“ Bank Terrace, Thorpe Thewles, Stockton-on-Tees, TS21 3JW. Tel: (01740) 630 757 „
I always praise the North East for it's coastal/countryside juxtaposition, rich history and magnitude of activities available. The restaurants of the North East are no exception; instead of heading in to town to dine in expensive chain-restaurants which lack character and ambience, I prefer to go explore, uncover the hidden gems that are tucked away on winding country roads, in the wake of the high street, beyond the leisure complex. The Hamilton Russell Arms was one such find.
Situated off the A177, on the outskirts of Stockton-on-Tees, the Hamilton Russell Arms can be found in the tiny village of Thorpe Thewles. It is an unremarkable building, whitewashed walls and a tiled roof, no different to any pub you have been in before - it's what lies inside that is important. The pub has an interesting history which chronicalled in the interior pictorial decoration. The Hamilton Russell has a subtly lit interior with stoneflag flooring and dark wooden tables. The bar stands central and serves a vast range of wines, casket ales, spirits, etc. The layout is pretty simple, the restaurant surrounds the bar and there is a brightly lit decked area to the rear; perfect for lazy summer evenings or for those looking to escape the intimacy of the main restaurant.
I think the restaurant is best described as cosy - melting candles in wine bottle candle holders, rich and ornate decorations, fabrics, cushions and subtle music all create a romantic or intimate setting. Looking around in the restaurant you will see mainly couples, young and old as well as some families, and groups of friends. I have a favourite table which I normally select, it's in a tiny cubby hole and you really do feel like there's only you dining in the restaurant.
The menu is vast. They serve all kinds of British, Continental and World Wide delicacies - including Shark, Sunday Lunch, Venison, Egg n Chips, Veggie options, Seafood, Grill, etc. There is a children's menu (not just fish finger and chips - new things to try, healthy options, vegetarian and all of the usual kids favourites), a light bite menu and Chef's specials. The restaurant regularly has additional specials too, these are detailed on the various blackboards around the pub.
Recently I went to the Hamilton Russell and I went with a friend, it was the afternoon and we were after a quick bite to eat and a catch up. We arrived around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, as we didn't have a booking we had to wait around 10 minutes to be shown to a free table - it was super busy. The staff were friendly and served us quickly and efficiently, despite clearly being run off their feet! Once at our table, I ordered Pate to start and the Gammon for main. I had a refreshing Lime and Soda water to drink as I was driving. We were warned when we ordered the food from the bar that there was a 45 minute wait on food, but on a Saturday lunch time this is the norm - even at McDonalds(!).
By the time we had a brief catch up and ordered some water to accompany our meal our starters were served (within around 20 minutes). The Pate looked impeccable, neatly presented and served with a big smile. It consisted of Chicken and Brandy Pate, Granary Bread toasted with salted butter, and a distinctly flavoured mango chutney. The Pate itself was deliciously made, creamy and rich with a stiff texture; combined with the chutney it was like little flavour explosions in my mouth with each bite. It wasn't heavy or too filling and for a fiver, I think it was well worth the money; as are all of the items on the menu, reasonable priced and good value.
Our starters were cleared away promptly when we'd finished, but I didn't particularly feel rushed as I had finished my food. Our mains arrived within about another 15 minutes - again, a nice time to relax and chat, and let our starters settle. My Gammon was accompanied by Chunky Home Made Chips, Peas, Onion Rings, Mushroom and a fresh garden side salad. The portion size was good and it was well presented, was well cooked, hot and juicy - I know this is hardly the connoisseur method for taste testing, but I always think it's a good sign when meat from the grill doesn't get stuck in your teeth (how uncouth?) however it's so true. If it doesn't contain fatty sinews then it wont go in between your teeth and this shows its nice quality meat.
When we had finished (and unfastened our top buttons to accommodate the huge portions and delicious quality food), we sat relaxing for about another half an hour drinking freshly ground coffee, taking our total visit duration to approximately 1 hour 20 minutes; not bad considering we had 2 courses in a leisurely fashion on a busy Saturday lunch time.
This visit mirrors many I've made to the restaurant over the years (not always a wait on food / table!); I've always found the food to be well cooked, reasonably priced, good value for the money you pay, the atmosphere is always great and it is a perfect first date location; it offers such mouth-watering variation with friendly, happy to help staff and therefore it comes highly recommended by me.
Some important stuff to note: food is served Monday - Friday (12pm-9.30pm), Saturday (12pm-10pm perfect for late night dining) and Sunday (12pm-9pm). Booking can be made online and on the phone, but booking is NOT available after 6pm on a Saturday or between 12pm and 6pm on a Sunday - busiest times and it's a case of waiting for a table to become available, so get there early if you don't want to wait. The light bites menu is available Monday - Friday 12-4pm and Saturday 12-3pm.
The Hamilton Russell Arms