Build it – they will come

Dean Bailey heads to Consett to discover builder-turned-baker Mark Hart making his mark with his new bistro

I’ve long been a fan of Sweethart Coffee & Cake in Consett, Co Durham and the produce of its owner, the talented builder-turned-baker Mark Hart.

His bread and cakes are a must if you’re lucky enough to live nearby – or willing to make a 20-minute detour like me – and we get a reminder of just how good it is with a few slices as Mark, who is waiting at table at 7pm having started in the bakery at 3am, shows us around Sweethart’s new home.

Having moved across the road, Mark’s new bistro – which is revealed each Friday and Saturday night, having served as a café in the morning – is a long way from the bustling feel you’ll find during the day; the light, open space replaced with a stylish restaurant vibe as the sun sets.

The irresistibly named Every Bit of the Pig, a staple of the weekly bistro menu, is stunning; you could easily pick it up and place it on any of the trendiest dining tables of Newcastle or Durham and be delighted by it.

Topped with a sliver of crackling, the perfect combination of salt and fat, it’s a hearty, warming indulgence. Sweet belly pork is served alongside fillet, earthy filo-wrapped black pudding, pressed shoulder, and ham hock which has been breaded and lightly fried. A big dish (none of the portions are small here) the various flavours of pork and the combination of textures work beautifully together.

Bread is a must, being in a bakery and knowing how good it is, and a starter of pan-fried prawns on a slab of rosemary focaccia is excellent; the chilli and garlic-marinated prawns and a generous squeeze of lemon re-energising the senses after a day in the sun.

Asparagus with a fried duck egg is simple and delicious, the gooey yolk meandering across the plate before it is swept up with
more bread.

Upstairs, there is a new private dining room, complete with a 20-seat round dining table made especially for the space. We also tour the rooftop conservatory, which will be filled with fresh herbs by the time you read this.

The bistro menu is finished off with grills, from which the burger is the standout. A brioche bun, sweet and lightly toasted, is filled with local beef and a standout bacon jam. Mark won’t divulge its secrets, but he does reveal that it includes maple syrup and bourbon, among numerous other secret ingredients.

Our desserts are finished to the same beautiful standard as the bakery’s sweet treats; the pistachio tuille with rum-soaked Yorkshire rhubarb trifle is a sticky cinder toffee-inspired delight, while the gold leaf-topped billionaire’s chocolate pudding with salted caramel is an indulgent treat.

Three courses each, with drinks, is excellent value at £70 – a reminder that, when you live in town like me, it’s too easy to stick with city centre favourites, yet the short drive to Co Durham is amply rewarded by this hidden pleasure.

Sweethart Coffee & Cake, Durham Road, Blackhill, Consett, DH8 8RR, tel 01207 501 100,

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