Malcolm Warne finds there’s no topping the offering at new pizza restaurant Stable Hearth

THIS week, the Eating Out column will break the habit of what seems like a lifetime and get straight to the point – the food.

Instead of blethering on for 500 words or so about hospitality industry trends, obscure childhood memories or something a bit rude about Sylvia, and throwing in a few paragraphs at the end about what we actually ate, this week’s offering will face up to its responsibilities straight away.

We’ve been to a pizza restaurant so the subject is pizza and I’m wondering if, like the stuff it is made from, the subject matter will stretch sufficiently to fill our allotted 800 words. We may digress.

So we went to Stable Heath, a new-ish (it opened just before Christmas) place in what was the old Gallerina gallery in Darlington’s Duke Street, a thoroughfare which used to the town’s estate agent alley but it is now almost as well known for its eateries.

Stable Hearth used to be based in the back of the pub in Gainford and did a good takeaway trade there but a pub and a pizzeria were probably not ideal bedfellows and hence the move into town.

If you are not that keen on pizza Stable Hearth’s not for you because, antipasti and a few desserts aside, pizza from a large wood-fired oven is all they sell.

And it is pretty mean pizza – if you discount the base. The toppings are absolutely topping. Really good quality mozzarella and fiordilatte, ricotta, gorgonzola, taleggio, nduja sausage, pancetta, prosciutto, salami, olives, anchovies, capers, tomato, mushrooms and tomato – depending on which you choose from the 20-plus pizzas on offer.

But the bases just didn’t do it for us. Too big on the outer margins where there was no topping, with scorched edges from the oven, they were light, looked very authentic but nothing could obscure the fact that they tasted of not very much at all. Pizza Express dough remains the benchmark for us. Which I know for some people will be a bit like saying you prefer Irn Bru to organic hand-pressed elderflower cordial but there you go. Each to his own.

Laura loved her Diavolo (£9.50) – tomato sauce, mozzarella, Napoli salami, chilli flakes, Parmesan, basil leaves and olive oil – unreservedly, base and all.

Sylvia liked her Three Little Pigs (£10) – tomato sauce, mozzarella, smoked pancetta, Cumberland sausage, black pudding and thyme leaves – and I enjoyed everything sitting on top of my Mafioso: The Italian Pigs (£11) - tom sauce, mozza, gorgonzola, Italian cured sausage, pepperoni, raddichio, mixed olives, basil oil, perinos tomatoes, fire-roasted peppers and balsamic reduction.

We shared three side dishes – a chunky rustic slaw (£2.95), a balsamic dressed mixed salad (£3.50) and some rather good “hand-cut” chips (£3) which we could have had served with mozzarella (£3.50) or even truffle oil and parmesan shavings (£4).

Before the pizzas, I had shared with Laura a mixed platter (£8.50) of the three antipasti on offer – a couple of arancini balls with a light lemon mayonnaise - a couple of crispy coated crocche di patate (potato croquettes made with pecorino and scamorza cheese) – and fior di zucca in crosta (courgette flowers, lightly battered and deep fried). All good, although you can’t help thinking that courgette is such a delicate flavour it doesn’t really lend itself to the deep fat fryer – a street food stunt rather than a culinary triumph.

We also managed desserts, a super sharp lemon and rhubarb tart with rhubarb sorbet (£5) for me and two scoops of good quality tutti frutti ice cream (£3.50) for Laura. Sylvia was happy with a very hot latte (£2.90).

So the food, pizza bases aside, was generally pretty excellent. What else can we tell you about Stable Hearth?

The atmosphere and surroundings were very much to our liking. Given the place used to be a contemporary art gallery it has a pretty funky feel and on a very busy Friday evening it felt like this was where all the cool people of the town (us excluded, obviously) were hanging out.

While the pizzas took a little while to emerge from the wood-fired oven, which is sited centre-stage in the restaurant, service was frenetically efficient and informative. The underlying sense that

We paid £87.35 and our drinks – some diet Cokes and an inky, softly tannic bottle of Primitivo Botromagno made up almost £30 of that.

Darlington is swamped in ersatz Italian eateries and thankfully Stable Hearth breaks that mould.

Stable Hearth

33-35 Duke Street, Darlington DL3 7RX

Tel: 01325 730400 facebook @stablehearth

Open: 12.30-2.30pm and 5-11pm

Vegetarian and gluten-free options


Food quality: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Surroundings: 9/10

Value: 7/10