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The Church Mouse (Durham)

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Address: Waldridge / Chester-le-Street / DH2 3SL / Tel: 0191 389 2628

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      03.06.2011 11:28
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      well situated and looks good but service could be better

      The Church Mouse is a country pub and restaurant in Chester-Le-Street, on the A167 road between Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Durham. It's a decent sized building, part of the Vintage Inn chain, in turn owned by the Mitchell and Butler brand who also own Toby Carvery, Sizzling Pubs, Harvester and several more. (I find it a bit dispiriting when I wonder who owns a pub to discover that nor only is it owned by a chain, but that the chain is a small part of an even more massive chain). Adjacent to the Inn is a Travelodge hotel.

      It's a good looking pub, inside and out. There's a well sized car park and disabled access. The style is traditional; lots of wood and exposed brickwork, country scenes on the walls, an open fireplace. There are a few separate areas with partitions which create a snug and cosy atmosphere in what is really quite a large pub. They have a selection of 'cask conditioned' or 'real ales' available. There's a beer garden too.

      My most recent visit was on a weekday lunchtime during school holidays, along with a friend, and small boy and small girl both aged three. We searched out a partitioned off corner where the children would be least likely to disturb other customers and sat ourselves down. It wasn't very busy.


      ~Menu and Meals~

      There were a few menus to choose from. The fixed price menu also has lunch and light bites on and is available Monday to Saturday until 5pm. The main menu is more expensive, but has more choice, although only one vegetarian option, (risotto), and a 'best of the season' selection. There's also a separate children's menu and a small specials menu.

      The children's menu is basically a few dishes from the main menu available in smaller portions. It's not the average children's menu and I can see why some people would like this, but most children get used to things like fish fingers and chips when they eat out anywhere and I struggled to find something I could be sure my daughter would eat. She likes pasta but as I didn't recognise the type of pasta on the menu, (strozzapretti, it's like long twists), I couldn't be certain she'd eat it. Whilst older children might appreciate a portion of seabass fillet or rump steak, I'd hazard a guess these aren't meals most three year olds would be familiar with and meals out aren't the time to try little ones with unfamiliar foods unless you're happy to pay for a plateful of uneaten food. The one straightforward meal on this menu was the sausage and mash, so we ordered two for the children.

      My friend and I both chose dishes from the Fixed Price menu. The mains on this menu are £6 with the addition of any starter or dessert for another £2. I had the Warm Marinated Halloumi Salad, (tossed with cous cous, broad beans, asparagus, roasted beetroot and leaves), and my friend chose the Tomato Strozzapreti, (egg pasta tossed with peppers, roasted mushrooms, baby spinach and a tomato garlic sauce, served with fresh basil).

      On the whole I enjoyed my meal. It's not often I eat halloumi and I'm not sure if there's a right way for it to be prepared, in this case it was browned, chewy and tasty. The one qualm I did have was that there were red chillies in the salad which I hadn't expected, this led to some hot mouthfuls. I didn't mind but I imagine for some that would be an unpleasant surprise, particularly if they ate a piece such as the one I put to the side which still had the seeds in.

      My friends reaction to her pasta was lukewarm, nice enough but a bit soggy. The children polished off their meals. In a surprising move my daughter also ate all her mashed potato, but as she finished the sausage her face suddenly turned bright red and she started to cry and spit, saying that she had a nasty taste. She made a huge fuss and was genuinely distressed, my assumption is that there was something hot or spicy in it, maybe a bit of black pepper, as she doesn't like that, but I don't know what it was - the rest of the meal and the other child's meal had been eaten without incident.

      For afters the children had what seems to be the standard cheap tasting ice cream which cost £1 per scoop. I chose the Warm Grilled Pineapple which came served with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce. The ice cream mixed with toffee sauce was lovely, warm and sweet which is good enough for me, but there wasn't much pineapple - and as it was still in the skin I ended up using a knife, fork and spoon in order to eat everything.

      The toilets were checked out - large, nicely decorated and well maintained. For two mains and a sweet, two children's meals with a scoop of ice cream each, plus three glasses of cola and 2 of cordial, our bill came to £34.10.


      ~Service~

      Meals are ordered at the bar, with the sweets ordered later at the table. The table waitress was quite young and seemed inexperienced, she brought us the wrong meal, but quickly apologised and returned with the correct one. It wasn't really a problem, especially as she was quite pleasant, smiley and polite. It was a staff member at the bar who wasn't so nice.

      When we went to pay there was a small but slow moving queue. Admittedly, the children were over excited, and, being three, not good at queues, they were doing bunny hops and laughing, and although we asked them to calm down I wouldn't say they were being especially badly behaved, (just being three). The woman behind the bar was flashing filthy looks our way and we decided that my friend would return to the car with the children while I paid. Before they left though, my daughter accidentally bumped into a large freestanding blackboard and knocked it over. I picked it up, set everything to rights, and apologised profusely to the man who had been sat at the table nearest to it, (he just laughed and was nice about it). It was my friend who noticed that no-one asked if my little girl had been hurt, the member of staff merely looked like she wanted to kill us all. Maybe she was just having a bad day, but for a pub that specifically suggests 'bring the kids' on the website, provides high chairs and has a children's menu, I didn't feel that the children were in fact at all welcome and the experience has left me uninclined to return, with or without them.

      Since having my daughter I've realised how much the idea of children in eating establishments seem to be a real issue for a lot of people. I don't understand why so many adults seem to think they should be kept out of sight, anyone would think they are not a part of society. Of course there are some establishments that aren't suitable for children, but in general children won't learn how to behave in restaurants unless they eat in them. My daughter has been taken out for meals from a very young age, and usually behaves very well, maybe because she is used to it. It's one of her favourite things to do and as a responsible parent and paying customer I am both astounded and saddened by some of the attitudes I encounter. I appreciate not all parents and children are necessarily well behaved but then neither are all adults. I felt totally censured in that pub, the staff were really unhelpful, rather than glaring at the children, perhaps it would have been appropriate for someone to offer assistance when the board got knocked over and to ask if the child concerned was alright.

      Although there is plenty of choice on the Church Mouse menu, the meals we chose were only adequate, hopefully more care is taken over the evening meals. Tables can be booked online, I have no idea how busy it gets in the evenings as I have only ever visited during the day. The Church Mouse is well positioned to attract custom, it looks good and has reasonable prices but on our last visit the staff lacked the warmth to make it a welcoming experience.


      Address: Waldridge, Chester-le-Street, DH2 3SL
      Telephone: 0191 389 2628
      Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 12pm to 11pm, Sundays 12pm to 10.30pm.
      www.vintageinn.co.uk/thechurchmousechesterlestreet

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