CELEBRITY restaurateurs are not the sort of thing one finds round here: certainly not outside our big cities – principally London.

In truth they didn’t really exist until 40 years ago when the nation developed an appetite, obsession even, for everything to do with food.

Here in the North-East we were ahead of the game with the McCoy brothers – the original celebrity hospitality honchos who became stars, locally and nationally, through their creations at the Kirklevington Country Club in the 1970s, then the Cleveland Tontine, near Osmotherley, and the Purple Onion in Middlesbrough.

Not everything they touched turned to gold of course – anyone remember Perry’s in Darlington? – but when they got it right, they created highly individual, stylish venues where the food, drink and atmosphere was sublimely good. And they got it right most of the time.

Whatever the zeitgeist of the 70s, 80s or 90s, the McCoy brothers were comfortably ahead of it and helped to set the singular course that others tried to follow, usually with little success.

The Tontine was their most enduring and successful project, with Eugene primarily at the helm in the latter years of the McCoys' tenure. He wove a magic over the place which is hard to define, but you knew you had experienced it when you dined there on the right night and he was quietly yet flamboyantly in charge of the show.

Crathorne Arms

Crathorne Arms

Eugene and his beloved Tontine parted company in difficult circumstances around eight years ago, but it was not long before he and his wife Barbara resurfaced just a few miles up the A19 – a road which seems to connect all the McCoys’ success stories – at the Crathorne Arms, in Crathorne village just a few miles south of Yarm. You can’t keep a good man, and woman, down.

Stepping through the entrance of what appears on the outside to be a humble village pub, one realises the McCoy magic is still about. Even early doors on a dank Saturday lunchtime, with not many folk around, there’s an atmosphere about the place which sets it apart.

I hope the pictures that accompany these words do justice to the interior. The artful collection of stuff – much of it personal to Eugene and Barbara from the Tontine glory days – might be called shabby chic but that hardly covers the eclecticism of the way the various rooms are decked out.

As ever, the lighting is just right – fairy lights abound – and just in case you may have forgotten where you are, there’s a life-size cut-out of the great man himself in a corner of the music room along with lots of ephemera from the glory days of ‘The Kirk’.

At the back there’s an attractive terrace, a massive tepee – handy for these Covid times – and somewhere a pizza oven which churned out thousands during lockdown.

No doubt those pizzas are special but we wanted a more classical dining experience and the a la carte was where we found it.

Resisting the lure of that perennial McCoy’s favourite – the seafood pancake – we nevertheless shared two seafood starters – a bowl of clams in a cider and garlic broth and some Greenland prawns with a Marie Rose sauce, a dusting of paprika and langoustine oil.

The clams (great to see them on a menu) were fat, salty and juicy and every drop of the broth demanded to be soaked up with the excellent sourdough bread.

Crathorne Arms

Crathorne Arms

The prawns looked beautiful but were a complete let down. Tasteless and watery, it would have been a travesty to pay £8.50 for them so it was relief to realise later that they were only a fiver as part of the prix fixe two-courses for £20.

Normal service was resumed for the mains, an absolutely peerless grilled whole lemon sole served on the bone with a rose harissa hollandaise sauce, new potatoes and samphire, and some coal-grilled chicken with chips and salad – a simple thing but perfection nevertheless.

Sadly, there was no sign of the great man but no doubt he has to pace himself a little these days. Instead his young staff were totally on it, with cheery demeanors and timely interventions when we needed looking after.

We skipped desserts, so the bill came to £65 including a small glass of wine and soft drink. By far the most pricey dish was the sole which was not included in the prix fixe selections but at £27 was worth every penny.

On the way out we paused by Eugene’s life-size two-dimensional manikin to browse the bookshelf. Dunninger’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Magic stood next to the Chelsea Arts Club Yearbook and a guidebook to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Which kind of sums up the wacky but wonderful world of the McCoys.

The Crathorne Arms

Crathorne TS15 0BA

Tel: 01642 961402

Web: thecrathornearms.co.uk

Opening times for food: Tuesday 6-9pm; Wednesday and Thursday noon-2.30pm, 6-9pm; Friday and Saturday noon-2.30pm, 5-9pm; Sunday noon-

4.30pm. Closed Monday.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 10 Surroundings 10 Value 9