A FORTNIGHT ago, looking on the bright side of life in Northallerton, we made the point that while the town’s lagging night time economy remains one of life’s mysteries, it was all happening during the day.
In Darlington, almost the complete opposite applies. The town is pretty dead during the day, even on market Monday and Saturday, but at night the place comes alive. There have been a few new restaurant openings but it’s the bar scene that’s really taken off.
There have so many new bars breaking out, the council recently put its foot down over an application to turn the Blue Lagoon in Grange Road into another watering hole. Darlington’s high-end fashion alley was in danger of turning into a strip of bars with only a sex shop to add variety.
So the Blue Lagoon (reviewed here to say farewell to a Darlington institution in 2016) lives on if only Tuesday to Saturday evenings while the guys behind the Blue Lagoon bar application (Marcus Bennett and Jonathan Hall of Bay Horse, Hurworth and Muse/Cena, Yarm, fame) consider their options.
Meanwhile a bar application in Grange Road that has slipped through the net is up and running in the form of The Wandering Duck, which to be fair is a tapas/wine bar rather than just a bar.
It has opened in what used to be a lingerie boutique called Boudoir and the people behind it are the owners of the Black Olive deli just a few doors down. It’s easy to see how the tapas bar is a natural extension of the deli business – much of what appears on the tapas menu is probably also available in the shop.
Which makes you think that availability shouldn’t be an issue but in fact the first two dishes we considered ordering – the bocquerones (marinated anchovies) and the Moroccan mergez (fried sausage with harissa, butter beans and tomato) – were off (the menu that is).
Fortunately, everything else was to hand, so, taking the advice of our youthful and enthusiastic waiter, we ordered four of the 13 available tapas dishes, one of three sharing platters for two, a bottle of Italian fizz and sat back and took in our surroundings.
Which were mainly wood – painted, panelled, stripped, stained – on the walls, the floor, the bar, the tables (particularly chunky) and most of the chairs. There were some upholstered banquettes and some metal bar stools with street views but otherwise it was wood, wood, wood in a slightly edgy hipster-ish way. Cool.
While there obviously isn’t a huge amount of cooking going on in what I imagine must be a pretty bijou kitchen, what emerged was very good, based on high quality deli foods simply prepared.
Our shared meat platter (£14) was some choice cuts of salami, prosciuttio (or Parma , I can never tell) ham, air-dried beef, chorizo and some chunky spicy sausages (which I couldn’t for the life of me identify but were very good), along with large slices of bread, oil and vinegar, unsalted butter, some luscious oil-bathed sun-dried tomatoes, a slightly anaemic (or perhaps too chilled) hummus dip but a terrifically clean-tasting beetroot and sesame seed salsa.
The tapas was great too. Beef bourguignon (£5.95) is not your archetypal tapas dish but it worked well – super-tender cubes of braised beef in a deeply rich red wine sauce with lots of onions and mushrooms.
The meatballs (£4.95) were huge billiard ball-sized lumps of coarsely ground and well-seasoned pork which came with a pretty spicy chilli and tomato sauce.
There was more chilli, and garlic, with the chunky potato in the patatas bravas (£3.95) – a hefty bowlful too.
Lastly, the parmigiana (£4.50) was a dish of glistening, bubbling cheese-topped aubergine slices nestling in a tomato and béchamel sauce.
The dessert menu is the very essence of brevity. It’s either cake of the day or churros – suger-covered Spanish doughnuts served with chocolate sauce (£2.50). We shared a small bowlful and it’s fair to say a little goes a long way. One for sugar freaks really.
The bill, with the bottle of Prosecco, was just over £57.
We liked The Wandering Duck. It’s a simple concept backed by lots of enthusiasm and there is evidence that it is going down well. We paid a visit on a bitterly cold Monday night and business was steady. Booking is essential on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Our only real gripe was a front door with a dodgy catch which if customers were not careful when entering or leaving strayed open, letting the wind swirl around our ankles. But we are sure by the time you read this it will have been fixed.
The Wandering Duck, 15 Grange Road, Darlington, DL1 5NA
Tel: 01325 463008
Open: 9.30am-11pm, seven days.
Disabled access (but not to upper floor) Limited vegetarian options.
Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9, Service 8, Surroundings 8, Value 7