YAAAAAAAY! Eating Out is back.

No more hanging around the back doors of pubs. No more slopping food out of plastic trays on to plates. No more reheating in the oven. No more looking at the same four walls. No more Eating In.

Going out properly. Making a bit of an effort over one’s appearance. Being served at the table. Not having to clear dishes and stack in the dishwasher (I know, it’s a hard life).

As I suggested we would a fortnight ago after it was announced that pubs and restaurants could at last re-open, we hit the ground running as July 4th arrived.

With six establishments lined up to visit in the first ten days which would be the first one?

Having decided that we would give Independence Day miss on the grounds that it all might be just a bit too busy with a touch of Saturday night fever thrown in, we decided Sunday lunch was the best option for the first dip of our eager toes in the waiting sea of hospitality.

But it had to be good. No leaps into the unknown. It had to be some place where we’d feel confident of having a good experience, a place run by professionals who would remember what it was required to serve customers even in the anything-but-normal circumstances of Covid-19.

So we went to the Durham Ox at Crayke, near Easingwold, a bit of a schlep from home but it was sunny and the roads were almost traffic-free. Clearly, a good number of people are not confident to get out and about with abandon just yet.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The Ox wasn’t full but plenty of tables were taken. It helps that, despite its olde-worlde ambience, this pub is naturally spacious and social distancing was achieved by the strategic seating of giant brown teddy bears at tables deemed a little too close for one-metre-plus regulatory comfort.

Of course there was no hanging round the bar for a pre-prandial snifter so it was straight to the table where we were presented with menus and cutlery/napery for a bit of DIY place setting.

And apart from the waiting staff being mostly masked that was really as strange as it got. For the most part it felt pretty much like it had the last time we ate out back in March. If this is the new Normal, I think we can live with it.

Some things don’t change – like the quality of the fish served at the Ox. With a name like that it ought to be famous for the quality of its meat and while its bovine treats are not half bad (more of which later) its fish is always superb.

Sourced from most local top-notch restaurateur’s favourite and peerless fishy friend – Hodgsons of Hartlepool – our starters were bang on the money.

My calamari (£6.95) were handsome crispy squid slices of a really good size – think curtain rings rather than tap washers – accompanied by a deeply aromatic and richly smooth saffron aioli for indulgent dippage.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Sylvia’s baked Queen scallops were handsome too, regal even, and at £12 they had to be. Classically presented in two shells, they plumply and sweetly swam in a garlic and parsley butter with a cheddar and gruyere crust which having been baked into the ridges of the scallop shells was quite irresistibly sticky. Prizing the last cheesy morsel out was a happy challenge.

The good times continued to roll with our main courses – 30-day-aged roast sirloin (£17) for me and garlic and rosemary roast chicken (£15) for Sylvia.

The beef was cooked, as announced on the menu, medium rare. Well done beef was available “on request” which is how it should be in my book. Pink beef as the default setting just seems the right way round to me.

And it was beautiful. Sliced quite thickly and with a rich gravy and bowling-ball-sized Yorkshire pudding, it was melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Sylvia’s supreme of chicken was succulent, plump and moist and served with a herby gravy and Yorkshire pudding and stuffing – the latter wrapped in pastry crust which Sylvia found just a little too rich.

All the veg – mange tout, broccoli, greens, mashed swede and cauliflower in a lightly-cheesey bechamel sauce – were faultless. The roast potatoes had that crunchiness which only seems to come from a roasting oven in an Aga which certainly isn’t likely in a commercial kitchen but that was the effect.

I was left to plough my usual lonely furrow with pud – an astonishingly light Bakewell tart (£7) with vanilla crème patissiere and dark cherry ice cream for some welcome, sharp, piquancy.

With a medium-ranking zesty Picpoul (£26.95) from the wine list and ten per cent discretionary service charge, this was a pricey Sunday lunch at £93 but nevertheless impeccably presented and served. Was it worth it? Every. Single. Penny. It’s so good to be out again.

The Durham Ox

Westway, Crayke, York YO61 4TE

Tel: 01347 821506 Web: thedurhamox.com

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10 Service and social distancing 9 Surroundings: 9 Value 10