“MAN up!” was the gist of the message from the Boss at the D&S Times to your reviewer’s pleas to be temporarily excused Eating Out duties on the entirely reasonable grounds that the weather wasn’t very nice.

I mean, who, seriously, wants to eat out on some blasted pub or restaurant terrace with rain, hail or even snow for company? Overhead patio heaters are great, of course, but they tend to fry your brains while leaving your feet frozen.

April’s unseasonal weather wasn’t helpful for those of us wanting to get out and enjoy food cooked by someone else that didn’t involve bringing it back home in a bundle of little boxes.

We really didn’t fancy it, particularly Sylvia who quite fairly said she could happily wait a few more weeks to enjoy a meal out that was actually a meal in.

But those hard words were ringing in my ears and on Saturday regular scrutiny of the BBC weather app held out the prospect of a break in the weather on Sunday, when the sun might just come out long enough to lift the temperature into double figures. There was a chance, a small chance, of a meal where hypothermia wasn’t on the menu.

So we braved the rear terrace of Ciao Bella in Northallerton High Street, which opened opposite the Town Hall with unfortunate timing in October 2020.

The building is better known as The Fleece Inn and the business retains a dual identity – a very traditional pub and an Italian restaurant. The dual identity is evidenced by the exterior pub sign – a golden fleece wearing a jacket of the Italian tricolor.

The Fleece, aka Ciao Bella, is the town’s oldest pub, a handsome stone and half-timbered structure renowned, according to the splendidly ungrammatical carved wooden commemorative plaque on the outside, as “Where Charles Dickens is said to have wrote Nicholas Nickleby”.

Ciao Bella in Northallerton High Street - once The Fleece

Ciao Bella in Northallerton High Street - once The Fleece

The currently out-of-bounds interior is certainly Dickensian – full of dark corners ideal for sharing explosive gossip, hatching dastardly plots, or just having a quiet pint.

But the terrace to the rear is unexpectedly massive and great efforts have been made to make it attractive for outside dining. No fortune has been spent but the erection of a corrugated Perspex roof does what it needs to do in keeping out the rain and letting through what sunlit is around.

And praise be, no sooner had we sat down than the clouds parted, the sun burst through and within minutes we were throwing off multiple layers, digging out the sunglasses, ordering cold beers and exclaiming: “Phew, what a scorcher! This is the Life.”

Taking into account one unimpeachable Law of Eating Out – that food always tastes twice as good when eaten in the sunshine – our lunch was rather special, in fact some bits were pretty much perfect.

What we liked was a cut-down Covid-times menu which featured those old Italian pizza and pasta favourites but also showed willingness to provide something a bit different – a fish fritto misto and a walnut and prosciutto gnocchi dish for example.

There was also a good-looking wine list with lots of Italian wines by the glass – classic whites like soave, verdicchio, ovieto and pecorino. Love ‘em all.

We stuck with old favourites – a plain char-grilled chicken breast for Sylvia and penne arrabiata for me, preceded by a shared spiedino misto, a shared char-grilled skewer of chicken, peppers, pepperoni and red onion.

Firstly, the chicken was on the dry side – particularly in the shared starter – but the charring of Sylvia’s main course breast was the saving grace.

And my arribiata sauce was a bit timid for something that should be properly spicy. But the pasta was properly al dente.

The chips with the chicken were absolutely beautiful – to look at and to crunch – as was the accompanying side salad.

The rear terrace of Ciao Bella in Northallerton High Street

The rear terrace of Ciao Bella in Northallerton High Street

But the absolutely stand-out dish we thoroughly enjoyed sharing was a stupendous tiramisu. So often this is bought in by Italian restaurants but this had been prepared individually in the dish and was full of espresso and marsala-soaked sponge, cream and a thick cocoa topping.

The bill for this was £42 which included three halves of Moretti lager and 175ml glass of a fruity Barbera d’Asti red – all of which went down swimmingly in the sunshine.

Service, rather halting at first, perversely improved as the terrace filled with diners and the Italian maitre’d was warmth personified.

Duty done. We’d manned up. In fact Sylvia enjoyed the alfresco lunch so much she said we must do it again. We will, from Monday, with the added comfort of being able to take shelter if this topsy-turvy weather continues.

Ciao Bella/The Fleece

89 High Street, Northallerton DL7 8PP

Tel: 01609 770891 Web: www.ciaobellacucinaitaliana.co.uk

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8 Service 7 Surroundings 8 Value 7 Sunshine 10