DESPERATE times in Darlington town centre. Retailers are leaving with Marks and Spencer being just the latest and best well-known concern to move out.

The broad smile that was High Row is looking decidedly gap-toothed and as for Skinnergate, it looks that it’s been in a fight to the death and come off very much second best.

Binns has only been saved thanks to that kind Mr Ashley’s takeover of House of Fraser but there’s a caveat – unless we all spend an absolute fortune there between now and Christmas it may still close.

It’s enough to drive a dedicated shopper to drink.

But that’s OK because for every shop that closes there seems to be at least one bar or restaurant that opens.

The trouble with that is almost every other restaurant seems to selling pizza and pasta. Just how much carbonara and margherita can Darlington stomach? Rather a lot it seems.

So a new restaurant that serves something different has to be welcomed.

Rare – which specialises in steak – opened earlier this year in Grange Road – the heart of what used to be Truffle – an ultimately doomed attempt to convert to the town to fine dining. Before that it was Brown’s – a sadly short-lived bistro – and before that Treasure Island, a Cantonese joint which was there for ages. I think it was open when I first came to Darlington 35 years ago.

So what are Rare’s chances? Medium to well done we reckon.

While steak is the thing, Rare does offer other stuff by the way. There are a couple of chicken dishes, duck breast, lamb rump and three fish dishes including fish dishes. And they also do brunch from 10.30am offering poached eggs to chicken parmo and pancakes.

The steaks we had were good – sourced locally from Country Valley Foods. They weren’t from Country Valley’s top-dollar Himalayan salt brick dry-aged range but definitely a cut above.

We were a party of three and sampled sirloin, rib-eye and fillet. All were cooked exactly to the right degree of rare (Laura’s 8oz fillet - £22.95), medium rare (my 10oz rib-eye - £19.95) and medium (Sylvia’s 10oz rump - £17.95), and were properly rested before serving. All three were juicy and tender, even Sylvia’s rump (apologies to the wife – perhaps I should phrased that better).

The steaks were served with mushroom, tomato and our choice of chips – sweet potato, chunky and skinny – all good but sauces were extra. Which we thought was fair enough for a Dianne, bacon and blue cheese or mushroom which did entail some cooking but £2.95 for a pat of garlic herb butter stretched the definition of a sauce to the limits.

Laura and I had starters too. Both her tomato and mozzarella caprese salad with pesto (£4.95) and my queen scallops in a white wine and cream sauce (£6.95) were exactly what we expected and priced appropriately.

And we shared a dessert. The chocolate almond torte (£5.95) was a gooey-centred slab of nutty sweetness served with vanilla ice cream.

We had some issues with the service. It was slow at the start where we waited 20 minutes to get a drink and we never really felt that the staff were truly on top of a very busy evening. The split-level nature of the dining area doesn’t help with the staff needing x-ray eyes to see what was required two levels above or below where they were working.

At the beginning of the evening I used the minuscule gents toilet and reported to the staff that the soap dispenser was empty. On paying a further visit two hours later it was still empty.

The bill for the three of us was £96 which seemed OK at the time but proved to be even better when I got home and looked at the bill more carefully and realised that they had missed off a rather lovely, full-bodied bottle of St Emilion (£25.95).

Rare has a few problems but we feel they are eminently solvable. And we hope they do. Any Darlington restaurant that’s not serving pizza and pasta has to survive.


Rare, 20 Grange Road, Darlington DL1 5NG

Tel: 01325-461111.

No website.

Facebook: @rare

Open: Brunch served 10.30am-2pm, 5-9pm. Sunday lunch served noon-3pm

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