MAXINE GORDON heads for a first meal out since lockdown at The Ship Inn, Acaster Malbis

LIFE as we knew it closed down at the start of lockdown. Shut up in our own homes, one of the few things we were allowed to do was daily exercise.

And that’s how I came across The Ship Inn at Acaster Malbis – on a bike ride with my family.

Just a short pedal from Bishopthorpe, and smack bang on a landmark bend in the Ouse, The Ship Inn is a welcome sight for walkers, cyclists and day-trippers (for years there has been a regular ferry service from York).

We cycled past it several times during the early lockdown heatwave; its locked doors and empty tables a sad reminder of the tragic events unfolding in the world.

I vowed to come visit as soon as pubs opened again.

Well almost as soon as. We booked a table for last Saturday, a week after pubs and restaurants had been given the green light by the government to get back to business.

York Press: The Ship Inn at Acaster Malbis, near YorkThe Ship Inn at Acaster Malbis, near York

The phrase “traditional country pub” could have been dreamt up for The Ship, with its exterior of rustic red bricks and cottage-style windows and large beer garden. The pub’s sign hangs like a compulsory stop sign for thirsty and hungry by-passers.

My husband and daughter arrived first – the final stop after a bike ride to Tadcaster. They’d already placed a drink order and turned down an interview with a local TV reporter before I arrived (by bike, around 30 minutes from the city centre).

The TV folk were recording the pub getting back to normal after lockdown. Apparently, it has new owners who took over the place in December – only to be hit by the winter floods and now the pandemic (we got the low down from their niece, who was one of our waiters).

My husband also told me our wooden table and bench in the beer garden had been sprayed and wiped down before use.

At first, it wasn’t obvious anything was much different from a zillion other summer nights in a pub beer garden. Tables were full, people were laughing and playing with their children and dogs.

The pub’s sign hangs like a compulsory stop sign for thirsty and hungry by-passers.

We were served drinks and placed the food order through the waiter as normal. At this point, we were informed about an app we could use to order and pay. Otherwise the pub was accepting cash at the bar (the card machine wasn’t behaving).

Inside, a one-way system was in place, with stickers on the floor reminding punters about social distancing.

People were eating and drinking indoors too.

York Press: Social distancing in place at The Ship InnSocial distancing in place at The Ship Inn

Although pubs and restaurants have been asked to take contact details of their customers for the government’s track and trace programme, this is not compulsory (at the moment). No effort was made to take our details – although the pub did have a mobile number linked to our booking from when I telephoned to make a reservation in the beer garden.

If you fancy a visit, and want to sit outside, I’d advise to phone ahead to book a table. And you don’t have to go by bike – there is a large car park right by the riverside.

And so to our meals. The menu was just what you’d expect from a country pub, with fish and chips, bangers and mash and burgers, priced from £12.50-£13.50. Vegetarian choices included burger, mac and cheese, battered halloumi with chips. Starters were available too, including soup, chicken skewers, pate and, garlic mushrooms, and smoked salmon (from £5.50 to £6.95).

The Ship also has a pizza menu, priced from £8 for a traditional margarita, to £13.50 for a more experimental option with Hoisin duck! It was good to see that gluten free options were available too for pizza lovers.

Pub grub tends to be generous, so we skipped starters which turned out to be a wise move.

York Press: Bangers and mash at The Ship InnBangers and mash at The Ship Inn

My husband had few complaints about his bangers and mash – three plump and meaty sausages on a pile of creamy mash with a thick and glossy gravy. Onion rings were a nice, surprise addition. It was just the sort of hearty, comfort food he needed after an afternoon cycling and a glass of Timothy Taylor Landlord.

Our daughter is a vegetarian and dithered between the halloumi and chips, the veggie pizza, or the veggie burger. She chose the latter, which came in a brioche bun with fat, golden chips and a red cabbage slaw. Hungry, she tucked in, but thought the burger was a bit pedestrian. Its uniform shape strongly suggested it was not home-made (the menu never said it would be), but she pointed out she’d had many better veggie burgers before. On the plus side, she said, it was packed with seeds and pulses “so it’s probably very good for you”.

York Press: Fish and chips at The Ship InnFish and chips at The Ship Inn

The chips were great – we both agreed on that. I had a little army of them holding up my whopper of a battered fish. This was super: a light batter peeling away to reveal the perfectly-cooked fish beneath. The mushy peas and tartar sauce on the side were very good too.

Stuffed, we were too full for puddings. But if you have a sweet tooth, options to tempt you include crumble, chocolate tart, Eton mess and ice-cream from local company Yorvale, all at £6.50 each.

Our meal for three with a drink each came to £45.

The Ship Inn, Moor End, Acaster Malbis, York YO23 2UH

Phone: 01904 703888

Food: Good 3.5

Service: Friendly 5

Value: OK 3.5

Ambience: Great 5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press