A COUNTY Durham family has just opened their latest venture, transforming a former fashion shop into a brand new "high end" steak and seafood restaurant.

After more than five months, and one national lockdown, the former Psyche in Durham City has been left barely recognisable as the family-run Rib N Reef opened this week.

Owned by Durham family, Joanne and Cengiz Akarsu, and managed by daughter Bethany Kay, the restaurant has been among the highly-anticipated names to come to the city.

Read more: Brand new steak and seafood restaurant Rib 'N' Reef coming to Durham

It comes as a string of independents including The Curious Mr Fox, The Butcher's Deli and Stirks Steakhouse in Belmont have opened across Durham in the past few weeks.

The restaurant on Silver Street, which Ms Akarsu previously claimed would be the "first of its kind" to come to the city, saw its doors officially thrown open on Monday.

Since then it has seen interest surge with some days already fully booked, which the owners have said has been exciting, and scary.

The Northern Echo:

The steak and seafood restaurant near Framwellgate Bridge officially opened on Monday Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

Around £350,000 has been spent on transforming the restaurant from a former fashion shop Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The family said they had been left with a shell to work on after stripping the former fixture and fittings of the fashion shop Picture: BETHANY KAY

The Northern Echo: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPicture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The restaurant's interior has been designed by Joanne Akarsu, and her daughter Bethany Kay Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The three-storey building was once occupied by Pizza Hut, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Mr Akarsu told The Northern Echo: "The reaction so far has been unbelievable, we have had so many messages come through and we're fully booked for Saturday."

Located in the building which has previously been home to the likes of Pizza Hut, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge, it was completely stripped of any fixtures and fittings before becoming a restaurant.

Read more: See inside The Curious Mr Fox as it opens in Durham City

Since January this year, the family said they have spent around £350,000 on transforming the three-storey unit into a fine-dine eatery.

Meawhile £200,000 alone has been spent on refitting the third floor into a kitchen, while the front of house area has been designed by Mrs Akarsu and daughter, Bethany.

Mr Akarsu said: "Our family and friends just love it, they've seen the transformation from day one and they've been coming to help us – we've just had great support from everyone."

The Northern Echo:

Every part of the building has been refitted including the floor below ground Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

What the floor looked like before it was transformed into a restaurant venue Picture: BETHANY KAY 

The Northern Echo:

Work on the restaurant started at the start of the year Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

Lee Walker, centre, head chef of Rib N Reef in Durham City Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

A team of around 20 people now work at the restaurant including around 8 kitchen staff Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The venue, which employs around 20 people and has further plans to recruit additional workers, is the second venture of the Akarsus who also run Akarsu Turkish Restaurant & Grill a few doors up.

Mr Akarsu said: "Our site in Akarsu has that family feel, but here we are also trying to attract everyone including families here.

"Like in Akarsu, we'd rather just spend that extra money and give the better ingredients, the better quality of food to our customers."

Read more: Stirks Italian Steakhouse opens inside Belmont pub near Durham City

Serving up a range of lunch and dinner options, the bar is run by Chris Leake while the kitchen team of around eight is spearheaded by head chef Lee Walker.

Admitting that there had been a few teething problems, but that the team's efforts had so far paid off Mrs Akarsu said they had all set themselves a high standard.

She said: “We are hard on ourselves sometimes because we have set a high standard and we want to get to that high standard.

“There has been a few teething problems but everyone that comes in their reaction has been phenomenal."

The pair added that they have plans to open an outdoor seating area and eventually expand their opening times to serve breakfast. 

Mrs Akarsu added: "This was scary because it was in the middle of a pandemic – it was a massive risk, but I know it will pay off."

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