IT is our favourite approach to the city, coming off the motorway at Bowburn and then down through wooded Shincliffe and Houghall. Yes, you are denied views of the cathedral but thanks to the valley of the River Wear, it is the greenest of routes which delivers the traveller almost to the heart of the city.

Because there's no suburban or commercial/industrial sprawl on this southern approach it makes the city seem much smaller than it is.

For years we have passed what has always looked like the prettiest of pubs beside the river and opposite Houghall – the Rose Tree Inn. The car park always seems full but whether that is because people use (abuse) it to leave their vehicles before taking a stroll along the river, we've never been sure. A visit was well overdue.

The evening fare at the Rose Tree was favourably reviewed here by a colleague in 2011; this time we would give the Sunday lunch offering a try.

The first thing that struck us on arrival was the way the staff were turned out. When did you last see a pub landlord wearing a tie? And the rest of Ken Harris' team were neatly attired in uniforms too. A small thing but it seems to shout: "We take this hospitality business seriously and we are here to serve you properly."

The Rose Tree is as pretty inside as it is out. The look is traditional but there are contemporary cream and eau de nil touches in the decor and it felt comfortable the moment we walked in. We had booked a table suspecting the Sunday lunch trade here could be busy (it was) and were shown to a window table in the restaurant with views over the beer garden which perhaps wasn't looking its best, having that end-of-winter-summer's-not-quite-here unkept look about it.

The menu looked fine though with four roasts (beef' lamb, pork and chicken), salmon, a steak and ale pie and a meat or vegetable lasagne. There was also a small specials board with a tagliatelle dish and a steak option.

Further signs that the Rose Tree takes Sunday lunch seriously came when we placed our order, with our waiter telling us the lamb and beef could be ordered pink-ish or well done. As well as this being fundamental to the proper enjoyment of roast meat, the choice suggests that real joints are being cooked in the kitchen as opposed to mass-catering type serving options.

From the five-strong list of starters (all £4.25), Sylvia chose grilled black pudding served with a little rocket and tomato salad with balsamic dressing. Perfectly serviceable rather than anything spectacular was the verdict.

My broccoli and Morden Blue cheese (from the Peacock Parlour Made dairy down the road near Sedgefield) soup from the specials board was stick-to-your-sides thick and well seasoned. Morden Blue is mild by blue cheese standards but there was perhaps a little too much of it in the mix – the broccoli definitely played second fiddle. It came with some fresh bread and the dreaded catering pack butter (a black mark there).

The roast meats, sourced from Country Valley at Hurworth, near Darlington, were very good. Sylvia had the lamb which she declared "very lamby" (the God of Restaurant Reviewers give me strength) but beyond that supremely helpful description was very tender and served slightly pink just as requested.

My pork loin was three, thick, well flavoured slices, a little on the dry side as loin often can be, but rescued by a excellent gravy and great crackling which I could have happily had more of, it was so good.

All the trimmings were top notch. Well cooked carrots, swede and broccoli, buttery smooth mashed potato, small but well crisped roast potatoes and light, fluffy, if a little under-seasoned Yorkshire puddings.

With apple crumble (£3.75) on the dessert menu there could only be one choice for Sylvia. It was huge, served with lots of custard and was pretty good. The apple filling was not too sweet and the floury crumble topping very thick. Sylvia thought a little less flour and some oats might have made it a bit lighter.

My strawberry pannacotta (£4.75) was very creamy and of thickness verging on the rubbery (too much gelatine?). But it ate well with the help of some fresh and macerated strawberries on top.

Service was good after a bit of a slow start. With a diet Coke and a well-conditioned pint of Black Sheep bitter the bill was £38.80 – fair value for a better than average Sunday pub lunch

The Rose Tree Inn, Low Road West, Shincliffe, Durham DH1 2LY
Tel: 0191 386 8512 Web:
Open for food: Monday to Saturday, noon-2.30pm and 5.30-9pm; Sunday, noon-6pm.
Disabled access
Limited vegetarian options

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