Oldfields, Durham

There are many reasons to visit the North East of England: historic castles, epic cathedrals, miles of unspoiled beaches, Hartlepool. Unfortunately like their football clubs, the food in the North East is uniformly terrible. I spent three years in Durham and of all the meals I ate there not one was worth talking about, let alone writing down.

Oldfields is a restaurant that is proud of its north eastern heritage. It proudly displays their suppliers on posters on the wall. Every ingredient is from a named local farm. It runs cookery courses, cheese and wine evenings, and a ‘Real Food Club’. The heart is most definitely in the right place. It is such a shame that even with such very good intentions and a large number of very loyal supporters that Oldfields hasn’t managed to attract any talent into the kitchen.

We ate early and were offered the fixed price set menu, at £14 for three courses it appeared well priced.

‘Rare breed pork loaf, pickles, toast’ was bland, dry and far from lifted by four out of a jar pickled onions. The toast was burnt and was dry to the consistency of Ryvita. The plate looked pretty but that was the only attraction.

‘Squid potato and garlic casserole’ was better. Flecked with chives the stew had real flavour, the squid was accurately cooked and remained tender.  A well conceived and well executed dish, a stark contrast to a gray slab of chopped pork on burnt Melba toast.

A main course of ‘Joe Simpson’s braised shin of beef, Yorkshire pudding’ was pedestrian. A very one-dimensional liquor that had none of the depth or sweetness that you expect from a restaurant kitchen. The Yorkshire was a little on the dry side too, a bowl of acceptable home cooked slop.

The toast made an appearance again, this time pointlessly perched on the side of “Our famous red gurnard, coley and tomato stew with spicy mayo”. The toast was brittle and dusty as if it had been sitting under a lamp for a little too long, the fish was also on the dry side. The stew benefited from thin slivers of fennel and would have almost reached enjoyable had the spicy mayonnaise even flirted with some heat. The menu claims that this is the restaurants best-selling fish dish despite it  a) not appearing on the a la carte menu and b) not being very good.

We ordered sides of ‘Savoy cabbage’ (‘great with venison sausage’ apparently) and ‘Roasted root veg’. The cabbage would not have been great with the sausages, it wouldn’t have been great with anything. It was overcooked and careless and as delicious as a stagnant pond. The roasted [sic] root veg (left in picture) was the kind of pre-mush baby food a toddler might reject, no caramelisation, no sign of roasting at all in fact.

It made me wonder whether the whole menu had been sitting in a hostess trolley always ready, waiting to be spooned into different sized bowls.

Desert followed the trend. One level ladle full of rhubarb and apple slop (admittedly this one tasted very good, the apples holding their shape well)  was topped with crumbs and a scoop of level-par vanilla ice cream. Again it was fine, pleasant ‘thanks mum’ food.

The service was cheery.  Interchangeable local blondes delivered our dishes and eventually the bill, which at £50 felt a bit steep for a very uninspiring hour and a half of passable food.

I took my gorgeous dinner guest for more wine, a few cocktails,  and some shooters. Just to make the meal even more forgettable.

The nitty-gritty:

Distance from Croydon: Fucking miles.

Meal for two with bottle of wine £50.

If there were anywhere else to eat in the North East then I would recommend you go there instead.

Oldfields Noted Eating House
18 Claypath, Durham, DH1 1RH – 0191 370 9595


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