IT was a long bank holiday weekend. Which was wonderful for Durham, but spare a thought for your local reporter trying to keep on top of a full calendar of events.

So by the end of Monday the last thing on my mind was any sort of cooking. Instead we popped just down the road to the Honest Lawyer in Croxdale.

Situated on the A167, just a couple of miles from Durham, I must have passed it thousands of times before but had never found a reason to stop before.

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Which in hindsight, seems a pity. When we arrived it was already 8.30pm and not too busy so we were given a choice between the bar and restaurant.

They both have the same menu so we opted for the cosier bar area.

Given the time we were both very hungry so eagerly put conversation aside in favour of perusing the menu.

Generally classic, with a few curve balls, there were plenty of temptations to tickle our taste buds.

I have to say there were quite a few things that I like the sound of on the starters list but my partner Carlo was somewhat uninspired and had the soup of the day – which was tomato (£4.95) – which he enjoyed.

In the end I went for hickory smoked mackerel on a tomato, chickpea and chorizo cassoulet, topped in a brioche and parmesan herb crumb (£6.25) Both were very pretty when they arrived. The soup came in an adorable mini saucepan while the cassoulet – not a dish that usually screams elegance – was served up alongside a beautiful looking jar of pickled beetroot.

Initially I was sceptical of the pickle but it really boosted the dish and gave it a bit of an edge. The smoked mackerel was delicious and the dish full of flavour and different textures. On the whole a big thumbs up for me – I would happily have eaten a big bowl of it for a main course – though my only criticism was perhaps it was slightly salty.

Moving on to the mains we were both in the mood for big meaty options, though I was sorely tempted by a scrumptious sounding stone bass with king prawns, lobster and crayfish bisque (maybe next time?)

I went for pan fried Gressingham duck breast, which was served with dauphinoise potato and braised red cabbage and carrots (£18.50)

What a wonderfully decadent dish! It’s hard to eat duck and dauphinoise potato without feeling a little bit fabulous. Both things I would never even think of cooking at home – not least because the only time I have made dauphinoise the amount of cream almost gave me a heart attack on the spot.

But luckily when someone else is doing the work it’s easy to forget what it might be doing to my cholesterol and just enjoy the creamy goodness. It was simply delicious. The duck was pink and tender and juicy and everything came together on the plate to make something very tasty indeed.

Carlo had a 6oz fillet of beef with creamed wild mushroom and tarragon (£22.50). To be honest I was so engrossed in my own meal I wasn’t paying much attention to his, but he tells me it was good. There certainly wasn’t any left at the end.

As we moved onto desserts it was my turn to be a little uninspired. It’s a disappointing trait in some otherwise excellent restaurants that the attention and flair that goes into developing a menu doesn’t seem to extend to the finale.

EVERYBODY (well, definitely me) knows the most important part of the meal comes at the end so it would be nice to see a few more interesting dishes on show instead of safe old favourites.

There’s no safer pudding than a sticky toffee one and that was what I went for. What I really wanted was chocolate but the only option was something called “chocolate and bananas” – a combination I personally dislike.

It was sticky, it was toffeeish – it was very nice. It just wasn’t very exciting.

Carlo had an apricot and sultana bread and butter pudding (£5.95) which he said was adequate, if a little uninspiring – though it didn’t stop him clearing the plate.

The total bill, which included two glasses of very nice Woolshed cabernet (£6.10 a glass) and two lattes, was £84.50.

A little steep – but the first two course were particularly good and the desserts were both tasty. All in all I would say it’s probably somewhere to be reserved as a bit of a treat rather than a mid-week bite out.

FOOD FACTS

The Honest Lawyer Hotel, Croxdale Bridge, Durham, DH1 3SP
Phone: 0191 378 3780
Email: enquiries@honestlawyerhotel.co.uk

Ratings (out of ten): Food 8, Atmosphere 7, Value 6, Service 7