I BRING you hot news – well, hot-ish. Darlington’s first proper restaurant is to close its doors after 55 years.

It’s only hot-ish because the closure of the Blue Lagoon has been well known in social media circles for quite a while. Established media like D&S have been told nothing, which is understandable because the Kattou family, owners the Grange Road institution, want the punters to keep coming through the doors until January 2017 when it will, definitely, serve its last customers.

It seems incredible that back in 1961, Darlington, like majority of provincial towns, did not have a restaurant. Yes, there were hotels and tea rooms but nowhere where someone would go for a meal on an evening. Early 1960s Britons outside London didn’t eat out.

Not only was the Blue Lagoon Darlington’s first restaurant, it was Darlington’s first “continental restaurant” no less. The Kattou family had come to Darlington via Athens, London and Leeds and had to tailor a menu to extremely conservative Darlington tastes.

Introducing the English to foreign ways of eating and particularly to the concept that eating could be a passably enjoyable experience and might even be something one would do for the sheer fun of it as opposed to the functional business of sustaining life had not been without its hiccups for the Kattous.

In Leeds, in the 1950s, Andreas Kattou (the current owners Chris and Peter’s late father) had caused something of a sensation (a media storm we would call it now – a page lead with picture in the Yorkshire Evening Post then) when he put tables and chairs outside his Leeds restaurant and invited customers to eat their meals in the open air.

Leeds in 1959 was only marginally more cosmopolitan than Darlington and al fresco was considered a novel trading name for a painter and decorator. The move prompted a visit from a jobsworth from Leeds Town Hall who, according to the report in the Post, was unsure as whether any laws were being broken, but he was looking into it.

Bravely, when they opened in Darlington, they offered that Greek classic moussaka, but getting hold of aubergines in 1960s North-East England was an impossibility. After all, it was only five years since rationing had finally come to an end in post-war Britain.

So they replaced the aubergine with potato and to this day the Blue Lagoon moussaka has been made with potato. The customers prefer it that way.

Which tells you all you need to know about the good folk who have continued to patronise the Blue Lagoon over the last half century. They don’t like change much, or they simply relish an occasional trip down memory lane.

Sylvia would count herself among the latter. She remembers her first visit to the Blue Lagoon as a teenager in 1966 (early teens she would like to point out). She felt thoroughly intimidated by the menu which by no means was all Greek to her but was certainly unlike anything she had previously come across.

The Kattous have changed from being restaurant revolutionaries to something thoroughly retro - today’s menu is pretty much as it was in 1961. There are dishes which disappeared from most other places’ menus in about 1970 but in Grange Road, Darlington, they live on – Vienna Schnitzel. Escalope Chasseur, Chicken pilaff.

The decor hasn’t changed either. On our visit last week we even spotted a collection of Mateus Rose bottles with red candles in the neck, the wax over the years having almost completely obliterated the labels. Evocative indeed.

There were nine of us, a family do, a kind-of last supper at the Blue Lagoon, and all the old favourites were enjoyed.

Grandaughter tucked into a starter portion of scampi (£6.50), grandson one and daughter one had Vienna schnitzel (£8.20), grandson two had gammon and egg, daughter two and son in law had chicken pilaff (£8.20), daughter three had escalope Parmesan (£8.40).

Sylvia had kebab a la Grecque (£8.90) – a plateful of diced pork fillet cooked with mushrooms and onions in a tomato and red wine sauce served on a bed of rice – which fired up the memory bank as assuredly as ever.

For the first – and last – time in the Blue Lagoon I tackled the mixed grill (£11.90) which was very much a creation of its time. In 1961, with meat rationing still fresh in many people’s minds, a plateful of steak, pork, chicken and sausage was the very height of extravagance. In 2016, it seemed like a dish designed purely with the needs of a dedicated carb-free Atkins dieter in mind.

And everyone had chips, chips which may not have been triple fried in the rendered fat of an Appalachian goose, but were nevertheless as sound as they have always been.

And everyone (except me) ignored the creamed cabbage, a vegetable accompaniment which has been a Blue Lagoon staple. Over the years they must have thrown away tons of the stuff.

With assorted puds (lemon meringue pie, apple pie, ice cream sundae etc) and soft drinks the bill was £113. Not quite 1961 prices but with nine well-fed diners who could complain?

We will miss the Lagoon, if not for the food, but for the ever-friendly Kattou family welcome and all those memories.


Blue Lagoon, 25 Grange Road, Darlington, DL1 5NA

Tel: 01325 462235

Website: (what is this internet malarkey?)

Open: 5-9.30pm (Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday)

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7, Service 9, Surroundings 6, Value 8