RESTAURANT recommendations by family and friends count for a lot, I reckon, when choosing somewhere to eat out.

A hearty endorsement for an eatery can do wonders for its reputation and it gives groups of people something to talk about, the chance to enthuse about food or a special night they have had there.

This is how my parents and I ended up going to The Black Horse one Sunday for lunch.

My dad, a taxi driver, regularly chats to his customers about the places he has visited and they, in turn, share their favourites with him.

The Black Horse at Beamish was one that kept on coming up so, intrigued, we booked a table for a snowy day in January.

Dating back to the 1700s, it was built on the estate of Bobby Shafto, who was the area’s MP from 1760-68, and was rumoured to have become a gambling den due to its rural location, before becoming a licensed pub in 1850.

Today, it is owned by Robert Fountain, who has carried out extensive refurbishments.

On entering the bar area, it was easy to see why it is a popular venue, with roaring fires welcoming diners in from the cold.

The decor is rustic, yet modern and stylish with natural colouring and a calming pale green paintwork.

With friendly personable staff and a good selection of real ales, we settled near the fire for a drink before we ate.

Word has obviously got around because group after group poured through the door, smartly dressed couples and families making an occasion of their humble Sunday lunch.

We were shown to a spacious table in the conservatory dining room, which allows beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

To start, my mam went for the prawn cocktail (£6.95), which she found tasty, with plenty of prawns and a good marie rose sauce while dad went for the chicken liver parfait, which came with toast and a red onion marmalade. (£5.95)

‘Onion marmalade,’ he repeated three times, incredulously, like Peter Kay’s dad discovering garlic bread for the first time.

“Lovely that,” he finally concluded with a knowing smile, before deciding that although his parfait was enjoyable he did not believe it freshly made.

I fared a bit worse on the starters. In the haste of ordering, I failed to put two and two together to work out that ‘tempura black pudding’, meant ‘deep fried’.

Of course it did. The slab of batter-y fried pigs' blood on a bland salad of leaves, and cherry tomatoes (£5.95) did nothing for me. I was barely able to taste the black pudding and the best thing about the dish was the dressing, the only thing with flavour.

I am often put off going out for Sunday lunch as I find they can very mass produced and standardised, dished up with no real love.

And despite the attractively worded ‘lazy Sunday menu’, a wonderfully welcoming, helpful and efficient staff, and a fantastic venue, in superb surroundings, I found this no different.

Those impressive oversized Yorkshire puddings that are all the rage look fantastic but offer very little substance, and the meat, two lamb, one beef, (£10.95 and £9.95) was plentiful, tender and fine, but that was all it was, just fine.

The same is true of the veg, sadly. A boat of cabbage, carrots, peas, roasties, swede and what I think was supposed to be cauliflower cheese, but may be wrong, was presented to us.

There was enough, but, once again, it was just, well, okay. Certainly nothing to rave about.

There was real disappointment, however, in the ‘fat chips’ for my two-and-a-half year old son, which arrived undercooked and had far too much ‘bite’ in them.

There was a saving grace, though, when it came to desserts, (£4.95 each)

They were a real triumph and all perfectly presented.

My lemon drizzle cake with cream was gorgeous, soft and spongey and packed with flavour.

Dad’s sticky toffee pudding with ice cream was also perfect and Finn’s trio of ice cream scoops (£3.95) included chocolate, mint choc chip and pistachio, so all is not lost.

The Black Horse is clearly a well-established gem in the crown of the eateries of north Durham, and it is easy to see why, as it has a lot of charm, but I think the ‘tempura black pudding’ is ill judged.

Despite my misgivings about the formulaic nature of Sunday lunch, it has so much going for it I would like to go back to try to midweek menu one day.

The Black Horse, Red Row, Beamish, DH9 0RW
Tel: 01207 232569
Opening Times: Monday-Saturday:11am-11pm; Sunday: 12pm-9pm;
Serving Food: Monday-Saturday: 12pm-9pm; Sunday: 12pm-6pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food 7, Value 6, Service 9, Surroundings 9