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Knitsley Farm Shop and Granary Cafe
10:00am Friday 6th July 2012 in Eating Out
ONE of the major changes to the region’s culinary landscape in the last decade or so has been the advent, and subsequent popularity, of the farm shop.
Nearly always with a café-cum-restaurant attached, at its best the farm shop offers a rural retreat from fast-paced life with homegrown or locally-sourced ingredients and a menu that prioritises freshness and seasonality over the fads of food fashion.
At its worst, it's an invitation to drink a cup of over-priced tea in a farmyard surrounded by tractors, hay bales and somewhat unpleasant smells.
If you're a regular visitor to the countryside, there's a fair chance you've experienced examples of both.
Thankfully, Knitsley Farm Shop and Granary Cafe, situated between Consett and Lanchester, falls firmly into the first camp.
When I visited earlier last month, the Olympic torch was about to pass through Consett on its way to Durham. Hence, I thought, the number of cars.
But no. Forget Olympic fever, this was a clamour for some Knitsley nourishment, so we start with a word of warning. The cafe isn't particularly big, although it does boast an extensive outdoor area, so on wet weekends (are there are any other kind in this country?) you might be faced with a wait. Rest assured though, it should be worth it.
The menu is more extensive than you might expect from a farm shop, embracing the usual favourites such as homemade soup, ploughman's lunches and a wide variety of salads, but also encompassing a freshly-made pie of the day, an appetite-whetting cold meat platter and half-a-dozen daily specials that featured things like fish and chips, farmyard chicken and mince and dumplings.
Before I could order though, there was something to take care of. I've recently become the father to a one-year-old girl (well when I say recently, it was about a year ago actually), and as anyone who has had kids of that age will know, eating out can be quite an experience.
You really need the cafe or restaurant to play along with you, and perhaps because farm shops tend to attract a family-heavy clientèle, the service at Knitsley was excellent.
From warming up the little un's dinner in the microwave to providing toys to keep her entertained in her high chair, the staff couldn't have done more to help. From that point onwards, they were always going to be on to a winner.
I ate with my mam and dad (when the wife is away, it's amazing how quickly you remember a need to visit your parents/babysitters), and went straight for the farmyard chicken off the specials board.
The chicken breast was fresh and succulent and came with a tasty sauce featuring sauteed mushrooms and melted cheese. There was also a large side salad and a bowl of thick, homemade chips. Perfect for £7.95.
My mam ate the same and was instantly impressed, while my dad went for the pie of the day option, which was steak and mushroom.
Rarely can so much steak have been crammed into a bowl. Tender and meaty, and served in a thick, perfectly-seasoned gravy, there were chips and vegetables on the side. And this came in a pound cheaper at £6.95.
There were six or seven options for dessert, all of which tempted. In the end, I went for chocolate pudding and chocolate sauce and was pleased I did.
Instantly evoking memories of school days – and if you sampled the offerings at Wolsingham Comp a couple of decades ago, you'll know that's a good thing – it was rich, moist and moreish. It was also a perfect accompaniment to the winter weather we've been experiencing in June.
My mam's Knitsley Mess was clearly meant for sunnier climes, but was well-executed nevertheless, while my dad's homemade Bakewell tart and custard was exactly like a homemade pudding should be.
The desserts were competitively priced at £3.95 apiece, so with three soft drinks, the overall bill came to just over £40, or less than £14 each. Given the quality of the food, that's quite a bargain.
Mind you, the owners probably know that's not going to be all they get out of you. In order to get back to the car park, you have to pass through the shop part of the enterprise. And if you make it back to your motor without succumbing to the lure of a Knitsley pork pie, you're a stronger person than I am.
Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8; Service 10; Surroundings 8; Value 10.