By Katie Richardson

I HADN'T quite realised how hard it was to find a good pub since all the chains started popping up in recent years.

My normal expectations are the standard, same old, chain atmosphere, chain decor and worst of all – the chain microwave food.

Of course, most people would argue that you get what you pay for and for someone in their early twenties who decided to ‘live by the pen’, the chains are often the easiest and cheapest option.

So it was a relief when I walked into The Saxon Inn, in Escomb, near Bishop Auckland.

My first thought was how picturesque it looked as we pulled up directly outside.

I decided to take my mother, as I felt bad that my partner got to come with me last time, but I was immediately transported back to the good old days where the pub was the heart of the community.

As soon as I stepped in the door, I was hit with the warmth of the bar, and greeted by a couple of punters who were enjoying the early Saturday night TV on the big screen.

We were served our drinks by a friendly man, who I later found out was the owner, who also gave us our table number before directing us to the door for the restaurant area.

Once through the door, it was like going through the wardrobe to Narnia as the relative peace of the bar was contrasted by the existing party in the function room behind it.

We were led to our table by a friendly waitress – Margaret – in an additional room to the side which was actually quite quiet in comparison and already full with families enjoying tea out.

Although slightly dated, the decor and atmosphere were pleasant and there was plenty on the menu to choose from.

For starters I chose the West Country crab cakes while my mam went for the southern fried chicken fillet with sweet chilli dip (both £3.95).

Both came within good time and looked appetising, accompanied by a fresh salad, and the sweet chilli dip suited both flavours, especially the crab as it gave it the moisture it needed after being deep fried.

My mind was made up on mains as soon as I saw the full rack of BBQ pork ribs (£10.95), a dish I have never had in full before, but I wasn’t disappointed when it came out covered in the sticky barbecue sauce with plenty of vegetables on the side.

My mam went for the 8oz sirloin steak garni (£10.95), which arrived equally as large and covered in onion rings but it wasn’t until Margaret set down our chips that my mouth dropped open.

The serving dish alone was the size of my head and filled to the brim with homemade chips that were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside – ten times better than some oven chips I could name.

From start to finish it was clear that you can’t beat homemade pub grub - and that was before we looked at the dessert menu.

I should probably mention that the dessert menu was actually the first part of the menu both my mam and I perused.

Both having a sweet tooth, we can normally tell if we’re going to have a good meal based on the dessert options – I mean what you leave a special space for even though you’re already full to the brim, right?

Exactly! And I wasn’t disappointed when I saw a range of traditional favourites mixed with some never-before-seen options.

I was immediately drawn to the hanky panky chocolate cream pie (£3.95) as the name alone was enough to make my taste buds pay attention and with my mam’s love of white chocolate, she didn’t hesitate when it came to choosing the raspberry and white chocolate ice cream cake (£3.95).

Both came as sufficient slices – enough to satisfy the chocoholics in us – while mine had extra ice cream and mam’s was swimming in cream.

It’s safe to say we found room to fit it all in – and were slightly regretting it all the way home – but it was even more of a shock when we saw the bill, and just how cheap it was.

As we left, the previously quiet bar was heaving with punters all having a good time and as we edged out of the door, my mam pointed out that we had been there more than three hours so I think it’s safe to say, The Saxon Inn has well and truly restored my faith in pub grub.

It had all the charm of a village local with great food and service – something it probably never lost but that I had lost sight of by constantly relying on chains.

So hurray for this gem found in Escomb – go visit, you won’t be disappointed.

The Saxon Inn, 1 Saxon Green, Escomb, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7SY. Tel: 01388-662256 Email: saxonpaul@talktalk.net

Food served Monday to Saturday, noon to 2pm and 5.30pm to 8.30pm; Sunday, noon to 2pm and 6pm to 7.30pm.

Ratings (out of 10) Quality: 8 Surroundings: 8 Value: 8 Service: 9