own soft drinks (and happy to note that they’re doing their bit for the environment with paper straws), we peruse the à la carte menu.
My dedicated lunch-time soup habits are a running joke in the office, so of course I opt for the soup of the day (£4.95) which happens to be apple and celeriac, while my partner goes for truffle-creamed wild mushrooms, smoked crispy shallots and artisan bread (£6). The mushrooms arrive under a mysterious smoke-filled dome, which the waiter lifts to reveal a thick slice of bread stacked high with mushrooms and shallots. Willy Wonka-esque effects aside, the substance certainly matches the style, and I immediately regret my choice of starter once I have a bite of soft bread, crispy shallots and garlicky mushrooms. That’s not to say my own soup isn’t tasty – served with two different slices of artisan bread and butter, it is smooth with a tart tang from the apple at the end of every mouthful.
For mains, my partner (quite predictably) chooses the sirloin steak with air-dried vine tomatoes, hand-cut chips, garlic butter and peppercorn sauce (£21.95), while I’m tempted by the beer-battered loin of cod (£14.50) from the impressive range of seafood dishes available. The platefuls that arrive are generous, with the chips looking twice- or even thrice-cooked – crisped to perfection. My fish is flaky and flavoursome, while my partner declares his steak ‘the best thing he’s ever eaten’. It’s quite possible he’s a simple and easily pleased man, but from the forkful he grudgingly allowed me, I have to admit it was delicious – melt-in-the-mouth and with just the right amount of pink (I’ve never been one for a steak that’s still mooing). The only thing I’m not bowled over by is my mint and pea purée, but I don’t know what I expected, having never been a fan of mushy peas, mint or no.
As both my dining partner and I have insatiable sweet tooths, to say we’re looking forward to dessert is an understatement. At the waiter’s recommendation, I opt for a delectable-sounding chocolate fondant served with hazelnut ice cream and hazelnut brittle (£6.50), while my partner chooses sticky toffee pudding with pecan toffee sauce (£6). My chocolate fondant is cooked to order, so we have a 10–15 minute reprieve before digging into dessert. When they arrive, the aroma wafting from the fondant almost has me grabbing the dish from the waiter’s hands, and I can barely restrain myself long enough to snap a photo (for the ‘gram). It is excellent – a crunchy, chewy top gives way to a gooey, chocolatey centre, paired perfectly with the delicately flavoured hazelnut ice cream and brittle. The sticky toffee sponge is light and airy (surprising for a dessert usually so stodgy), and the bite from the pecans in the sauce adds interesting texture.
Bowls scraped clean, we both feel pleasantly full and sleepy – the drive home does not seem enticing but the meal has been excellent. In a prime location just off the A1, The Pickled Parson offers fantastic food at prices that won’t break the bank.
What we expected: A village pub offering pub grub.
What we got: Classic dishes with a contemporary twist in a super-stylish yet cosy environment.
What we wish we’d tried: The venison shepherd’s pie topped with a carrot and swede mash.