A Luncheonette, says the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a small restaurant or snack bar serving light lunches”, and Hatch, squeezed into a sliver of a fascinating old building in Darlington town centre, is exactly that.

Downstairs is a corridor with just enough room for a few tables and stool perches while upstairs, there’s seating for about 15, in among the plants that hang from the ceiling, fill every crevice and send their tendrils creeping around the windowframes.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside Htch in Blackwellgate, Darlington
Indeed, Hatch is so small that it often abbreviates its own name to “Htch” as there isn’t even room to swing a vowel.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Htch logo
The menu is also compact. To my wife, Petra, and I, it was fashionably intriguing but it may not be to everyone’s tastes – if our son, Theo, had been present with his love of pizza, pasta, meat and chips accompanied by more chips, he might have struggled to choose a main course.

Htch does artful things with sausages, bacon and eggs for breakfast. It also presents sandwiches which, rather than ham and cheese, are prosciutto and mozzarella.
Most intriguing were the five bowls, packed with beans and salads and exotic-looking words.

I’d come across an Italian nduja sausage before, which was served in a bowl with Turkish eggs, Greek yoghurt and chilli butter, but I had never come across “dukkha” on a menu. Google advised me that it was one of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism meaning suffering, unhappiness or unsatisfactoriness, which you would not expect to find served in a bowl in Blackwellgate along with hummus, bean salad, feta and pink onions for £11.

“Dukkah”, added Google, is a traditional Egyptian blend of nuts, seeds, and warm spices, which seemed more likely, but the waiter suggested Htch’s dukkha was a creamy Greek sauce.

Instead, I ordered a bowl of buttermilk chicken which came with house slaw and green salad with sriracha (I knew that one: an eastern chilli) hollandaise (£12) while Petra ordered a Vegan dish from the specials board: chestnut mushrooms, spinach and tarragon on focaccia with crematta (it said £10 on the blackboard but the receipt said just £9).

We were dining on a drizzly grey Tuesday lunchtime, but we were given the last two free chairs – Htch has been open for five years now and has clearly built up a loyal clientele. There were dogs sitting quietly downstairs while their owners had cake and coffee; upstairs, with light flooding in through the old, rolled glass of the windows, ladies of a certain age lunched on the bowls with large glasses of rosé by their side. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: A bottom-opening teapot into a plastic beaker

In contrast, I had a “cup” of tea, served in a see-through bottom-opening pot that dropped its contents into a plastic beaker (above).

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Buttermilk chicken bowl

My chicken (above) was excellent, three juicy breadcrumbed nuggets, smothered in a good hollandaise and in a bowl brimming with healthy tastes: tomatoes, pickles, cucumber, pink onions, loads of slaw and lots of slaw-y type things.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Vegan chestnut mushrooms
To me, as a mushroom lover, Petra’s bowl (above) also looked very appetising as there were loads of firm, meaty mushrooms scattered over the green of the spinach with great wedges of focaccia on the side.

However, after a few moments it became clear that this mushroom dish had somehow become too mushroomy with mushrooms mushrooming all over the place, especially as, from the other side of the table, my salad looked so inventive.

This, dear reader, is what I have to live with. As Lord Alfred Tennyson nearly said in The Charge of the Light Brigade: “Mine is not to make reply, mine is not to reason why, mine is to swap the dish and give the mushrooms a try.”

So I gave up my succulent chicken with all its tasty accompaniments and turned to the mushrooms.

I liked them, firm and meaty with nice, soft focaccia topped with crematta – a word my dictionary claims has something to do with cremations but is actually a creamy plant-based spread that is cool and fresh but seemed not to taste of anything in particular. I didn’t get any tarragon, either, but this allowed the mushrooms to star.

As we sidled out of the slither of the building, standing sideways to let other people pass, we chose two pieces of cake to take with us. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: The cakes from Hatch, with the superb honey and bergamot on the right
They didn’t travel especially well in a paper bag, and the banana and chocolate Malteser cake (on the left, above)  (£3.50) was perhaps a little stodgy but was rescued by some good chocolate icing. The honey and bergamot cake (£3.80) was absolutely exceptional, a light, luscious honey cake with a beautiful buttercream topping.
So we had two tasty, inventive and different bowls and one delightful piece of cake for out £34.30 (including drinks). This luncheonette is small, but pretty well formed.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Hatch, or Htch, at Blackwellgate, Darlington

Hatch Luncheonette,
32 Blackwellgate,
Phone: 01325-380720

The Ratings
Surroundings: 8
Service: 8
Food quality: 8
Value for money: 8