A DARLINGTON pizzeria has been named the best in England.

Following an undercover visit to the cosy Stable Hearth pizza restaurant and a nationwide public vote, judges for the prestigious English Italian Awards agreed that it was the best in the country.

At a glitzy black tie ceremony in Manchester on Sunday, owner Nicholas Thexton heard the good news for the first time when winners were revealed from the stage.

He said: “It came as a big shock but was fantastic, it felt like our hard work was paying off.

“We have a great team and it’s nice to be appreciated by both the public and the industry for what we are trying to do in serving authentic Italian pizza.”

A spokesman for the English Italian Awards judges said that Stable Hearth offered “one of the best pizzas we have ever tasted” and praised the authenticity of the ingredients and taste.

Stable Hearth first opened in 2013, operating out of a small venue in Gainford until a move saw the team open the latest incarnation of the restaurant on Darlington’s Duke Street in December last year.

The popular eatery offers a selection of Neapolitan style pizzas fired in an oven purchased from a third generation family business in Italy.

Mr Thexton said he believed judges – who told him that their experience at Stable Hearth had been ‘outstanding’ – enjoyed the atmosphere and the food on offer at the family-run restaurant.

He said the award win would spur the small team on to make the most of their venue, with plans already in the pipeline to open the upstairs and expand their services.

Mr Thexton added: “It means a great deal to us that we have been recognised for being a good pizzeria and can only strengthen our business.

“Hopefully this will give us some security and backing – not financially but in terms of faith in what we do.

“We’ve stuck by our morals and what we set out to do, which is serve pizza as it should be served, as it is in Italy and we work hard to do so.

“The award is also a good thing for Darlington, where we are one of many small and independent restaurants doing their best to offer good food and give the town something different.”