Queens Head pub / restaurant: Excellent food, excellent price.
I had been staying at the Queens Head a little out of town (see seperate tip) which is effectively a bar / restaurant with rooms upstairs and I spent a little time in the lounge bar which doubles as the restaurant. I noticed that it seemed a popular spot and was quite busy even in midweek which is always a good sign. A look at the menu and blackoard "specials" also indicated that it was good value, especially in relation to the prices I am used to in London. There was only one thing to do and that was to try the food.
In the event, I actually dined on my last afternoon in the city before returning to the capital and a bit early for the evening crowd so I had the place more or less to myself. As is my wont, I popped out the back to the covered smoking area for a cigarette where I chanced to bump into the chef and we got to talking. It appeared he had only recently taken over there and we discussed many things of a culinary nature. He seemed very enthusiastic. I had had my eye on the duck dish on the specials board and asked him how he cooked it, indicating that I liked mine fairly pink. Chef agreed that this was the way to cook it so I told him that if he had a ticket in the next ten minutes, it would be mine and a little under would be much appreciated.
It was a little early for a full meal so I skipped the starters which I had noticed all seemed fairly generous portion-wise and ordered the "duck breast with a port and orange reduction served with vegetables and potatoes" which was served by the friendly young barmaid. It was absolutely gorgeous. The duck was cooked exactly to my liking and the reduction nicely balanced. The potatoes and vegetables were simply done and mercifully not boiled into submission as can so often be the case. All in all it was absolutely delightful and in another nice touch chef even came out of the kitchen to ask was everything to my liking. I assured him that it was indeed. At £9:95 it was "a steal".
I had previously noted that all the menu items seemed to be equally comptetitively priced and there was a good selection as well as several special deals like "grill night" on Thursday which is two starters, two grill mains and two drinks for £21:95. They offer a Sunday roast dinner for £6:95 and also a children's menu.
I really do recommend this as a good value place to eat very good food.
Favorite Dish: The duck breast as described in the main body of the text.
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
- Beer Tasting
Fighting cocks pub: I only had a snack.
Having had a hard day's sightseeing in Durham (and there are plenty of sights to see there), I decided a quick pint would be in order and dropped into the Fighting Cocks pub in South Street right in the centre of town. I have subsequently read on a student website that this establishment gets a reputation as one of the roughest pubs in the City but I visited on a midweek mid-afternoon on a fairly dismal April day (see the image). I was therefore looking at potential violence from the two young ladies eating at the back or the barman who greeted and served me in a most friendly manner. No problem there then. The place was clean and tidy (as were the toilets) with an appearance of an old-fashioned pub although the obligatory plasma TV screens were much in evidence. I suppose they show a lot of sport here.
I hadn't actually intended to eat and was just looking at the menu out of idle curiosity but I decided a quick nibble might be in order. I only wanted a "light bite" as I had planned a decent dinner for later that evening. I toyed with the idea of the corned beef and onion pie but that came served with veg and chips or mash and I really did not want that much. I was tempted as I absolutely adore corned beef but I had never heard of this dish. I did, however, see it on several menus in the city so it must be some sort of local favourite. In the end, I plumped for the vegetable pakora @ £3:50. For those of you not aware, pakora is a deep fried Indian snack, normally of vegetable mixed with a batter and deep fried and I am particularly fond of it. I ordered and it appeared quite quickly, served by the young female cook. Well, I suppose there were few staff on at that time.
Whilst waiting, I had another look at the menu and noticed that there were some excellent deals if you are a budget traveller. I was particularly impressed by the "two for £6" deal available 1100 - 1800 Monday to Saturday and 1200 - 1800 Sunday. There is a good selection of meals available on this deal including mince and dumpling, various Kievs , pork chop, chicken breast, gammon and various other things, all served with chips and peas or mash and veg. You'll be hard pushed to better a proper cooked dinner for £3 a head. I have included an image of the main menu so you can see what the normal scale of pricing is.
When the food arrived, the young lady had done a good job. I am quite sure everything here is freezer to table but it had the requisite garnish, a decent garlic mayo and the pakoras were piping hot and not at all greasy. They were perhaps a touch over for my taste but that is merely a personal thing, they certainly were not burnt. As you can see, there were six of them of a good size and if that is their idea of a starter, I doubt I could have handled a main and eaten later again! I'm glad I chose to go light and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I know this may seem a lengthy tip for what was effectively a bar snack but, especially if on a budget, this place may well be worth a look.
