Tucked away at the back of a garden centre lies one of the area’s best hidden, but obviously well known, secrets.
The Welbeck Restaurant, at Dukeries Garden Centre is a little hard to find, but well worth the trouble.
It’s a few years since my last visit, and yet I still had to ask for directions through the garden centre to find it.
Set slightly below ground level in the old Victorian peach houses, it’s full of exposed red brick and wooden beams, and well lit, thanks in chief to an abundance of glass with a conservatory style wing.
The theme of my visit was undoubtedly great service.
Explaining the day’s specials, dealing with requests, helping me connect to the free wifi – the staff were falling over themselves to serve.
It was almost as if they treat every customer as a secret shopper, or someone tipped them off that the Guardian were in town to do a review.
Or perhaps the staff are just lovely people.
From the range of drinks I chose first a cloudy apple juice (£2.75) in one of those fancy bottles you find in farm shops, and later I supped a creamy hot chocolate.
There’s a great choice for lunch, as explained with extreme patience to an elderly gent by one of the waitressess.
Jacket potatoes, paninis, sandwiches, pies, soup and full cooked meals are all offered.
My eye was caught by the specials board, boasting pan fried pork loin in a creamy dijon mustard sauce, served on a bed of basil crushed new potatoes and accompanied by the ‘veg of the day.’
From the range of drinks I chose first a cloudy apple juice (£2.75) in one of those fancy bottles you find in farm shops and nice cafes, and later I supped a creamy hot chocolate.
At £9.95 it was a little more pricey than most of the standard lunch fare, but justified its price.
Three good sized cuts of pork were all tender and lean, with little in the way of fat.
The sauce was superb, just tangy enough without being sharp, and very creamy.
A bed of crushed, crumbling potatoes was perfectly seasoned.
A side dish of fresh vegetables contained carrots and cabbage, the former the right side of crunchy and the latter crisp.
It was a challenging dish to conquer during a lunch break, but I battled manfully until staring at an empty plate.
Those with a sweet tooth are unlikely to escape without picking out something to finish off a meal.
They have a great selection of ice creams, tray baked goods and cakes, and it was a large slice of a chocolate cake that came back to the office with me – thanks to another helpful member of staff who agreed without hesitation to prepare it for the short travel back to Ryton Street.
Dark, rich and moist and with a sweet, sweet icing, it was the perfect afternoon treat and well priced at £2.95.
I had plenty of fellow diners, despite the dank wintry weather outside, who didn’t quite fill the venue but certainly gave it a bustling feel – and many of them were a little more mature than I, as perhaps you’d expect at a garden centre.
But youngsters are obviously welcome.
A children’s corner is stocked with books, toys and play mats.
And a baby station, complete with microwave, means tots can be catered for too.
It’s a rare and grand occasion when you can’t find a fault significant enough to deduct a single star – but once I’d eventually found Welbeck Restaurant, it delievered a flawless experience.
By Graham Smyth