Dining like Kings

Michael McGeary reviews dinner at The King’s Arms in Great Stainton, on the outskirts of Stockton – where award-winning chef Paul Bussey is cooking up his signature dishes…

Although finding the King’s Arms proved to be something of a challenge, we eventually discovered a gastropub that definitely deserves its place on the North East’s food map.

It didn’t help that my wife and I headed for neighbouring Bishopton instead of Great Stainton, but even though this made us slightly late, we were soon put at ease by the warmth of the welcome on offer.

Head chef Paul Bussey and his wife, restaurant manager Ycheng, opened their new venture this summer with impressive international CVs behind them, including stints at Gordon Ramsay’s Dubai location and London’s iconic The Ivy.

We arrived hungry and one look at the menu had our mouths watering. I opted to start with the seared North Sea scallops accompanied by black pudding, pancetta and apple vinaigrette and pea puree (£10.50). The intense sweetness of the apple lifted the whole dish, which was cooked to perfection.

My wife selected the Whitby dressed crab with fennel, apple and radish salad and brown crab mayonnaise (£10.50) – if there’s crab on the menu, she’ll never choose anything else. It was delicious, but she felt the brown crab was so good that she would have preferred a little more of it.

Ycheng reeled me in with her recommendation for one of the night’s specials, light-caught John Dory with a prawn and mussel bouillabaisse and octopus tempura (£23), and just as she promised, it was truly superb.

My wife deliberated for some time between her favoured saddle of lamb and the locally shot venison with wilted rainbow chard, chanterelle mushrooms, Medjool dates and honey-roast black fig (£21).

Having plumped for the venison, she was then dismayed to hear a neighbouring diner report that the lamb was the best he had ever tasted. However, once her own meal arrived, any remaining disappointment vanished. She was presented with a feast of perfectly cooked, medium rare medallions of venison that melted in her mouth.
Pudding rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable evening in tasteful, understated surroundings. For me, a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake with raspberry ripple ice cream, while my wife selected an almond and apple tarte Tatin with almond ice cream.

We were asked to wait patiently while the tarte Tatin was cooked to order. Although it completely delivered on flavour, the portion size was more than generous and could have satisfied both of us!

We finished the evening with the best Railtown coffee and vowed to come back to try some of the other dishes on offer– with the King’s Arms classic fish pie with parmesan crust and shellfish cream looking to be an especially attractive offering from a chef who clearly has such a flair for cooking seafood dishes.

Ycheng told us that as well as being popular with locals, they are also attracting customers from Darlington, Stockton and Newton Aycliffe. With dishes of this standard, it won’t be long before foodies from further afield make tracks for Great Stainton to seek out the fare on offer.