I REALISE that it’s bad form to discuss the state of one’s digestive tract in mixed company – and I think the readership of the D&S certainly qualifies as that.

I also realise that some of you might be even eating breakfast as you read this.

But panic not, there’s going to be no stomach-turning detail here, just an explanation as why lunch is becoming more attractive than dinner – and for the sake of clarification, dinner in this context means an evening meal served after 7pm.

While not looking for sympathy, I have to say that the Warne insides have gone into battle on your behalf for a long time now. Without fear or favour we have eaten in the line of duty right across the broad acres of North Yorkshire, Teesside and County Durham and, yes, at times it’s been tough.

We’ve put on a few pounds and, as we’ve got older we found that eating rich food late in the evening is getting harder. I know, it’s an age thing.

So you may have noticed a few more lunches being appraised in this column and fewer dinners.

But eating earlier in the day has its advantages – at least as far the D&S accounts department is concerned. There are some stonking lunchtime deals out there. Like Crathorne Hall’s three courses for £19.50 – and that’s exactly half the price of eating there in the evening. There is a catch but we’ll come to that later.

Now I do realise that you can find far cheaper lunch deals than that but then you will not be eating in the grand surroundings of the last stately home to be built (1906) in England. The Edwardian splendour is worth paying a little premium for.

We certainly thought so as we took our place in the high-ceilinged Leven Restaurant and gazed out over the closely-cropped lawn with the Leven Valley and the Cleveland Hills beyond, noted the crisp white table linen, the immaculately polished glassware and the precisely-placed cutlery.

Then there’s the slightly hushed, super-deferential service which all adds to the Downton Abbey moment.

And the food would have kept Lord Grantham happy too with a choice of three starters, three mains and three desserts.

Sylvia’s starter was a chunky slice of coarse, rich, country-style pork pate served with a few mixed leaves and toasted brioche. Lovely, she said.

My tomato and red onion tart had the lightest of filo pastry bases, cleverly made to fit the contours of the plate, and a sweet and crunchy filling. There was a garnish of black olives and rocket. The rocket was rather overdone, smothering the top of the tart, and spoiling the look of what was otherwise a very pretty dish.

Mains were of an equally high standard and beautifully presented. Sylvia’s pot roast chicken was a simply braised breast of chicken on the bone, drizzled with a thyme jus and accompanied by fondant potato and fine green beans.

My fillet of salmon was a class act indeed. What appeared to be an unremarkable piece of fish was turned into something special by the smooth, crunchy and creamy lobster risotto, the shaved fennel and the sprinkling of apple marigold (it’s an herb). The fillet was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin which just had to be eaten.

The glory continued with dessert. A barely-sweet and super-light lemon tart was set off nicely with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and some gently singed meringues and a macaroon for good measure.

Sylvia’s rhubarb crumble tested her resolve not to over-eat with its oaty topping and only slightly tart filling. The vanilla custard was definitely more crème Anglaise than Birds. Somehow she finished it. What a trooper.

Excellent coffee and truffles (£2 extra) brought our food bill to £43 and had we drunk just tap water it would have been an absolute nailed-on bargain. But drinks were very pricey, as they invariably are in hotels regardless of the time of day. I suspect they don’t do happy hours at Crathorne. Two medium-sized glasses of a zesty-fresh Albarino were a whopping £9.50 each and two pre-lunch drinks with mixers were another £6.50 each.

It was somewhat surprising that when Sylvia fancied a second glass of the Albarino, the Crathorne cellar had run out. Lord Grantham – perhaps even Lord Crathorne - would have been appalled.

But sitting there in splendid isolation in the dining room, with a clock ticking away somnolently as 3pm came and went, with a wonderful lunch going down nicely with the dregs of our coffee, I was still inclined to think it was tremendous value.

And it was all nicely digested by bedtime.


The Leven Restaurant at Crathorne Hall, Crathorne, Yarm

Tel: 0845 072 7440

Web: handpickedhotels.co.uk

Lunch served noon-2pm (book for the Leven Restaurant)

Disabled access. Gluten and dairy-free options available

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 9 Surroundings 10 Value 10 (without alcohol, 8 with)