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Inside the Northumberland pub where the chef has worked on Richard Branson's private island

Chronicle Live logo Chronicle Live 19/06/2022 Claire McKie-Reid & Daniel Hall

People in Northumberland have another option this summer if they're looking for high quality, fresh food.

The Old Fat Ox in Holywell reopened in February under new management. Looking to cement its reputation as a foodie pub, landlord Craig Miller, who runs Vineyard 72 in Tynemouth's Land of Green Ginger with his partner, has franchised the kitchen out to a chef whose CV would make Gordon Ramsay's mouth water.

Dean Eccles has worked in kitchens around the world: he's the former head chef at Gary Rhodes' restaurant in Edinburgh and has even worked on Richard Branson's private Necker Island in the Caribbean. However, his wife Sarah brought him to the North East two decades ago, and he's been here ever since.

Read more: Popular pub the Craster Arms in Beadnell looks set to lose its outdoor seating cabins

Since Craig and Dean acquired the pub, they've revamped the menu and serve only fresh food - "no microwave meals here," Dean says. However, its hidden away location in one of Northumberland's lesser visited villages, in the very south east of the county just inland from Seaton Sluice, means that the Old Fat Ox is still a bit of a secret.

It's had a full renovation inside and out, with a cosy interior including a log-burner, stone walls and chunky leather seats (if you can nab them in time) that will no doubt be pleasant in the winter. However, for now, it's the beer garden, which Dean believes is one of the best in the country, that is the main attraction.

The interior of Holywell's Old Fat Ox © Newcastle Chronicle The interior of Holywell's Old Fat Ox

Dean says: "A lot of the locals are saying how nice it is because it’s turned back into a local pub again and it’s a nice place. One of the biggest assets we’ve got is a huge garden out the back of the pub which gets the sun all day long but a lot of people just don’t know it’s there because you can’t see it as you drive past."

The Secret Garden at the Old Fat Ox © Newcastle Chronicle The Secret Garden at the Old Fat Ox

The Old Fat Ox serves local ales, wines and a selection of cocktails - a cold and refreshing Aperol Spritz might just hit the spot in said beer garden, which leads into Holywell Dene. But with such an experienced chef in the kitchen, what about the food?

After all, Dean does say it's a 'food-led' pub, similar to that of the Beehive in nearby Earsdon. There are plenty of pub classics, but some of Dean's experience appears to put a haute-cuisine twist on some of the dishes.

Chef Dean Eccles at work in the kitchen. © Newcastle Chronicle Chef Dean Eccles at work in the kitchen.

He continues: "We do various things - sometimes it's a total mix because we do all sorts. We have a fish finger sandwich, but we also do things that are a bit more fine-dining.

"We've got a lot of fresh fish, Father's Day is coming up and we've got a dill-crusted halibut on a lobster sauce as the fish option for lunch. We do roasted cod on a Spanish chorizo stew, a proper classic Caesar salad, home-made burgers, and chicken thighs in Frank's chilli sauce.

Mexican tacos © Newcastle Chronicle Mexican tacos

"There's also a hot beef sandwich that we serve with shredded hot beef that we cook ourselves with proper gravy, made with beef stock and beef bones and that comes with roast potatoes and a Yorkshire pudding, so there's a bit of everything really."

It's not Dean's first foray into the North East food scene, having previously opened the Dog Leap Café in St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle City Centre and worked at Tynemouth Golf Club for several years. Hailing from a little village between Bradford and Leeds, and after his spell of globetrotting, his roots are now firmly down in the North East.

Landlord Craig Miller and chef Dean Eccles. © Newcastle Chronicle Landlord Craig Miller and chef Dean Eccles.

He said: "The people are very similar to Yorkshire, we're sound, pretty honest. You've also got miles and miles of coast, I've got two working cocker spaniels so it's a fabulous place to take the dogs for a walk and get fresh air and be out and about.

"Living in London for six years made me appreciate the open spaces a bit more and appreciate the areas around here and how much you can do. You can be at Tynemouth beach one minute and in the middle of Northumberland within half an hour, there's loads of different things to do and it's brilliant."

Where's your favourite pub to eat at in the North East? Let us know!

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