THERE is a convention to writing Durham Times restaurant reviews, in that they tend to follow a certain format.

Start with a little anecdote, perhaps a description of the journey to the venue, a little bit about the location, the ambience, followed by appraisal of starter, mains and dessert in that order, then maybe wind it all up with either an overview of the experience or a witty quip.

But we all know it’s the puddings that count, so let’s cut straight to the chase.

The sticky toffee pudding at The Punch Bowl in Edmundbyers is the greatest thing ever put on a plate in the history of mankind. No, really.

I have been in journalism for more than 20 years and am tolerably OK at my job, but I am lost for words to describe how good this sticky toffee pudding was.

No matter how good you may imagine it to be, you’re wrong. It’s better. It’s the best thing I have ever tasted in my life: it’s better than the two best things I have tasted in my life put together.

If you have any free time at all this weekend, go to the Punch Bowl and order the sticky toffee pudding. If you’re supposed to go to work, call in sick and go to the Punch Bowl instead.

I took the family on a Saturday evening to find the place pretty quiet, although we arrived just before the rush.

The Punch Bowl is a very pleasant village pub in a very pleasant village. It is set just off the quiet village green and makes the most of its countryside setting, perched on the edge of the Pennines, not far from the Derwent Reservoir.

There is a delightful little beer garden, with fish pond and fountain, home to countless birds and bees. It would have been improved if the beer barrels were screened off from sight, but nevertheless made for a very nice way to start the evening while the kids ran off steam without bothering other diners.

Inside, the Punch Bowl is a traditional country pub, but one making the most of its size to satisfy a variety of customers. It is split into three – a fairly spacious restaurant area, a large and busy bar and a lounge, which doubles as an arts and crafts gallery, and leads intriguingly to the village deli, a shop bolted on to the edge of the pub selling a variety of treats.

We chose the bar, all low ceilings and wooden beams, logs piled high in the grate. In the winter, I am sure it would be cosy, but at the height of summer it seemed a little on the dark side, verging on the dingy. It’s case wasn’t helped by the dark paintings on a variety of rustic themes adorning the walls, including a rather unnerving collage of shotgun cartridges, which is a pity because some of the artworks it had on sale in the lounge were surprisingly good and would perhaps have lifted the mood.

Nevertheless, it was spacious and comfortable enough and the restaurant and lounge were clearly a lot lighter.

Menus were written on a large blackboard fixed to the wall and orders placed at the bar. It would be doing the menu a huge disservice to describe it as pub grub, because there was a very wide and creative choice, but it was largely based on traditional dishes.

If we had one quibble, it was that a pub which boasted families welcome didn’t offer much choice for the children, other than a half portion at half price, which would have been fine if the options had not been so obviously adult-orientated. The only choice my eight-year-old daughter could find was chicken korma, served with rice and poppadom. I tried some and thought it delicious, but she found it a bit too spicy.

I went for the mince and dumplings (£8.50), which was excellent, a single superbly fluffy dumpling served in a sea of deliciously thick minced beef in gravy with carrot and onion, served in a simple square bowl with a side dish of boiled potato, shredded cabbage, cauliflower and carrots all of which were perfectly done.

My wife opted for the six-hour pot roast beef with mashed potato and caramelised onion (£10.95), which she pronounced very good.

My eldest and my mum both went for beef lasagne (£7.95), which was served with a simple but plentiful side salad and decent chunky chips. I pinched a forkful in the interests of journalism and was very impressed, nicely meaty and a good consistency rather than drowning in sauce.

And so to the aforementioned sticky toffee pudding (£4.95), which was indescribably magnificent: a tower of utterly mouth-watering sponge, topped with a succulent raspberry, a tangy blackberry and a liberal sprinkling of ripe blueberries, and concealing a thick, creamy, perfect toffee sauce. It came with a choice of cream, ice-cream or custard and it simply could not have been better.

The children had dessert as well, but by then I wasn’t really paying attention and couldn’t tell you what they had or whether it was any good – chocolate brownie I think and I’m sure they liked it but I can’t be sure.

It is hard to judge service, given orders are placed off a blackboard at the bar, but, the food came quickly enough and staff were very pleasant, but there was a mix up with the bill in which I was initially overcharged, although to be fair it was rectified very quickly.

The final bill including two rounds of drinks came to just under £55, which for three adults and two kids seemed pretty decent and worth a return visit.

By the way, did I mention the sticky toffee pudding? It really was rather good.

Food Facts

Edmundbyers, near Consett DH8 9NL

Tel: 01207 255545


Food served noon to 9pm Monday to Saturday and noon to 8.30pm on Sundays

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