People sometimes ask what has been my most memorable eating out experience in the quarter of a century I have been contributing to this column.

There isn’t one, as it happens, but there are a number of meals which live in the memory and it’s not necessarily the food that made it special.

An example is The Fleece Inn, Northallerton, which, to be brutally frank, has never hitherto had a reputation as a great place to eat.

What made it memorable in the Covid-19 pandemic early summer of 2021 was that it was the first meal we were able to eat out after the lifting of social distancing restrictions following the long second lockdown.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Fleece Inn on Northallerton High Street

The Fleece in those days was masquerading as an Italian restaurant called Ciao Bella – a short-lived incarnation it turned out as it closed a year later.

The food was distinctly average but it just didn’t matter. To sit outside, in the sunshine, with a bunch of other people and to be served at a table was just heaven.

That was then and today, three years later, a world away it seems in so many ways, there are new people at the helm of The Fleece.

As one would expect, with The Fleece being “Northallerton’s oldest inn” (an unchallenged claim to fame, it seems) the new tenant has left the fabric largely untouched. Rightly so, the sandstone and half-timbered frontage, the massive stone slabbed floors and equally massive oak beamed low ceilings are an essential part of the building’s character.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside The Fleece Inn on Northallerton High Street

One historical element which thankfully has been disposed of is the famously-ungrammatical plaque on the outside recording that the inn is “Where Charles Dickens is said to have wrote Nicholas Nickleby”.

The menu at The Fleece is equally traditional with a good range of pub food on offer.

But it also does particularly good deals on Wednesdays and Sundays with a carvery (£7.95) and on Saturday mornings where a buffet breakfast is served between 9am and 11am, again for just £7.95.

A couple of years ago I found a full English breakfast in Northallerton for just £4.95 which I thought unbeatable value at the time. Perhaps not surprisingly, the business didn’t last very long.

The Fleece’s 2024 version of Northallerton’s best-value breakfast is easily its equal, even if it is a three pounds more.

For £7.95 you can choose from fried eggs, bacon, sausage, chopped tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns and fried bread, plus toast and tea or coffee. And as it is a serve-yourself buffet one can returned for second helpings – if one full English breakfast is somehow insufficient.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside The Fleece Inn on Northallerton High Street

The quality is a match for the quantity. Okay, the bacon and sausages may not have come from the very best rare-breed porkers but they were better quality than many I’ve sampled at buffet breakfasts and well cooked.

The same standard applied to everything else served from the buffet table. Crispy fried bread, crunchy hash browns, mushrooms that were not overcooked and flabby. We approved of the fact that chef changed the eggs regularly. There’s nothing less appealing than fried eggs that have sat under warming lamps too long and the yolks have begun to develop that very unappetising congealed look.

It was gratifying to see chef from time to time checking the internal temperature of the food, particularly the sausages, in the serving dishes. They clearly take their food safety responsibilities very seriously.

There was only white sliced bread available but for this price one can hardly expect the finest Viennese rye sourdough.

The buffet servery is set up at the back of the inn adjacent to the kitchen but you can take your food and eat it anywhere, for example beside the roaring fire in the front bar.

While the breakfast is self-service there were plenty of staff around to help when required, including Penny, the cheery and charming landlady.

She and her partner, Adrian, have an interest in a catering consultancy business and they clearly know their onions – as well as their hash browns. While the inn wasn’t packed when we called early on a Saturday morning we understand you need to book for the Sunday lunch slot.

They are also not short of ambition. Occasional fine dining nights are now a feature with the next one planned for Valentine’s Night. You’ll probably need to book sooner rather than later for that one.

Also, just before Christmas, Adrian took on the running of the Castle Arms and Snape, near Bedale. An embryonic pub empire perhaps.

The Fleece Inn,

89 High Street, Northallerton DL7 8PP.

Tel: 07700 173990.


Saturday breakfast served 9am-11am.

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