REPUTATION is everything in the restaurant industry and the bosses of The Royal George, Old Shotton, in Peterlee, have had to pull out all the stops to turn this establishment around.

On their website they say it is the start of a new era for the pub, which the Leamside Ale Company bought as an almost derelict building last year and reopened a few months ago after extensive work.

As a Peterlee resident and former bar-person, I can say it was always known as the kind of place where men gathered and no one below the age of 50 dared to venture for fear they would never come out again.

So when I heard it had been renovated I was keen to find out if it was the new gem in town everyone said it was.

I decided to take my partner, Ali, who, as a 6ft 5in Scotsman, I can safely say likes his food as much as I do.

We arrived 15 minutes late as my hair was not playing fair that evening, but when I called to warn them the lady on the phone was lovely about it so it wasn’t a problem when we arrived at 7.45pm on a busy Saturday night.

First impressions were good. We walked into a bright and warm restaurant which was modern and welcoming and I was glad I’d made a reservation as it was packed with large parties and families getting together.

That said, we were given a four-place table which was a little too close to the kitchen and the servers’ table meaning we could hardly hear each other with the constant clatter of cutlery and waitresses gossiping.

However, the menu was impressive and I was pleased to see a good range of dishes and a specials menu.

We sipped house rose while we decided although it was a bit inconvenient to have to choose both our starters and mains at the same time – especially when the waitress, who never introduced herself, didn’t know the difference between the normal and special steak.

My mind was made up when I saw the pulled ham hock, homemade pease pudding and wholemeal toast (£5.95) as I have never seen this on a restaurant menu and was not disappointed.

Ali also chose something unusual in the open duck lasagne (£5.95), which he said was just right and could easily have made a satisfying main if it had been a bigger portion.

We both opted for steak-based dishes for our mains. I chose the pan-seared hanger steak, with asparagus, mash and peppercorn sauce (£11.95), while Ali went all out for the Royal George mixed grill with tomato, mushrooms, onion rings and chips (£17.95), the most expensive item on the menu.

Both dishes had clearly been cooked from scratch and there was plenty of meat on both but as I heartily chomped my way through my mouth-watering steak I found what every reviewer dreads – a hair!

I didn’t know if it was a good or a bad thing that I had made my way through 90 per cent of the dish before finding the strand swimming in my peppercorn sauce but I had to give it to the restaurant for the way they handled it as the whole dish was excluded from the bill and a genuine apology given.

It also takes more than a hair to put me off the dessert menu, so after putting it to the back of my mind we both pondered over the list to see what could fill that emergency pudding space.

I was disappointed there was nothing for the chocoholic in me, but enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding (£4.50) which came dowsed in butterscotch sauce and had to be finished by Ali.

Saying that, I was also impressed with Ali’s millionaire shortbread (£3.95), which was clearly homemade and a good portion – I had to get my spoon in there quick before it was gone. It was just at the right temperature and didn’t shoot off your plate when you tried to eat it with a spoon.

So pud saved the day on this one and although I had to go to the bar to pay the bill and couldn’t get a receipt because their card machine ran out of paper, I think it’s safe to say they achieved their main objective of turning this once old men’s boozer into a classy restaurant/bar that I would visit again.

The Royal George, Old Shotton Village, Peterlee, SR8 2 ND. Tel: 0191 586 6500

Opening times: Food served every day from noon until 9pm. Bar opens at 11am with last orders at 11pm except on Friday and Saturday when it is midnight.

Ratings (out of ten) Food quality: 7 Surroundings: 8 Value: 7 Service: 6