WHEN I first lived in Northallerton more than 25 years ago the best butcher in town was either Thompson’s or Trueman’s.

It was a close-run thing and the subject of keen debate among those who quite rightly wouldn’t buy meat from an obscure Scottish supermarket called William Low which later became what is now Tesco

David Moule produced a mean pork pie but wasn’t quite in the same league.

Then Trueman’s sadly closed leaving Thompson’s pre-eminent for many years.

Until Kitson’s arrived from Stockton, moving into Moule’s old High Street premises and taking the battle to Thompson’s.

Today, the debate is as keen as ever. Perhaps Kitson’s have the edge with the pies, and Thompson’s with its burgers – especially those its sells from its pavement barbie on high days and holidays.

But when it comes to ambition Kitson’s is way out in front with its latest venture being a farmshop at Crathorne, not far from the Yarm exit on the A19.

It opened earlier last year and based on an initial cursory drive-by inspection in the autumn it looked to be busy. When we returned just before Christmas, it was clear that wasn’t a flash in the pan – the car park has been extended to cope with the numbers.

Converted from some Grade II-listed farm buildings most recently used as offices on what was the Crathorne Hall estate, Five Houses Farmshop and Kitchen is very definitely at the posh end of the farmshop spectrum.

It may not scale the heights of Mainsgill Farmshop on the A66 for sheer size but it is undeniably well done out with its mix of white-washed and bare brick walls, wood floors, artful lighting and Lucy Pittaway prints.

Along with the large butchery, vegetable displays, gift shop, and wine and beers, there are a number of eating areas spread over two floors served by friendly staff dressed in corporate uniform. All very professional.

It’s opening means this part of North Yorkshire is now extraordinarily well catered for as far as farmshops is concerned. Roots (first-rate breakfasts among other things) is just on the other side of the A19 at East Rounton and just south of Yarm is Hutchinson Hobbs.

On our lunchtime visit over the holiday, we determinedly bypassed all the shop goodies and headed for the café which was very, very busy. We found a table upstairs and were quickly brought menus.

There are a few surprises, at least surprising in this context. Smashed avocado and poached “hen’s egg” on granary toast, organic porridge, cumin-spiced hummus and red pepper ciabatta and miso-glazed salmon suggested a degree of hipster-ish coolness one wouldn’t normally associate with a North Yorkshire farm shop.

But panic not, closer inspection revealed the more traditional fare one might expect, not least the pies which Kitsons are famous for, and other staples such as sandwiches (bacon, sausage, ham), salads, full English breakfasts, ploughmans, tea cakes, and scones.

The tables upstairs benefit from views over the surrounding countryside but the drawback is slightly haphazard service. Being separate from operation central downstairs meant out of sight out of mind was a factor perhaps.

We were by no means ignored, it was just the nagging feeling that whenever the upstairs was devoid of staff we were going to be.

So it took a while before we could place our order – a burger and diet Coke for Sylvia and a steak pie and a rhubarb flavoured soft drink for me. Yes, a bit frugal but it was the period between Christmas and New Year when we were trying to kid ourselves that we really hadn’t over-indulged that much.

And when they arrived, these were pretty substantial platefuls. Sylvia’s Homemade Kitson’s Burger (£10) was served in a toasted brioche bun topped with Cheddar cheese and was accompanied by baby gem lettuce, some good, crisp, skinny fries, a crunchy-creamy coleslaw and Kitson’s house ketchup.

While the brioche bun top was over toasted and discarded, the burger was as good as a plain burger gets, made with ground mince steak which remained moist in the middle and mildly charred on the outside.

My steak pie (£9) was similarly proficient. Decent, braised chunks of steak in a well-seasoned gravy was encased in a golden shortcrust pastry. It came with a crushed potato cake, “seasonal greens” (broccoli, mange tout – not sure if they strictly meet the definition of seasonal), a smear of pea of puree and a little red wine sauce on the side.

The bill was a pretty reasonable £23 with the drinks which included the eye-poppingly refreshing Cawston Press sparkling rhubarb cordial/presse.

After paying we left through the shop and almost managed to escape but ultimately succumbed to purchasing a bottle of Yorg, the excellent re-branded organic drinking yoghurt produced at Stamfrey Farm just a few miles down the A19. It’s on the menu’s “cakes and treats” section too, served with organic honey toasted granola and berry compote.

As I said. Dead posh.


Five Houses Farmshop and Kitchen, Crathorne, Yarm, TS15 0AY

Tel: 01642 700333

Web: fivehouses.co.uk

Kitchen open Monday to Saturday 8.30am-5pm (last orders 4.30pm).

Disabled access. Limited vegetarian options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 6, Surroundings 8, Value 7