11:32am Friday 21st December 2012
By Malcolm Warne
DESPITE my ugly mug appearing in this newspaper every week, it is very rare that pub landlords or restaurateurs recognise me.
I’ve sometimes thought that they would cut out my fuzzy visage which appears on the letters page and stick it above the bar or kitchen range – just in case I call.
Of course, I flatter myself that they really worry about a visit from the Durham Times. The only reason they would put a picture of me up anywhere is to throw darts at it perhaps. And, in the ten years that this column has been running, I’ve learnt that readers will take note of what is said here but it doesn’t determine where they go. An independentminded lot, they like to make their own minds up.
Last Saturday, however, we were well and truly ‘clocked’ almost as soon as we walked in to the Vane Arms at Thorpe Thewles, an attractive small village between Stockton and Durham which is lucky enough to have two pubs, the other being the perhaps better known Hamilton Russell.
The Vane has a new landlord, Tom Wade, and presently in the kitchen is his father, Ray Wade, who needs little introduction to foodie folk in the Darlington area and who recognised us straight away. Ray runs a well-respected outside catering business, used to have Wade’s Coffee House in Darlington’s Post House Wynd and, before that, owned (with Ralph Wilkinson of Number Twenty2 fame) The George at Piercebridge in its glory days.
Tom’s back from South Africa where he’s been sharpening his culinary skills and met his American wife Vanessa, who would be by his side if it were not for immigration complications.
It’s too long a story for now; suffice to say in a few weeks’ time the couple hope to be working together once more and proud owners of the Vane Arms after completing the purchase from Punch Taverns.
Tom’s plans for the Vane are relatively modest. He likes the remodelling of the layout carried out by previous landlord Gordon McPhail, so wholesale changes are unlikely.
That’s a good thing because we have previously written of how the Vane Arms is an excellent example of how to revamp a pub sensitively without falling into the gastropub trap.
The menu is a sensible length but covers most bases and tastes. There were nine starters and ten mains, including standards like fish and chips, calves liver and bacon, steak pie and a risotto. For vegetarians there was a fennel and ricotta stuffed pepper dish and for full-on carnivores a Cote de Boeuf (32oz – for two to share: £34.50), plus a rib-eye and the Vane burger, served with Swaledale cheese. The Cote de Boeuf was the exception. Most mains are between £10 and £13 starters £4-6.
There was one special not on the board, some Dover sole fresh from Hodgson’s, just down the road at Hartlepool. I enjoyed this whole, simply and perfectly grilled with a textbook Hollandaise sauce on the side.
Great fish treated with respect.
It came with a buttery, creamy mash.
Sylvia went for the steak and Black Sheep pie (£12.95) – a flaky pasty top hiding a rich and tender steak filling with a rich ale gravy. No quibbles either with the crisp and fluffy chips, or the vegetables (carrot, parsnip and cauliflower).
From a small dessert list, I finished my meal with a light chocolate sponge pudding which came with a richly dark and splendid chocolate sauce and refreshing dollop of crème fraiche.
It disappeared indecently quickly, I’m afraid to say.
Service was informal, friendly and faultless. The food was great. You might say that given we had been recognised, it was going to be. But earwigging other customers’ comments only confirmed our impressions.
The bill, which included a pint of Black Sheep, a glass of Prosecco and a diet Coke, was an entirely reasonable £39.
And things can only get better for those with a sweet tooth. When Vanessa finally arrives from the States, the desserts are likely to move to a different level. She is a very good pastry chef, having worked for Gordon Ramsey in New York, and latterly as a technical chef for a major chocolate company.
Food Quality: 10/10
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group