I AM not entirely sure when The Londonderry Arms at Longnewton between Darlington and Stockton became The Derry but suspect the name change was not as a result of some dastardly Fenian plot or even a delayed by-product of the Good Friday agreement.

More likely it is another example of the modern-day determination to overturn the old order, to refresh, rejuvenate, to find a new role – or rather more prosaically, to create a snappier web address.

There is of course nothing more old order than the Londonderry family whose one-time building of Wynyard Hall up the road and ownership of most of the land hereabouts made them one of the richest and most influential political dynasties in the land.

The Londonderrys probably once owned the pub along with most of the village and its other pub The Vane Arms (named after County Durham Vane family which the Londonderrys smartly married into in the 18th century to vastly increase their wealth).

It's not fanciful to imagine a Lord Londonderry getting back in the saddle at a gathering of the South Durham Hunt having enjoyed a warming tincture at his inn and courtesy of the mounting block that can still be seen at the entrance to the pub’s car park.

Today, The Derry is owned by Star Pubs, a pubco which is part of the vast Heineken brewery empire, formerly Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, and leased out.

Normally I would suggest that a British pubco’s involvement in a hospitality business is the kiss of death but I could make an exception for The Derry, chiefly because the recently installed lessees may well know what they are doing and in a position to make a living out of it.

Christopher Driver and partner Sarah Butler have not travelled far to take up the reins, having previously been at the Talbot, just across the A66 in Bishopton. That speaks volumes in our book because for years the Talbot was consistently one of the best pubs for food in the Darlington-Stockton corridor. More recently, however, reports have been mixed.

Still, Bishopton’s loss is Longnewton’s gain. The Derry has been refurbished and for a corporate pubco makeover, it's really very pleasant. While not the full historic country pub look, it is rustic with plush boutique-y hotel touches and a colour palette which seems to cover every hue of mushroom from dark brown to cream.

Fundamentally important is the presence of a proper log fire, tickled up with some coal to combine real heat with visual appeal. To my mind any country pub without a real fire at this time of the year might as well not be open.

The Derry menu wins no prizes for originality but there are some twists? So, a list of starters which features soup, pate, prawn cocktail and black pudding Scotch egg also includes goats cheese with a beetroot and citrus salad, a balsamic and thyme reduction and herb oil dressing.

Sylvia was tempted but it was left to me to tackle some baked queen scallops served in the shell with a garlic and herb butter sauce and a gruyere and cheddar cheese crust. At almost £9 this was pricey for a starter but there were at least half a dozen fat, softly yielding almost tumescent scallops nestling in two shells surrounded by the savoury sweetness of the cheddar/gruyere combo. They were really very good, so much so that I almost embarrassed myself (well, Sylvia certainly) with my slightly frenzied efforts to dig out the last sticky toasted cheesey morsel from the ridges of the scallop shells.

More of those scallops were included in Sylvia’s hot seafood platter main course (£13.50) which was completed by cod goujons, breaded scampi and tempura king prawns. A tribute to the pub’s fish supplier, Hodgson’s of Hartlepool, this plateful was expertly prepared albeit mostly in the deep fat fryer.

It came with some chips – thin, very crisp and dry – a salad garnish and a supercharged home-made tartar sauce, heavy with the sharpness of capers.

My steak and Guinness pie (£12.95) was the size and shape of an ice hockey puck and richly, deeply flavoured. Chunks of slowly braised beef, little pearl onions and a darkly stout gravy were packed into a beautiful shortcrust pastry parcel.

There were also some chips – fat, very crisp and dry - and vegetables (carrots, French beans, peas, mangetout) with some bite left but a smidge unseasoned.

With the exception of the Earl Gray [sic] pannacotta, the puds all looked a bit heavy going after what we had already consumed so we happily abstained.

Service was sharp and friendly. The bill with a soft drink, a half of Italian Moretti lager (a Heineken brand of course) and a small glass of merlot was a reasonable £41.85.


The Derry, Darlington Road, Long Newton, TS21 1BX

Tel: 01642 586009

Web: www.the-derry-pub.co.uk

Open: Monday-Saturday 11.30am-3pm and 5-11pm, Sunday 11.30am-4.30pm

Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten-free options available.

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