Malcolm Warne makes a last-minute visit to Darlington’s Uno Momento after an unpromising start

IN retrospect, I should have picked up on the rather uncertain tone in the voice at the end of the phone at Uno restaurant in Yarm High Street.

There was a definite if faint note of incredulity as the voice said: “You want a table for two? Tonight? At 7pm?” The voice didn’t ask for a name or a telephone number. Incompetence – or did he know something I didn’t?

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It turned out to be the latter. The penny finally dropped as we noticed the crowds walking down Urlay Nook Road towards Yarm Bridge. Traffic slowed to a complete standstill. It was chaos. It was the Saturday of Yarm Fair week.

Of course, unless you are aged between about 10 and 17, nobody in their right minds ventures down Yarm High Street after dark in fair week. Some businesses close for the entire week trade is so poor.

And sure enough, as we turned the car round and headed back to Darlington, the man at Uno (it’s a relatively new Italian pasta/pizza joint in what used to be Starters) was anything but surprised when we rang to cancel the table. He seemed to be a man with time on his hands.

So, there we were back in Darlington after 8pm on a Saturday looking to eat but with no reservation. Initially, it didn’t look good. Imperial Express was fully booked, Pizza Express the same, Al Forno had a table “in about an hour”. Oh dear. Sylvia not best pleased. But the next port of call was Uno Momento in Blackwellgate which although seemingly packed did have a table. Praise be.

It struck us that Uno Momento is one of those “pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap” high turnover establishments which probably always has a table somewhere. Tables might need moving and splitting but they’ll always find a way to squeeze in more punters.

We were seated, were issued with menus, drink and food orders were taken and less than ten minutes we were tucking into our starters. We shared some bruschetta (£3.95) - diced tomato, basil and onion, marinated in extra virgin garlic infused olive, served on toasted bread topped with mozzarella cheese then glazed with balsamic vinegar served on a bed of rocket and parmesan salad – and some deep fried spicy prawns (£4.95) – served with more rocket and parmesan salad, and sweet chilli and garlic dips.

All very acceptable, particularly the juicy and crisply breadcrumbed prawns. Our plates were whisked away and we expected the main courses would hot-footedly follow.

Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes passed. We said to each other we were enjoying the chance to digest our first courses. Thirty minutes passed. We discussed in intimate detail the Uno Momento decor (airport departure lounge meets seaside amusements arcade). Then the apologetic bossman head waiter said our main courses would be with us shortly. Forty minutes passed at which point the waiter said there had been a mix up over our order and our food would be with us shortly.

A further five minutes passed during which time we tried to count the number of restaurants in Darlington now serving bog standard Italian pizza/pasta/chicken fare (we made it six with the recent addition of Prezzo and Bella Italia, or is it Bella Pasta, or Italia Pasta in the new Feethams cinema development?) and the dishes duly arrived, along with two glasses of dry white wine on the house by way of apology.

Was it worth the wait? Partially. Sylvia thought her Pollo all Crema (£10.45) pretty good. The chargrilled chicken was a plump breast, nicely sealed and juicy. The white wine sauce was a bit gloopy but well seasoned and lifted with lots of mixed fresh herbs. The wedges were good, the salad okay.

My “speciality” Risotto con Pollo (£7.95) was decidedly ordinary. On the plus side there was a lot of chicken but the rice had a rather strange granular, almost uncooked grits-like consistency. Not enough creaminess, not enough stock, not sticky enough. But to be absolutely fair, I’ve had much worse.

With no room left, or time for that matter, for desserts we called it quits and paid our £37.50, which included two 250ml glasses of dry-ish house white (£4.50 each). Leaving aside the extended delay for the main courses, it was by no means a terrible experience given the unpromising circumstances and our walk-in status.

Uno Momento

6 Blackwellgate, Darlington DL1 5HL

Tel: 01325 381910 Web: www.unomomentorestaurant.co.uk

Open: Monday to Saturday 11am-10pm; Sunday 11am-9pm

Disabled access (rear dining area up some steps). Vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Food quality: 3/5

Service: 3/5

Surroundings: 3/5

Value: 3/5