Durham, Durham…

Durham city and its county are among the UK’s best. We say, eat, drink and be merry and you may never want to leave

“If you’ve never been to Durham, go at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful,” wrote Bill Bryson of Durham, a place he also called “a perfect little city”.

Perfect it is, and there isn’t room here to list everything there is to love about this city and those parts of wider County Durham that should be on every food explorers’ must-eat list.

Most would agree that rail is the best way into the city; an approach which allows you to sit back and feast your eyes on one of the best views in Europe, presided over by Durham Cathedral and Castle.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but it is unimaginable that anyone could become tired of this particular vista, or indeed any part of Durham city, which is so artfully self-contained it is a pleasure to wander its narrow, historic streets.

There are many tastes to experience here, from fish and chip shop (one of the best in the region is Bells) to upmarket restaurant, with coffee shop, cake shop, bistro and bar in-between.

Food fact of the day – Durham city is the home of mustard, created by an heroic soul named Mrs Clements and ground at a mill in historic Saddler Street in the 18th Century.

This is just one of the scores of historic facts (and many fictions) which abound in a city whose streets are reputed to have once been paved in gold, or at least they were for one John Duck, who is said to have made a massive fortune after a raven dropped a gold coin at his feet as he wandered the riverside.

The chances of a gold coin dropping at your feet may be remote, but it seems to me a sin to visit Durham and not wander the riverside in John Duck’s wake. Apart from its beauty, it is marked by its tranquillity, in contrast to the happily bustling city streets above.

Perhaps the tree canopy shelters it, but taking one of the sets of steep old steps down from one of the city’s bridges is like taking a step into another place entirely.

Not that there is any great need to escape the city, I might add. For unlike most modern places, Durham’s history is deep within its fabric and, while it is busy and bustling, it is so in the way it was centuries ago, and there are none of the frustrations of noise and dirt which so often mar other city centres.

At its heart is the Market Square and the wonderful Victorian Indoor Market – home to a plethora of local produce including the only independent butcher and independent fishmonger in the city, a traditional game, poultry and cheese stall with no less than 130 types of cheese, a bakery, fruit and veg stalls all serving local produce and a wonderful atmosphere peculiar to Victorian markets of this type.

You can enjoy it all from Café Cenno on the market’s mezzanine floor, where the free Wifi makes it easy for even the busiest worker to enjoy the café’s local produce and buzzing atmosphere.

From its heart, the city has much to offer, while Co Durham’s rural gems such as Barnard Castle (land of wonderful antique shops, pubs, river walks and the superb Bowes Museum), High Force waterfall on the River Tees, endless farm shops dotted around the county and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can literally eat and drink your way around one of the UK’s most beautiful areas, which rather begs the question – why would you ever want to leave?

Find out more at www.thisisdurham.com


Bells Fish & Chips Market Place, Durham, tel 0191 386 0302, www.bellsfishshop.co.uk

Winner of the Seafish Industry Quality Award for ten years running and lauded as one of the best in the north by TV chef Clarissa Dixon-Wright, Bells is rightly renowned for fish and chips of the highest quality. Bells has had a takeaway shop in Gilesgate for some years and has now expanded into takeaway and restaurant premises in Durham Market Place.

The Georgian Townhouse and Pancake Café 11 Crossgate, Durham city, DH1 4PS, tel 0191 386 8070, www.thegeorgiantownhousedurham.co.uk

In a moment of pure genius, the owners of this small Georgian B&B decided to open a pancake café serving sweet and savoury treats including feta cheese, spinach and mushrooms, bacon, blue cheese and leek, and orange, caramel and Grand Marnier. What better way to fill a hole?

Flat White 21a Elvet Bridge, Durham city, DH1 3AA, tel 07789 951 149

Through Elvet Arch dwells a little café with the atmosphere of a mother’s kitchen – rustic furniture and an eclectic mix of knick knacks, friendly hosts and good, homemade food which makes it easy to make yourself at home as you enjoy hearty soups, hot chocolate complete with marshmallows and scrummy cupcakes.

Le Raaj Front Street, Chester Moor, Chester le Street, Durham DH2 3RJ, tel 0191 389 0561, www.le-raaj.com

Le Raaj offers a selection of authentic and contemporary Indian dishes ranging from the familiar to the more adventurous, all served in a refined setting just four miles out of Durham in Chester Moor, near Chester le Street.

Central Thai The Gates Shopping Centre, Framwellgate Bridge, Durham city, DH1 4SJ, tel 0191 597 8774, www.centralthairestaurant.co.uk

Central Thai is an authentic Thai gem at the heart of Durham city with spectacular views of the Cathedral and Castle. With an exciting menu and ornate gold leaf décor, family-run Central Thai brings the oriental taste and atmosphere of Thailand to Durham city.

Riverside Restaurant Bridge End, Barnard Castle, Co Durham, DH12 9BE, tel 01833 637 576, www.riverside-restaurant.co.uk

Riverside Restaurant is one of those village secrets that we’re sure the people of Barnard Castle would quite like to keep to themselves. Fine, fresh ingredients sourced locally are simply and beautifully cooked and served in relaxed surroundings of beamed ceilings, candles and scatter cushions.

Melanzana 96 Elvet Bridge, Durham city, DHY1 3AG, tel 0191 384 0096, www.melanzanadurham.co.uk

Melanzana, Durham’s restaurant of the year 2010, sources its produce direct from Italy – including its gluten-free pasta – and makes the best of its fabulous setting with outdoor tables (weather permitting!). It’s situated in the 11th Century Chapel of St Andrews and the varied menu includes vegetarian dishes, pasta and risotto, steak, fish and pizza.

Chesters Grove Garden Centre and Coffee Shop Holm Hill Lane, Chester Moor, Chester le Street, Co Durham DH2 3RQ, tel 0191 389 0044, www.chestersgrove.co.uk

A small, traditional graden centre with a cosy coffee shop serving home cooked meals, Chesters Grove is a lovely stop-off point just a half mile south of Durham County Cricket Club on the A167.  Sunday lunches, light meals and cakes are all on the menu in the coffee shop, and you can relax while the kids enjoy the outdoor adventure playground.


Alishaan 50-51 North Road, Durham city, DH1 4SF, tel 0191 370 9180, www.alishaandurham.com

Alishaan provides a unique experience which is nationally renowned, attracting diners from as far as London for its traditional Indian and modern fusion cuisine, offering a unique take on traditional Asian cooking in a beautiful, relaxed atmosphere.

Durham Indoor Market Durham city, DH1 3NJ, www.durhammarkets.org.uk

A traditional Victorian indoor market established in 1851, Durham offers more than 50 quality local independent traders this is the heart of the city and was recently deservedly named Best in the UK. It’s open from 9am Monday to Saturday, there are regular special events and it’s a must visit for any travelling foodie.

Leonard’s Coffee House 1-2 Back Silver St, Durham, DH1 3RA, tel 0191 384 0647, www.leonardscoffeehouse.co.uk

Leonard’s is another of those little gems – a coffee house with a warm and friendly atmosphere offering space to unwind for seekers of a home from home, and efficient in-house and take-out service for people who want to eat good local produce, even when they’re on the run.

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