YOU wait months for a pub meal out, and in the manner of London buses (I'm told), two come along in one day.

Largely due to my complete inability to remember dates and times – a failing I blame entirely on the pandemic, not basic disorganisation – I arranged lunch at the Black Horse in Swainby on the same day as tea was booked at The King's Arms in Sandhutton, near Thirsk. Not so much a pub crawl, as a pub leap from one side of Hambleton to the other.

My Saturday of dining out brought me to two conclusions. One, I have really, really, missed pubs, and two, dining outside in April is not for the faint hearted.

I should make clear – I consider myself far from a weakling. As a hockey playing farmer's daughter from Yorkshire, I pride myself on saying things like "there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing" to other people. I've cycled through snow storms into a state of near-hypothermia, walked the Coast to Coast in early spring during days of solid rain and camped out on wild moor tops.

But, even in the glorious spring sunshine of recent weeks, I've found myself reaching for an extra layer or two if pausing outdoors for any reason. And so it was at the Black Horse in Swainby where, despite the midday sun, it still wasn't quite warm enough. I've gone soft.

Our party of three had booked for 12pm and declined the shady table reserved, opting instead for a sunnier spot, grateful for our request being accommodated so easily. Service was prompt, the food (two scampi and chips and one portion of chicken fajitas) well presented, tasty and piping hot. Our first drinks, pints of lager shandy, well earned after the walk up hill and down dale to get there, were truly delicious. I'm yet to be convinced of any greater luxury than a sunny beer-garden shandy after a hike.

Another walk, this time in a nearby bluebell wood, preceded round two, in an effort to work up an appetite. Our party/rule of six were booked into The King's Arms at Sandhutton for 6.30pm, and the pub's outside space was busy with diners and drinkers as we arrived, providing a cheery atmosphere that lasted throughout our meal.

The sun, however, had disappeared behind a vast cloud, and the temperature was dropping fast. Anticipating the cold, our group adopted various individual tactics to keep warm – big coats, scarves, some sort of wearable rug, and rum, were all employed.

The menu has been understandably scaled back from more normal times, but still offers plenty of choice. I went for Chilli con Carne, rice and nachos (£10.95), while others opted for battered haddock, mushy peas and chunky chips (£12.50), Tandoori chicken curry – the curry of the day – (£11), 8oz beef burger with bacon, cheese and onion rings, plus chunky chips and salad (£10.50 plus 50p for add ons) and fillet steak with pepper sauce, chunky chips and salad (£26) – sirloin had been requested but none was left, so fillet was ordered instead.

Tandoori chicken curry at The Kings Arms, Sandhutton

Tandoori chicken curry at The King's Arms, Sandhutton

All was beautifully presented and delivered quickly by the attentive staff, who were always on hand for extra drinks, queries or general chit-chat. My chilli was absolutely spot-on, and a reminder of just why eating out is so much better than eating in. The nachos were plenty cheesy enough, and the portion size was perfect for someone having their second pub meal in the space of seven hours.

Reviews of the other meals were equally glowing – both curry portions disappeared swiftly to great acclaim, and the haddock batter ("light and melted in the mouth") was declared the best tasted for some time.

Haddock and chips at The Kings Arms, Sandhutton

Haddock and chips at The King's Arms, Sandhutton

We didn't stick around for pudding (sadly) as by this point, our teeth were collectively chattering. Clearly, none of us had planned appropriate clothing, and that was entirely our fault, and not The King's Arms. If this is dining out in early 2021 then so be it – good company, brilliant service, and great food for an excellent price. Chilly or not, it's wonderful to be to share these experiences once again.

The King's Arms

Sandhutton, Thirsk, YO7 4RW

Telephone 01845 58788



Open Wednesday to Friday 4-8pm (food 5pm-7pm); Saturday 1pm-8pm (food 1pm-7pm); Sunday 12pm-8pm (food 12pm-3pm). Takeaways still available, and Wednesday nights are 'theme nights'

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 9 Atmosphere 9 Value 10