DECISIONS, decisions, it’s what editors get paid for. Sometimes we get it wrong but this time I think I’m spot on.
The issue is this – the top-placed restaurant/pub/cafe of 2014. The problem is – based on our rating system ¬- we have a four-way tie at the top.
Bells fish and chips restaurant in Durham, the Tuns at Sadberge, near Darlington, Brasserie Hudson Quay in Middlesbrough and the Black Bull at Moulton, near Scotch Corner, all recorded 37 marks out of a possible 40 for food quality, service, surroundings and value.
This year no establishment took the full set of 40 out of 40 marks but that didn’t make it a bad year. There were just a lot of places were very good.
But there can be only one winner – and it’s the Black Bull. Why? Because I’m the editor and I say so and it’s just tough on Bells, the Tuns and the Brasserie Hudson Quay.
However, there is a justification other than the editor’s whim. The Bull’s re-opening was eagerly awaited. The legendary inn had been closed for over a year. It was bought by the Provenance Inns business and they set about trying to recreate the magic that the Pagendam family weaved 50 years ago.
And I think they have done so. Yes, it’s not the same as the old Black Bull but that was always going to be impossible. The place was a wreck by the time Provenance got their hands on it and large parts had to be rebuilt.
But enough of the old Bull has survived the makeover and this, I guess, is the acid test. Since doing the review I’ve been back three times and the standard of service and the quality of the fish (for which it was always renowned) was consistently good.
We also returned to the Tuns at Sadberge for a return visit. Judged on value for money alone the refurbished village pub was streets ahead of the rest. The lunchtime plateful of fresh and perfectly cooked Dover sole was the best fiver’s worth we have spent in a long while.
Last week, we made the point that so many places can serve decent food these days and that’s reinforced by the bunching at the top of the 2014 table. Three establishments picked up 36 points and another three recorded 35.
Among the 36-ers was the Grantham Arms at Milby, Boroughbridge, the latest pub revival by West Parks, a rival to Provenance. The makeover of what was the most ordinary of boozers was stylish eclectic. Pure bling – and the food was pretty good too.
It was a satisfying year for the legendary McCoys. After his unfortunate departure from the Tontine, Eugene fetched up at the nearby Crathorne Arms and clocked up 36 points. The Tontine was middling on 29.
Tom McCoy was only one point behind his brother with his re-working of the Haynes Arms at Kirby Sigston on the A19 near Northallerton. We thought this was an excellent example of how to revamp a traditional pub without spending a fortune. No triumph of style over substance, the fundamentals of modern British cooking and informal but efficient service were all there.
Service was in many cases what made the difference between an average meal and a good or excellent one. It was why Bettys of Northallerton found itself in the top ten for its peerless breakfast served with traditional pomp and formality and one of the reasons why Cena, the new Italian in Yarm created by Marcus Bennett and Jonathan Hall (of Bay Horse, Hurworth, and Muse, Yarm, fame) did well. The other reason was the stunning interior created in what had been a tapas bar.
Another newcomer that didn’t make it into the top ten but in retrospect probably should have was the Mediterranean-themed Casa Rustica, the tiny cafe in Northallerton’s Barkers Arcade. Run with aplomb by Brazilian Leonardo Faro, it has a great atmosphere provided you are happy to sit cheek-by-jowl with your fellow diners. There isn’t much cooking going on but the cold meats, salads, sandwiches, paninis and speciality breads are top notch using the best ingredients.
So these were the stand-out eateries of 2014. What about the worst? To be fair our team of reviewers failed to come across a truly awful meal this year. There must be places out there serving dreadful, expensive, food in terrible surroundings but we failed to find them. Perhaps we are not trying hard enough or perhaps it suggests that standards are improving and that the tough times we’ve been through have sorted the wheat from the chaff and put the duff places out of business.
As ever, we are keen to hear from readers about their recommendations. If you have had a great eating out experience – or a very bad one – we would like to hear about it. Let us know at email@example.com.
The top eating places of 2014
37pts Black Bull, Moulton, Richmond*; The Tuns, Sadberge Darlington; Brasserie Hudson Quay, Middlesbrough; Bells Restaurant, Durham
36pts Crathorne Arms, Crathorne, Yarm; Cena, Yarm; Grantham Arms, Milby, Boroughbridge
35pts Bettys, Northallerton; Il Pallazzo, Barnard Castle; Haynes Arms, Kirby Sigston, Northallerton
* Editor's choice and overall top establishment