Chris Lloyd fortunately remembers to book and dines well from a classic Italian menu

AS as we pulled into the car park beside Il Palazzo, a rich waft of garlic filled the car and acted as an hors d’oeuvres for some powerful flavours that we were to encounter inside one of Barney’s most intriguing buildings.

It stands at the Galgate entrance to Barney, built in the town’s honey-nut stone, with its doorway guarded by a large pair of white lions. It was once the Beaconsfield Hotel but since 2014 it has been an Italian restaurant.

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After the drama of the entrance through the lions, it looks like all of the original fittings except the grand staircase up to the toilets have been cleared out. The main dining area, popular with families and parties, has a tiled floor so that Il Palazzo resembles more of a food palace than a quiet, country pub.

Fortunately, we had booked, as there was no room for the walk-up couple who reached the lions just a few steps ahead of us, and we were promptly shown to our table in the conservatory.

The classic Italian menu is large, with the most detailed section on allergies that I’ve seen. It is not especially cheap – pizzas and pastas are £10, but most starters are £7 and main courses begin at £15 – but we were immediately impressed when Petra’s Prosecco arrived with a frosted flute.

I began with calf’s liver sautéed with onion and pancetta (£7.95). It was dwarfed by the enormity of the plate on which it was served: a pile of green leaves on one side and a pile of liver and onions on the other. Perhaps, I thought, it is a balanced diet.

All such musings ended when the liver touched my tongue. This was not a gentle starter, a polite way to ease you into your meal. This liver packed a punch. It grabbed you by the throat, with a rich sauce and a strong rasher of bacon across the top. I enjoyed it immensely. Why pay for bland?

Petra started with Tortino di pesce (£6.95) – an Italian fishcake. It was extremely large and exceptionally extremely fishy – smoked haddock and salmon – and potatoey, with lumps the size of new potatoes inside. It was probably a little dry, as it needed the tartar sauce to aid lubrication.

My main course was Brasato al vino rosso (£14.95) – slow cooked beef in a red wine gravy with a chunky vegetable stew and a large pile of mash. The presentation was superb, although I didn’t understand why it was served with a chunk of dense white bread or a knitting needle breadstick.

The meat was also superb. It was a cliff edge of beef, with shavings peeling off it at the slightest touch of a knife. After the powerpunch of the liver, this was a more delicate beefy flavour, steeped in the vegetable stew, which made the gravy very pleasant.

However, I enjoy my food wallowing in gravy which I like to lap off my knife at the end of the meal, much to the irritation of those around me. Perhaps the chunk of bread was to discourage such bad manners and encourage dipping. Disappointingly, though, there was not enough gravy for me to complete the course comfortably letalone lap the leftovers at the end.

Petra continued her fishy theme by having a Frutti di mare (£11.95), a 12-inch pizza covered in mussels, tiger prawns, baby prawns, anchovies and tuna. It was, she said, delicious, but it was so large that she managed only half of it.

Reluctantly, then, she looked at the dessert menu, which had nine items on it from which I would happily have ordered six – a very high approval rating. Petra would normally have gone for the selection of Italian cheeses (£7.95) but after the vastness of the fishcake and the pizza, decided that that would have been too much. Instead she chose a semifreddo (one of the few I would not have touched) while I had a tiramisu (both £5.50).

I loved my tiramisu. It was so light and airy that it had to be tethered to the plate by thick, gooey chocolate sauce otherwise it might have drifted off, and with the liqueur the sauce created a bold whoosh of coffee/chocolately loveliness.

Petra’s semifreddo was a semi-frozen parfait with a limoncello sauce and a red berry coulis. It was zesty and vivid. I had a mouthful and it all but exfoliated my tongue with its sharpness. But I would never have ordered it, and Petra simply adored it.

Our bill, including the half bottle of Prosecco, came to £60. We had, by accident, dined at the lower end of the price range and this represented extremely good value. The service was efficient and pleasant, with a touch of Italian adding authenticity, and the flavours were clean and strong enough to make a lion roar.

Il Palazzo, 105 Galgate, Barnard Castle, DL12 8ES

Tel: 01833-638870

Website: http://ilpalazzoitalian.co.uk

Star Rating

Food quality: 4/5

Ambience: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Value: 4/5