THERE once was a time, in the dim and distant past, when you could turn up of an evening at a country pub unannounced, huddle around a blazing fire while studying the menu and then give your order to a waiter who would write it down and toddle off to the kitchen so that the magic could begin.

This review begins at 7am with me in my pyjamas, scrolling through Facebook while still in bed, looking at the takeaway menus of local establishments.

Someone at the Black Horse at Ingleton was already awake at that hour, and messaged back, saying there were a couple of slots available and asking for my order.

Although Ingleton is in the heart of the south Durham countryside, north of Gainford and east of Staindrop, the Black Horse’s menu is unashamedly Italian. There are five pasta dishes and 16 pizzas, plus three meat dishes and one fish dish.

Predictive text took over as I tapped in my order: linguine was corrected to lingerie and petto di pollo was changed to pants di pollo – chicken in underwear may be a pleasant update on chicken in a basket (or basque), but lingerie in a creamy, tomatoey sauce does little for me.

I was so busy trying to ensure that I didn’t come across as some sort of nether garment fetishist that I got my wife’s order wrong. There were only two vegetarian options on the menu – perhaps because of the simplicity of grilled meat takeaways, vegetarian choice across the board seems to have narrowed during the pandemic – and I ordered the pizza rather than the pasta that she wanted.

It was a disappointing mistake because I bet she’d look truly ravioli in a vegetariana lingerie.

That evening, we drove to collect through the outskirts and villages of Darlington. We passed four dark pubs and hotels that have been closed by the virus. Will they ever reopen?

The Black Horse has adapted to the new normal. On the outside, the first of five canopies has gone up. It will be fitted with patio heaters for the brave souls who try alfresco dining when it is allowed on April 12.

The transaction was completed outside the pub. The food was placed in the car while I struggled to see due to the strong wind as I tapped in my pin number.

Through my tears, I noticed a car with an Italian numberplate, which was an added touch of authenticity.

Back in my car, I found my son, Theo, in absolute delight sniffing in great lungfuls of the aroma of garlic. It filled the car with its warm gorgeousness, completely overpowering the weak waft of blueberry that Nissan put in the aircon at the last service.

The Black Horse offers four starters but we had begun with two types of garlic bread, including one topped with cheese and tomato (£5). The round bread was wafer thin and would have tasted fantastic if we’d consumed it the moment it was placed hot and steaming in the car, but it had cooled a little on the drive home.

The pizzas, warmed by our hot plate, had travelled better, and were nicely homemade with scorchmarks for more authenticity. The vegetariana (£8.50) was topped with courgette, mushrooms, peppers and onions and was deemed an acceptable substitute for the hoped-for pasta.

Pizza vegetariana for £8.50

Pizza vegetariana for £8.50

My linguine mare e monti (£12) was a cardboard box full of pasta in creamy, tomatoey sauce, with four king prawns and some really soft strips of beef. It was a satisfying-sized portion, and Genevieve, my daughter, also enjoyed her linguine con pollo e salisiccia (£10) – it had a more robust tomatoey sauce to fit with the chilli and the chorizo.

Probably the star of the show was grandma’s petto di pollo al funghi (£13), which was a nicely cooked chicken breast in a fabulous creamy and mushroomy sauce with excellently meaty mushrooms. It was accompanied by a little box of various Mediterranean vegetables.

Petto di pollo al funghi, with Mediterranean vegetables

Petto di pollo al funghi, with Mediterranean vegetables

Each dessert was £5 – and for the first time in our lockdown culinary adventures, the Black Horse was brave enough to serve ice cream. The two scoops in a plastic pot were only a little soft after the 12 mile journey and had firmed up perfectly in the freezer by the time we got to them.

The sticky toffee pudding and the chocolate fudge cake, both microwaved, were fine and worked well with the ice cream; grandma – who always says she doesn’t want a dessert because they are always too sweet – enjoyed her lemon meringue pie because it wasn’t too sweet, and I was happy with the creamy tiramisu, although perhaps there could have been a little more sponge.

Most of our food came in cardboard boxes which are, in theory, recyclable, although perhaps not the lower halves that have become covered in sauce.

While we have just about forgotten the days when you could turn up at a country pub when you liked, this meal – certainly the linguine and the pollo – was a reminder of why we like to dine out. Even though they had travelled 12 miles in a Qashqai footwell, there were a couple of really well judged sauces and some great ingredients. Perhaps even enough to get your lingerie in a twist over…

The Black Horse

Ingleton, County Durham DL2 3HS

Tel: 01325-730374

Facebook: blackhorseingleton

Takeaways Wednesdays to Saturdays from 5pm, and Sunday lunch, 12pm to 4pm. Will deliver

Food quality: 7

Covid security: 10

Recyclability of packaging: 7

Value for money: 8