The Snowy Owl
It's that time of year again when Mrs Eats decides we have to stock up with lots of expensive plants for the back garden only for yours truly to later kill them off through lack of care and attention.
So it was that we found ourselves heading towards one of her favourite garden centres, at which I would no doubts be expected to feign interest.
I consoled myself with the thought that at least we had a bite to eat to look forward to en route, a condition I naturally insisted upon.
We were approaching Cramlington in Nothumberland as my tummy began to rumble and I pleaded with my green-fingered passenger to be allowed to pull over for a pit stop.
And that, dear readers, is how we found ourselves at the Snowy Owl, a pub which, without wishing to sound too harsh, put me in mind of many other establishments. That might just be my memory playing tricks, though, as it's only a couple of years since the Eatsmobile last pulled up outside it.
The Snowy Owl is part of Mitchells and Butlers' Vintage Inns chain but on the evidence of this visit, at least, there wasn't much vintage about it.
The interior is almost a carbon copy of lots of other pubs around the region with its stone feature fireplace, low-beamed ceiling, terracotta-tiled floors and large menu blackboard . . . not that lack of originality is any great crime.
After all, if pubs stopped served roast beef on a Sunday on the grounds that lots of other boozers have been doing it for years, where would we be?
The Snowy Owl's service routine is also one I've come across before. Upon ordering your meal you're handed a large wooden spoon with a number painted on it, which you then plonk into an empty wine bottle on your table.
Mrs E thinks this is a great idea because it saves the embarrassment of me ordering food only to discover I've forgotten the table number and thereby holding up others waiting to be served.
I'm not hugely keen on wandering through a busy pub clutching a large painted kitchen utensil . . . but maybe I'm being picky. Trad- itional Sunday options on offer included roast beef or turkey, both priced at £6.95.
Mrs E and I were feeling a little more adventurous this time round, however, so I opted for baked chorizo chicken and She Who Must Be Fed went for char-grilled rump steak, both priced at £7.50. My dish came with goats' cheese and what was described on the menu as a rich Mediterranean sauce but which was, in fact, disappointingly bland.
The chorizo sausage tasted more like a tame pink salami than the spicy, meaty varieties you get from Spanish markets or almost anywhere else, for that matter.
Mrs E said her steak was a little on the chewy side but otherwise fine. She was less impressed, though, with the accompanying button mushrooms as they appeared to have been deep fried and they spilled out oil when she cut into them.
There was no shortage of food as both meals came with a generous portion of chips, so my battery felt suitably recharged as we headed off to face the rigours of the garden centre, but I can't say I was overly impressed with the quality.
Could the pudding menu save the day, I wondered?
There was certainly a good variety to choose from and all of them priced at under £4.
After much thought - interrupted by Mrs E, who insisted I choose something she could have a taste of - I went for vanilla cheesecake.
I won't kid myself that the cheesecake was lovingly made on the premises, though for all I know it may have been, but it didn't disappoint.
In fact, I resented the large chunk Mrs E helped herself to all the way to that bleeding garden centre!