Favorite Dish: As noted, I only had the pakora "starter" but that was well-executed.
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
- Beer Tasting
La Bella italia: A Surprise
Looking for somewhere for lunch and not seeing a pub, we went in here. We were very pleasantly surprised as we had expected the usual franchise food. It is part of a franchise but a step above. The restaurant is located down steep stairs but the room itself is right on the river and it is pleasant to sit and watch the scenery. The food was good, although the portions are not very big - adequate, though. The loos are very nice, with a potted plant added as decoration, which is a nice touch.
We feel that one more serving staff would have made the whole experience more enjoyable. The place became quite busy and there was only one waiter. There was a manager but quite frankly, all she did was ask if you were being served - a little bit of help to her underling would have been a positive move.
That said, the service wasn't SLOW, just slow-ish.
We would definitely go again.
- Arts and Culture
Oldfields Noted Eating House: Not Quite Up to Snuff
We were really looking forward to visiting this restaurant for dinner on a recent visit to Durham. Our welcome was lukewarm and unenthusiastic, although our booking was honoured and we were seated immediately. We found the menu to be rather unbalanced, especially if one was choosing an appetiser and a second course. We started off with humus and flatbread - one bowl between two of us - the flat bread was cold, as though it had just come out of the fridge. Although the serving dishes were removed when finished with, the plates and cutlery we had used never were. My portion of liver and onions was tough and the presence of onions was sadly lacking; the spinach portion was parsimonious. The Beef & Carlingford oyster pie was okay. We had to ask for tap water, a bottle of which was produced willingly and speedily enough; however, it was left to us to open and pour. The music was rather loud and the choice inappropriate for the venue. The tables are rather too close to each other. The toilets are up a steep flight of stairs, which could prove a problem for the less able. In summation, the restaurant certainly does not live up to its prices. The food was okay but for the prices charged, could do much better. We would definitely not seek out this place in future visits, nor recommend it. The wine is very expensive. I feel the restaurant has pretensions beyond its capabilities.
Favorite Dish: None
- Arts and Culture
COSTA COFFEE: NOT ANOTHER ONE!
First thing I looked for when I arrive in a town or city is a Costa Coffee (or a Starbucks if Costa isn't available). I then plan my assault on the town over a delicious cup of Latte.
Favorite Dish: LATTE AND LEMON AND POPPY SEED MUFFIN
Bella Italia: On the riverside for Italian
Had a business meeting with the representative of the Perry company, Mr. Richard Driver and after spending an entire day examining the equipment he had to offer, he further enriched the offer by first of all returning me to my hotel AND taking me out to dinner. He suggested we visit the Bella Italia, a nice Italian restaurant along the river Wear just near the Framwellgate Bridge.
Favorite Dish: Don't remember all that we ate, but I do remember that it was excellent.
Since I was invited to dinner I have not a clue as to the prices, what I do know is that there were no tables vacant.
- Food and Dining
- Work Abroad
Leonard's Coffee House: The Stuff and Staff
Found Leonard's while wandering the side streets off the Market Place. It looked to be inviting and it was to be sure a dreary day outside, cold, yes COLD and dreary, so decided to drop in and have a cup of hot chocolate. What if found was a little nook and cranny coffeehouse, tiny with 6 tables on the ground floor, but the smells of the pastries and coffe, the friendlieness of the staff and the warmth made it perfect.
- Food and Dining
Leornard's Coffee shop: A coffee shop in the artistic area
I had arranged to meet my niece, a student at Durham university, but due to the rather damp weather we decided to have a chat over a cup of tea. Hannah lead me down some steps, through a narrow and steep street to a historical cultural quarter called Fowlers Yard. Along with the coffee shop there are craftspeople demonstrating and selling jewellery, textiles, paintings and photography, and also a microbrewery. However on this occasion I only visited the coffee shop. I could soon see that there an ambiance of relaxation, quiet chatting and enjoying tea, coffee and homemade cakes and sandwiches. This place easily beats the chain coffee shops (I much prefer to support the local people/businesses). Very friendly staff
Favorite Dish: Hannah and I had a piece of homemade cake and a pot of tea for two
The Saddler: Saddle up for a delicious snack
On the way down from the Cathedral/Castle towards the city centre's market square, I found this little cafe which was recommended by a souvenir shop in the same street. I wanted some lunch, and a warm bowl of soup and pot of tea was very welcome. It was obviously very popular as there was a queue (it was half term, so there were extra visitors by familes), but it wasn't long before I was shown to a table. I was served by waitresses, and also had the opportunity to write some postcards.
