A DESIRE to get some decent pub grub, somewhere between Durham and Chester-le-Street, led us to the Church Mouse.

I set off with the family in tow, not knowing much about it at all, other than a colleague had visited several years ago and said it had been ‘pretty good’.

A glance at the menu online was reassurance enough. ‘Looks lovely’, I thought.

As we headed down the A167, I was sure we were in for a treat.

“Doesn’t it look a bit ‘Wetherspoonsy’ to you,” asked my better half, who had spent more time studying the website before we set off.

The thought had never crossed my mind but, as someone who mistakenly assumed we were destined for an independent gastro pub, I confess my heart sank a little when I saw our destination attached to a Travelodge.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Travelodge, stayed in them many times, or chain pubs, had many a Wetherspoon’s breakfast. Usually over the same weekend. Just not what I was expecting.

A more thorough web search has informed me Vintage Inns has 190 pubs around the country offering menus sure to tempt the most discerning foodie among us.

But the standardised menu is not what we were after. My fault entirely for failing to find out before we set off.

It must be said, the Church Mouse looks delightful, as do the rest of their pubs, full of faux English pub charm, nestled quaintly as it is, beside the dual carriageway.

Inside, it is all exposed beams and pale pastel décor with pictures on the walls and a homely atmosphere.

It was around 2pm on a Saturday and the spacious dining room was busy, almost every nook and cranny filled with families and couples.

No music, just a pleasant hubbub of people enjoying their food.

So we settled into a corner near a window and after around ten minutes or so a waitress came over and introduced herself and took drinks orders.

By this point we were also ready to order food.

It was quite busy, but our order, two mains and two kids’ meals, was not huge, yet still it took almost half an hour for the food to arrive.

My two were kept busy with the colouring in pictures and crayons supplied but any longer, and we would have struggled to keep them still.

I went for a 10oz ribeye steak (£18.95) with a brandy peppercorn sauce, which came with chips, tomato and onion rings.

The steak, cooked well done, had the feel, and I may be wrong about this, that it had gone from freezer to grill plate and was scorched on the outside, a bit tough inside.

The sauce was okay, but the onion rings were fatty and not very oniony.

The chips were a real let down, not heavy and chunky, but light and crispy.

What was unforgiveable was the salad. There was no tomato, cucumber red onion, or dressing, just a handful of leaves tossed on and left under a heat lamp to go warm and limp.

Lis went for a Caesar salad, without the bacon lardons, which was served with a stone-baked garlic flatbread. (£8.25)

She quite enjoyed the salad - the Gran Moravia, cheese and anchovies were tasty - but the garlic bread, which was overdone, a bit burnt and crunchy, placed on top made the leaves wilt.

Hopes had been particularly high for the kids menu, £5 each with choices including bangers and mash, cod and chips, grilled chicken, and margherita pizza.

Finn, like his Dad, went for steak, to be served with new favourite food mashed potato, peas and gravy. Sadly, his five-year-old’s fussiness kicked in straight away when he saw the charred bits on the side and he would not even attempt it. We had asked for it to be ‘well done’, but inside it was very pink.

He would have had a conniption fit if he had seen the blood.

I ate it though. It was better than mine.

Tilda, six, fared little better with her steamed salmon, which she dismissed after a few mouthfuls because it was ‘slimy’. She did manage to fill up on the baby new potatoes.

For dessert, Finn, had a complaint-free ice cream, Lis was quite happy with her panna cotta with coffee (£4.50), and I went for the toffee and nut trio. (£6.75)

The bourbon pecan pie was gorgeous, sweet, nutty, and moreish, served with panna cotta and ice cream, although a little on the small side.

Service, although a little slow was very pleasant, and the staff, seemed to genuinely want to make people feel welcome. The décor and ambience was lovely.

Unfortunately, the experience was let down by the standard(isation) of the food.

Despite many plus points, I cannot see a return visit on the cards.


Church Mouse, Front Street, Waldridge, Chester-le-Street, DH2 3RJ

Tel: 0191-389-2628

Website: vintageinn.co.uk/restaurants/north-west/thechurchmousechesterlestreet

Opening times: Mon-Sat: 11am-11pm; Sun: 11am-10.30pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food 6, Service 8, Value 6, Surroundings 7