FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Black Bull in Etal, Northumberland



Time and Place
Dinner, Black Bull at Etal, Friday March 23

Who Was There
Retired farmer, fashion journalist, joiner, Berwick Rambler, freeelance writer, quilter, editor/columnist

Rural crime, wine and the difficulty in getting a licence to sell novelty gifts containing alcohol. And whether or not the Black Bull, in its latest incarnation, will make it.

Whether or not knitting is a dying hobby, whether local eateries ‘dumb down’ to their clientele.

Brexit, Trump, Newcastle United. Particularly Brexit.

So-so. Set prices for two or three courses came out quite pricey when undertaker, fashionista and editor ordered steaks on special (steak and glass of wine, £20 apiece). All of the above opted for recommended-but-uninspiring starters of cold meats and flatbread with olives which were embarrassingly slow to appear. Steaks were ‘nothing to write home about’ said the writer, and the joiner complained the pepper sauce was watery (and came with an unannounced charge on the bill). The lamb (unlike many of the offerings, especially bread, beer, goat’s cheese and sausages, it was not obviously locally sourced) was judged ‘very good’ by the farmer, who should know. Five diners had puddings (a disappointing tiramisu, given a particular thumbs-down, and a not-very-coconutty coconut panacotta). A general feeling, first voiced by the chicken-eating quilter, was that the mains suffered from a lack of vegetables other than potato while the rambler felt her pork belly would have benefited from a layer of crackling. The bill for six two-course and one three-course meals with three bottles of wine, six pints of beer, two coffees and a standard tip came to £280, or £40 a head. Which seemed expensive for what we had.

Hung jury. Café-modern interior rather lets down the thatched and whitewashed exterior, further ruined by an unnecessarily-added slate-roof porch but the shiny-floored austerity was enlivened by a decent turn-out of locals keen to try the Bull’s ‘exclusive’ Black Bull EtAle, a dark and enjoyable bitter made specially by the Ford and Etal estate’s resident Cheviot Brewery and – luckily for us – launched that evening.

Saving grace. Cheerful and eager to please. Pleasant if occasionally lackadaisical attention from kitchen to bar. The restaurant manager and waiting staff were never far away and the chef found time to visit each of two large-ish tables.

Early days. 4/10 seems reasonable for a gastro-pub that still has plenty to prove but appears determined to make it.

Call 01890 820200.


  1. Your experience sounds pretty dismal, but it is clear you are trying to be honest but positive about the event.

  2. I visited the Black Bull a couple of weeks ago. The food was excellent, both my dinning companion and I felt that for two courses each plus one malt and a medium glass of wine the bill at just under £40 for two was good value for the quality of the food. Pub grub it was not, pile it high it was not, but it was far above the usual offerings found locally. We have by the way booked again next week”


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