WELL publicised changes have been taking place at the South Causey Inn.

The stables of the equestrian centre are being replaced with new facilities to widen the venue’s appeal as a themed hotel, with one pretty unusual suite in particular.

The converted double decker London bus guests can stay in is certainly a focal point and adds a quirky charm, but does not seem entirely out of place, alongside the old stone building.

Work is clearly ongoing at the site, but it was shielded from the view of visitors when my partner Lis and I visited to eat on a chilly Saturday in June.

We were shown through to the restaurant and seated near a roaring log fire.

The main dining room is packed with features to grab your attention such as the giant globe, model ships, old fashioned firearms and it is hard to miss the metal rearing horse in the middle.

All of which, combined with the general hubbub of several parties of people enjoying the relaxed pleasant atmosphere, set the tone nicely.

To start, we decided to share a ten inch garlic bread (£6.25) and a warm beetroot and goat’s cheese salad (£5.95).

The garlic bread was more flat bread than pizza, very thin and light and just garlicky enough to tantalise the taste buds before the main event.

It also went very well with the salad, which came with mixed dressed leaves, cucumber and red onion.

The chunks of beetroot and goat’s cheese, fresh without being overpowering, were small and well balanced.

Our mains were served on plates roughly the same size as dustbin lids, which for my mixed grill (£20.95) was quite necessary.

As a butcher’s son and card carrying carnivore, it is hard not to get genuinely excited about the prospect of a smorgasbord of cooked meat cuts.

And this did not disappoint; as well as the thinnish piece of steak, there was a piece of pork, gammon, lamb chop, quarter pound burger, a slab of black pudding and two fat sausages.

I asked for a piece of chicken instead of liver, something fowl instead of offal, and got two small pieces of breast.

Served with two tasty onion rings, a grilled tomato and a basket of incredible chunky chips, and two perfectly cooked eggs, it looked like a man v food challenge.

It was all cooked to perfection, well done as requested, and each element of it tasted great, but alas, it was, I must confess, far too much for one sitting, for one day truth be told, and I was forced to ask for a doggy bag to stop it going in the bin.

Great things microwaves. Not a single mouthful was wasted. There are kids starving in Africa you know.

I digress.

Lis was not quite as impressed with her pan fried sea bass (£15.95), complaining the skin was a little too oily and not crispy as she likes it.

Her meal was served with crushed garlic new potatoes and a red pepper sauce, which she appeared to enjoy very much.

As we went during the day we stayed on soft drinks; I enjoyed a few pints of refreshing lager shandy, while Lis had a lime and soda and fruit juice.

Despite the generous portions we managed to save a little room for dessert.

Summer is here and I am a sucker for ice cream, so despite the wide range of appetising puddings I went for the trio of ice creams, choosing chocolate, mint chocolate and pistachio. (£5.95) No complaints here: thick, creamy and full of flavour.

Lis’s toffee apple crumble with custard (£6.25) was also pretty good, but the apple was quite chunky and it could have done with a bit more crumble.

Despite a couple of minor gripes, we enjoyed our meal immensely.

We were made to feel very welcome by a young and enthusiastic staff.

If they did not know something we asked, they went and found out.

It was very busy but all of orders were spot on and served with a slick professionalism.

Afterwards we enjoyed a walk around the grounds, seeing the chickens and pigs, and taking in the peace and tranquillity of the flower garden.

It really is a picturesque setting and full of charm.

Lounging on one of the two giant round outdoor sofas, I realised I was thinking about occasions in future when I might bring visitors here so they could enjoy good food in great surroundings too.

That says it all really.

FOOD FACTS

South Causey Inn, Beamish Burn Road, Stanley, County Durham, DH9 0LS

Tel: 01207-235-555

Web: www.southcausey.co.uk

Opening times: Monday to Saturday 12pm-9pm, Sunday 12pm-3pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food 9, Service 8, Surroundings 9, Value 7