The Spotted Dog used to be a dark and a bit dingy country pub on a dodgy corner, but in recent months it has been reborn as a dark country pub – only now it is tastefully dark with no dinginess.

They’ve cut out the dodgy corner, as access to the car park is now a much safer squeeze through the houses behind, and inside they’ve cleared out all the dark nooks and crannies. They’ve given it a modern colour scheme – we thought it was teal, but it was too dark to tell – but, through the clever lighting, its intimate feel has not been lost.

During the refurbishment, a 30ft deep well was discovered, and it has been turned into a magnetic feature, protected by a sturdy pane of glass which allows people to see the lights all the way down the stone walls to the black pool of water at the bottom.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Spotted Dog High Coniscliffe re-opens after major refurbishment Image: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Everyone, it seems, is drawn to the well, altering the course of their journeys to their tables to have a look; children stand beside it, daring themselves to be brave enough to walk across it but, at the last moment, the leap over it in fear of being plummeted into the dark below.

The refurbishment has been such a success that even though we booked our Saturday evening table several days in advance, the only space available was in the bar area, next to the well, with a view of the large kitchen hatch – a brave design feature which means customers can see, and hear, all that goes on.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Spotted Dog High Coniscliffe re-opens after major refurbishment Image: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTThe well and the kitchen hatch

The menu features six pre-starter snacks at about a fiver each – pigs in blankets, whitebait or olives and nuts – and a good range of eight starters for about £9 each. Among those we didn’t choose was the braised beef cheek croquette, the pheasant, bacon and apricot terrine, and the hummus, dukkha and minted pickled carrots.

By contrast, the mains menu felt quite limited as there were only six items, three of which were seafood and one of which was a vegetarian chargrilled butternut squash. There were, though, plenty of steaks on the grill menu.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Smoked mackerel starter at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

So Petra, my wife, started with smoked mackerel (£8.95) (above) which came with pickles, toast and a green salad. It was a lovely smoky, fishy pate, with pickles for bite, and, importantly, the right pate-to-bread ratio.

I was very nearly suckered into having the hummus, even though I don’t really like hummus, by the tantalising prospect of the accompanying minted pickled carrots (whatever can they taste like?), but instead felt compelled to choose the Scotch egg (£7.95) (below) which had the added allure of burnt apple ketchup.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Scotch egg with burnt apple ketchup starter at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

The ketchup, though, didn’t really taste of anything. It was not appley, not tomatoey, not incinerated, but it was slightly sweet so it worked quite nicely with the gentle porky surrounds of the egg.

The egg’s coating was crispy, and its yolk was golden-orange and runny, so this was a nice dish of contrasting tastes and textures: the sweet and the meat, the crunch on the outside and the soft goo in the middle.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Chicken schnitzel at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

For her main course, Petra chose the chicken schnitzel (the menu says £17.50 although our receipt says £17.95) (above), which was crispy on the outside and white and succulent inside. It had a sprinkling of capers on top to give a bit of zing and some pickled red cabbage underneath, which was sharp rather than sweet. With a green salad and a bowl of chips, this was a clever, all-round dish.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The classic fish pie, topped with samphire, at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

I had opted for the classic fish pie (£17.50) (above). Like a modern-day Little Jack Horner, I put in my fork under the cheesy potato topping and pulled out a huge king prawn, gorgeous and juicy. There were two more plump prawns and plenty of other fish wrapped up in the creamy sauce, but perhaps best of all were the pieces of samphire sprinkled on top which were thin strings of exuberant saltiness that exploded in the mouth.

My pie came with a pot of green veg so this was a fine, well balanced dish.

The eight dessert choices included the greatest hits: sticky toffee pudding, chocolate brownie, lemon posset. Petra had the traditional crème brulee (£7.95) (below), which was as tradition dictates it should be, flame-glazed on top and custardy underneath. It came with two particularly good shortbread biscuits.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Classic creme brulee at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

Darlington and Stockton Times: Baked rice pudding, with banana and honey, at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe

I went for the slightly more unconventional baked rice pudding (£8.50) (above), which came with banana ice cream and a sliver of caramelised banana plus a squidge of honey and a ginger biscuit which meant there was a hell of a lot going on in one bowl. The sliver was out-shone by the squidge which veered the pudding away from banana towards honey, but it was still perfectly pleasant.

Our bill for two with a couple of soft drinks came to £75.70, which is about par for the course these days, although the food was better than average. So all is well at the Spotted Dog. In fact, portions were so good – a whole Scotch egg is a substantial starter – that after my meal, I didn’t feel like leaping across it so instead, bravely, walked across the glass.

But as for the taste of minted, pickled carrots, I am still in the dark.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Spotted Dog High Coniscliffe re-opens after major refurbishment Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.


The Spotted Dog, 6 The Green, High Coniscliffe, Darlington DL21 2LJ
Phone: 01325-520721


Food quality: 8
Service: 7
Surroundings: 8
Value for money: 8

Darlington and Stockton Times: at the Spotted Dog, High Coniscliffe