I CAN’T tell you how much I wanted The Potting Shed, Northallerton’s new pub/cocktail bar/diner/restaurant to succeed.

After years of bemoaning the pathetic state of the county town’s night-time economy particularly its failure to support decent restaurants, along comes an investor with deep pockets, buys the enormous but virtually derelict former Rutson Hospital building and spends £1m-plus on turning it into something the like of which Northallerton has certainly not seen before.

A colleague who visited the Potting Shed in its first week described it as “pretty funky for Northallerton”. As the words “funky” and “Northallerton” have never hitherto featured in the same sentence I took that as an encouraging sign.

The colleague was spot-on with her description. The shabby-chic/retro décor is impressive and you can see that the individual potting sheds/booths in the “garden” – some artificial turf – will be popular in summer. There are myriad eating areas with a variety of seating – from high bar stools to low loungers - a roof terrace and private dining areas.

So it looks good. But that’s about as far as it goes right now. There is a lot of room for improvement which is disappointing considering it had been open four weeks by the time we visited.

The first problem is that ordering arrangements are confusing. We took a seat at a table within sight of the bar and open kitchen. A passing waitress said she would take our order and then disappeared for ten minutes. We went to the bar and ordered drinks. Then another waitress appeared and took our order – a burger, and pizza, a side salad and – as a starter - some grissini sticks and hummus.

Our waitress asked if we’d like some olives too for just £1 extra. We said yes and then she corrected herself and said it £2 extra. We said OK.

Half an hour went by. We asked the waitress if she could bring the grissini because if she brought it with the main dishes we wouldn’t pay for it. “Oh we don’t do starters,” she said. We said we didn’t want a starter, we just wanted the grissini. Now.

Five minutes later the grissini, humus and olives arrived and a load of other stuff we hadn’t ordered, namely some flatbread, falafel and tzatziki. We queried this with the waitress but she indicated that was how our order came.

Three minutes later the two main dishes arrived as we feared so we had a table full of food and, to be frank, it was pretty abysmal. Well, the mixed olives were fine.

Sylvia’s chicken BLT burger (£8.95) was served with lukewarm chips, a vinegary coleslaw and a miserable-looking salad garnish. But worst of all was the marinated chicken breast at the heart of the burger. It was generally dry, the extremities inedible and the only part which was remotely moist was the innermost part which seemed barely cooked.

My Yorkshire Cheeseboard pizza (£8.95) featured a delicious cheese topping – mozzarella, Yorkshire Blue from Shepherd’s Purse and Wensleydale - but a catastrophically bad base. The sections covered with cheese and tomato were passable but the wide, topping-less margins were terrible with the texture of baked cardboard.

The side salad was limp, sad and undressed. Just totally depressing.

All we wanted to do was get out of the place. There were no desserts anyway.

I headed for the bar and asked for the bill. The barman tapped away on the till and said “£33.80”. I repeated my request which the bar seemed to think a bit odd.

When finally printed, the bill explained the farrago over the “starter”. The waitress thought we had ordered the hummus, garlic flatbread, falafel and tzatziki (£5.95) from the light bites menu and added the olives (£2) on top of that. Rather than just the grissini sticks and hummus from the bar snacks menu. But it didn’t explain why we got the grissini sticks with light bites option as well – although we had ordered them. Are you following me here?

I asked for the manager, who turned out to be drinking with a group of mates just behind me. Very professional we thought.

To be fair to him he was very courteous, removed the “starters”from the bill – “We don’t do starters, sir” – and apologised. The total was now £25.88 but the manager and seemingly the entire bar team struggled to generate a printed bill/VAT receipt as is necessary for the D&S Times accounts department.

And just to the round the evening off, Sylvia, who had wondered where the hell I was, found herself propositioned by a customer who was at least 40 years younger than her. It was definitely the best part of her evening.

In 14 years doing this job, I don’t think I have witnessed a more pathetic attempt to run a hospitality business. Truly a triumph of style over substance.


The Potting Shed

78-79 High Street, Northallerton DL7 8EN

Tel: 0845 500 0999 Web: pottingshedbar.com

Food served: 10am-8pm

Disabled access to most areas. Limited vegetarian options

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality: 3, Service 4, Surroundings 8, Value 6