Matt Westcott visits the Blackwell Ox in Carlton-in-Cleveland and enjoys a taste of the Orient

I GUESS it's a compliment of sorts, but from being a hustling, bustling pub, jam-packed with customers, the Blackwell Ox was almost deserted once the chef had hung up his hat and the last spoonful of pudding had been swallowed.

We had struggled to find a parking space when we arrived on Saturday night, and it was heaving with diners inside, but shortly after 10pm just myself, my wife and two locals remained.

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With its reputation for fine Thai cuisine, we could only assume that people had perhaps come from far and wide and faced a significant journey back from its location in Carlton-in-Cleveland or maybe they just wanted to catch the Boro on Match of the Day.

Whatever the reason, it didn't effect our enjoyment of an evening that began when we caught the first whiff of the smorgasbord of food being prepared in the kitchen.

While we appreciated that many of the constituent parts of a Thai meal can be similar, we were amazed at the scale and breadth of the menu, with page after page of dishes encompassing, beef, pork, chicken, fish and vegetables. Such was the culinary conundrum that faced us that we didn't even contemplate the specials board.

For those looking for something perhaps more in keeping with what, as far as the structure and decor is concerned, is a traditional country pub then the Ox also offers English fare, though on a more limited basis.

Not a fan of open plan pubs where everyone can see everyone else, the Ox was more to my liking with an array of seating possibilities in the main lounge area, in alcoves or around corners and down corridors.

We were shown to a table beneath a window which was close enough to the bar to feel involved while far enough away that our conversation remained private.

Having procrastinated long enough over a pint of Boondoggle and a glass of Merlot - there was no Cabernet on offer - we chose starters of chicken satay and spicy king prawns, respectively, followed by stir fried crispy duck with leeks, onions, mushrooms and spring onions and chicken red curry with vegetables in coconut milk.

Unusually for an upmarket eaterie, you placed your order at the bar, rather than have someone come over to the table. I nipped to the loo in the meantime and I swear you won't find a cleaner lavatory this side of Armitage-Shanks' showroom.

Ten or 15 minutes after, our starters arrived, my wife given an enthusiastic seal of approval to hers, the succulence of the prawns and the kick from the spices exactly to her liking.

I wasn't quite as ebullient about my satay, despite the accompanying peanut dip. It was described as slightly spiced, which was accurate, but personally I could have done with something that tantalised my tastebuds a little more.

A pint of Wainwright's was taken in the period between the remains of the starter being removed and our main course arriving. Piping hot and beautifully presented, with an array of colours and aromas, we both expressed satisfaction with our choices.

Duck can be hit and miss, depending on the expertise of the chef in my experience, but the good size pieces on my plate were cooked to perfection - tender, full of flavour and plentiful.

Combined with the vegetables it made for an intoxicating concoction. If there was to be a criticism it was that the fish sauce was a little too overpowering.

When I heard my wife's description of her red curry I initially thought she might have been describing me - spicy, but not too hot and left her wanting more.

Hot chocolate fudge cake and apple and blackberry and apple crumble rounded off the evening.

It was only when we had finished our desserts and gone to sit in surroundings more suitable for digestion that we realised we were now all but on our own.

While it would have been nice to reflect on the experience in the company of others, the peace and quiet was probably a fitting end to a memorable night out.

The Blackwell Ox, Carlton in Cleveland, near Stokesley, North Yorkshire

Tel: 01642-712287

Web: www.blackwellox.co.uk

Open: Food served Monday to Thursday 12pm to 2pm and 5.30pm to 9.30pm; Friday 12pm to 2pm and 5.30pm to 10pm; Saturday 12pm to 2pm and 5.30pm to 10pm; Sunday 12pm to 3pm and 5.30pm to 9.30pm.

Food quality: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Surroundings: 3/5

Value: 4/5