Favorite Dish: I enjoyed my Stilton and broccoli soup served with a warm panini roll and pot of tea for one. At a price of £4.75 I thought it good value.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Esquires Coffee: Great for Fair Trade Coffee
This chain Fair trade Coffee House is in the historic city centre and very near the River Wear. There are outdoor tables where you can able to people watch or sit by the river.
Favorite Dish: The Fair Trade coffee is good although the cheesecaske was something to be desired with.
- Food and Dining
Fat Budda: Fat Buddha
This is an Asian restaurant which has , i think, Thai, Chinese and Hong Kong food on the menu.
Its got a great atmosphere and is very nice inside.
A bottle of Riocha is £18.
Food is reasonable, between 20 of us, the bill was £650.
Esquires Coffee House
Esquires is a lovely cafe on Silver Street , just over the Framwellgate Bridge. It's a very popular place but there are plenty of seats outside though on a cold February day it was much more difficult to get a seat indoors. The speciality here is hot chocolate and they have mint, honey nut and white chocolate flavours. We both tried hot chocolate and it was excellent.
Market Tavern: Sunday Pub Lunch
We had lunch at the Market Tavern, a well known pub on Market Place in Durham. We both went for the Sunday lunch and it was delicious. I also tried my first bottle of Newcastle Brown here and it went very well with the roast beef. It cost about 16 pounds for two drinks and two meals. Not the cheapest place you'll find in Durham but just what we needed.
A new place up by the courthouse, Zen is still trying to work out what it is. The adjoining police station may frighten off more than a few, the location in a side street away from any obvious attractions keeps it hidden away from tourists, students are scared away by the prices, and the colour scheme puts off anyone with a hangover...but somehow it has managed to stay open for a year. Zen is a bright orange (and I mean bright) bar/restaurant with a Thai twist. The staff are all Thai, but alongside Thai green curry and many noodle dishes, they also serve a number of British dishes like steak sandwiches and chips. Tables outside come complete with blankets...a nice idea that works well in places like Istanbul, but I've never seen anyone sitting outside yet.
Zen is a place that could work...it just needs to decide whether it is a Thai restaurant, a snack place or a trendy bar. Good food though...
New cafes seem to open every month in Durham. Yes, we've got the chains...Costa, Starbucks in the students' union, Esquires, Caffe Nero (where I spend money I haven't got!)...chains are all very well, but independent cafes are even better. Cafe Continental is so good it has its own tip above. Almost as good is Vennels, tucked away in a courtyard reached by a narrow passageway between a bookshop and a bizarre shoe shop on the Bailey. Vennels is known for its cakes, and though it may resemble a canteen downstairs, head upstairs for more unusual seating...the tables are made out of old sewing machines. The tables in the courtyard outside are good for newspaper reading in the summer.
For a taste of how Durham used to be, try Rumbletums for tea and scones, a very traditional place which seems as if it hasn't changed for decades...look out for a stairway leading down behind the post office. At the bottom of the stairs is another cafe in what is going to become Durham's art district (well, it's one street with a handful of art galleries, but they're trying....)
If you smoke, you'd better head for one of Durham's cafe-bars. The best is probably Brown Sugar, opposite the Three Tuns Hotel and the Marriott...service can either be lightning fast or terrifyingly slow, and there's often some confusion when it comes to paying the bill, but they have good cakes, some even better food, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and a licensed bar. Football or rugby fans should head here if there's an important match on, as there's a widescreen telly on the wall.
Other cafe-bars include Hollathan's (Elvet Bridge) and Hide (the Bailey), both nice enough, but both perhaps a bit pretentious. In the summer, Hollathan's has the best tables for people-watching, outside on the car-free cobbled road.