GASTROPUB is not a term I find particularly palatable. For me it conjures up images of skinny-jean wearing hipster types whose too-cool demands turn once-cosy locals into soulless places serving chips from tiny metal buckets and gin from jam jars. Not my cup of tea thanks. But ‘gastropub’ simply means ‘a pub that specialises in serving high quality food’. And that dictionary definition certainly applies to The Mowden in Darlington.

Set slightly back from Staindrop Road, The Mowden’s windows were steamed up as we approached on a busy Friday evening. The atmosphere was as warm as the pub itself as we threaded our way to the bar, the realisation slowly dawning as we scanned the packed tables that perhaps we should have booked. Thankfully for us, and for this column, after a few moments of the waiter carefully scanning the bookings diary we were told there was a last-minute cancellation of a table for two. Phew.

After buying a couple of drinks at the bar, we settled down to take in the menu and our surroundings. Although The Mowden is a large, open plan pub, the eating and drinking areas are clearly defined, with the dining area to the right of the pub as you enter. A handful of tables are on a slightly elevated floor, fostering a cosy restaurant feeling, although our last-minute table for two was something of an island on the ‘main’ pub floor not far from the kitchen door.

Within minutes a waiter arrived to take our drinks order and upon hearing we were interested in red wine he was quick to recommend a bottle of Secretary Bird Merlot that was on offer (£10.95). He advised that it was as nice as the more expensive bottle anyway. That’s the sort of service I like.

The Mowden’s food menu is extensive, though not bafflingly so, and the layout is very clear. There is a decent vegetarian/vegan offering and a ‘Mowden Mains’ list which covers everything from mussels, to chicken parmesan and pub classics such as fish and chips and steak and ale pie. These dishes are two for £18. My wife Charlotte, a vegetarian and sometime vegan, was impressed with The Mowden’s offering, extending as it does beyond a veggie burger and a salad. The vegetarian options include penne pasta with fire roasted peppers, lemongrass and coconut curry, and smoked cheese and spinach souffle. Charlotte said it was nice to dine somewhere where the vegetarian section didn’t feel like an irritating afterthought.

An unashamed meat-eater myself, I opted for the garlic and chilli king prawns with charred bread (£7.95) to start and the coconut and lemongrass chicken curry with cinnamon rice and coriander cress (£10.50) from the ‘Mowden Mains’ section. Not that it mattered to me, but both dishes are gluten free and clearly marked as such along with many others on the wider menu – a useful touch for those who need to know. Charlotte went for the bruschetta of grilled goat’s cheese with red onion marmalade (£5.50) and a main of butternut squash risotto with roasted squash, puree, parmesan, fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts (£9).

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Our starters arrived in timely fashion and the garlic prawns were exceptional; juicy, plump and with enough bite to rattle the taste buds, but not enough to overpower them. The soft bread was the perfect accompaniment. Charlotte reported that her bruschetta was thoroughly enjoyable, with a well-balanced marmalade that did not overpower the dish. Our dishes were cleared promptly and there was a perfect pause to allow our starters to settle before the mains arrived. The lemongrass curry was beautifully presented, the chicken was succulent and the sauce creamy. There was ample fluffy rice whose quantity did beat me. My only criticism is that the main was a tad bland, but that may have been more to do with the strength of flavour of the wonderful garlic prawns. Charlotte's risotto was rich and creamy and she polished if off with vigour.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The wine slipped down nicely and we enjoyed the high-end feel to the food combined with the relaxed pub atmosphere. Looking straight ahead from our table into the main bar area, I could see a sleepy black Labrador languishing on the floor, yet turn to the right and it looks like a restaurant. It may not be ideal for people who want one or the other, but The Mowden manages to combine the benefits of a pub, with food that puts it several cuts above the average boozer.

Despite feeling rather full, we both found room for dessert. The waiter who passed us by several times noticed us eyeing up dessert dishes on the way to other tables and he helpfully told us what each one was. I went for the honey panna cotta with macerated berries, pistachio and lemon crumb (£4.50) while Charlotte opted for the white chocolate and raspberry Eton mess (£4.50). The panna cotta was the perfect end to a lovely meal, refreshing and tasty, it didn’t last long. The Eton Mess was fabulously presented but Charlotte would have liked more white chocolate pieces.

In all, the food was fantastic and at £55.55 for three courses and wine for two, the prices are sensible. We certainly left The Mowden feeling grateful to the unknown couple who cancelled their table that Friday night.


The Mowden, Staindrop Road, Darlington, DL3 9BE

Tel: 01325 776463


Open: Monday to Friday noon - 2pm, 5pm - 9pm, Saturday, noon - 9pm, Sunday noon - 4pm (Traditional Sunday Lunch)

Dietary options including vegetarian, vegan, gluten free

Ratings (out of ten): Food Quality 9, Service 8, Surroundings 7, Value, 9