IT'S a tricky time for the pub, that Great British institution, once the centre of the community and social hub of activity for so many areas.

Many factors are at work here and many landlords blame the smoking ban, introduced in 2007, and the availability of cheaper booze in supermarkets.

However, television cookery programmes have also turned us into a nation of foodies and this is something of lifeline for the struggling boozer.

Around the country, once dank smoky drinkers’ pubs are being given a lick of mellow paint, cupboards are being stocked with quirky ways to serve grub and tantalising menus are being drawn up.

The Belmont, formerly The Sportsman's Arms, is a case in point and following a refurbishment in February is now a fresh welcoming place and ideal for a midweek meal.

A pleasant light grey décor has replaced the traditional dark pub colours and one side is now a dedicated dining room with comfy chairs, steady wooden tables and a farmhouse feel.

Workmate Mark Summers and I ventured in on a busy Tuesday lunchtime to put its modest, but perfectly formed menu, through its paces.

To start, I chose the local black pudding with peppercorn sauce and a poached egg (£4.95).

Some people turn their nose up at black pudding and if it is grisly and fatty it can be pretty grim, but a quality piece, cooked right, can be wonderful. And that is what this piece was, swimming in a slightly too runny but enjoyable peppercorn sauce with an egg yolk that could have done with an extra 30 seconds to be fair.

Mark went for the creamy garlic mushrooms on toasted ciabatta (£4.95) and described his opener as: ‘nice and tasty, not overly garlicky. It could serve as a small meal in its own right'.

Moving on to the main course I had been looking forward to the barbecue beef ribs with chips and coleslaw, but was told they had been let down by their butcher that morning so it was off the menu.

Instead, I went for the tarragon and cider battered haddock (£8.95), a choice I did not regret.

I was presented with a good size triangular piece of fish, perfectly encased in a delightful light, tasty batter with incredible fat chunky chips and mushy peas, as well as a pot of coleslaw on the side - as I said, I had been looking forward to that.

This is fish and chips done well and when you think you would not be paying much less to take them away in a cardboard box the value seems incredible.

Mark opted for the 10oz rump steak (£12.95), which came served on a giant chopping board with a little faux cone of very chunky chips, mushrooms, onion rings, grilled tomato and coleslaw.

He found the steak a little chewy, but the accompaniments delicious.

It was, he said: “An ample meal that would challenge even bigger appetites than mine.”

We both left a few bits of our mains to make room for the dessert menu, having both spied a dish we were looking forward to.

Mine was the old reliable sticky toffee pudding, and tasty piece of sponge served with jugs of a moreish caramel sauce and creamy custard.

Mark had the apple and blackcurrant crumble with custard and also seemed suitable impressed by his choice.

Both desserts were priced £3.95 and the maintained the high standards set by the rest of the meal.

As well as offering terrific meals to the food crowd, The Belmont is still a pub for its regulars, with large screen televisions, a beer garden and smart seating.

I also noticed it serves coffee and cake for £2.95, meaning it is somewhere people can pop in for a mid-day catch up, without committing to a meal, and a kids’ menu makes it ideal for mums looking for somewhere to chat and feed the children at the same time.

It is a case of adapting to the market conditions and they seem to be ticking all the boxes to maximise the opportunity of a bristling trade. Good luck to them.

The Belmont, Moor End Terrace, Belmont, DH1 1BJ Tel: 0191-383-1103

Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: Noon-11pm; Fri-Sat: Noon-Midnight; Sun: Noon-11pm.

Meal Times: Mon-Fri: Noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9pm; Sat: Noon-9pm; Sun: Noon-4pm

Ratings (Out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 8 Value 9 Surroundings 8