WHEN it comes to eating out, the quality of the food is not the only aspect you have to take into consideration.

For me the warmth of the welcome in a venue that you are more than likely a stranger to is high up on my list.

That became incredibly apparent when we visited the Stainton Inn near Middlesbrough recently.

Located in a village close to Hemlington, the imposing, red brick building dates back as far as 1897, if the inscription on the outside is to be believed.

Stepping inside, we encountered a band just setting up for the night. Long hair, electric guitars, it was clear we were not in for a quiet night out. But more of that later.

Having booked in advance we were shown through the bar and into the dining room.

Neatly laid out and looking as if it had been recently updated, it offered a pleasant, well lit area in which to eat. Pine tables and cream walls were complimented with high-backed leather chairs and brickwork was exposed to add to the overall character.

Aside from one small party of people sat around a corner in a raised area of the restaurant, we were the only diners. It was nice to be able to talk, don't get me wrong, but it was lacking a little in atmosphere.

As we ordered our drinks, the band struck up - heavy rock riffs reverberating through the entire pub.

I motioned the barman over.

"Would you like the door shutting?" he said, trying to preempt my inquiry.

"No, not at all, I wanted to ask if we could go and sit in the bar and listen to the band?" I replied.

Somewhat surprised, he said it wasn't a problem and we moved next door.

Immediately, we felt part of proceedings.

The band - Unspoken - were in full swing and there was a healthy crowd in the bar, enjoying drinks and chatting enthusiastically.

This was what we had been looking for.

Our starters were brought to the table - I went for Black Pudding with poached eggs, while my wife opted for the deep fried deep fried Camembert. Both were plentiful to the point were they might have been considered excessive by some.

However, as we had worked up an appetite over the course of the day, both were consumed with gusto.

My wife could not fault her dish, but I thought the wedges could have been a little smaller in their construction.

Now well into their set, we nodded away to the band while awaiting our main courses.

I quite fancied the rack of lamb with fondant potato, while my other half went for chicken fajitas.

Visually, both dishes were somewhat of a disappointment. Unlike the entertainment, they looked dull and drab.

The darkness of the lamb you could excuse - I'd personally have preferred it slightly more pink - but the fajitas should scream colour and variety. They didn't.

"The sauce was very rich and dark - almost black," my wife commented afterwards. "So you lost the lovely colour of the peppers and onions. It was a mass of black on the sizzling plate."

In fairness, while they may not have looked as appetising as we might have hoped they did taste fine and we pretty much polished off our plates.

I even managed to find room for some hot chocolate fudge cake to follow.

Dinner out of the way, we decided to join the throng for what proved to be the real highlight of the night.

Though hardly interlopers - we only live a couple of miles down the road - we were nevertheless strangers to those around us, but we couldn't have felt more welcome.

The lads and lass behind the bar were happy to chat and the locals were a real friendly bunch, extolling the best virtues of living on Teesside.

Add to that, the fine music on offer from Unspoken and it made for a rather memorable night, even if the same couldn't be said for the food.


The Stainton Inn, 2-4 Meldyke Lane, Middlesbrough, TS8 9AZ

Tel: 01642 599902

Facebook: facebook.com/The-Stainton-Inn-and-Tea-Rooms

Ratings (out of ten): Food Quality 6, Service 8, Surroundings 9, Value 7