Otter and Fish,

1, Strait Lane, Hurworth, DL2 2AH

Phone: 01325-720019


Ambience: 7

Food quality: 8

Service: 9

Covid security: 8

Value for money: 8

IT was Friday night. A long summer weekend full of hope and potential lay in front of us: trimming and cutting and sorting in the garden, walking in the sun on the riverbank, cycling after the rainshowers down country lanes, and finally watching England win the European football championships.

To kick it all off, we booked a table at the Otter & Fish in Hurworth, which, according to the menu is “close to the North Yorkshire border”.

Immediately outside the window from our table was a low wall beyond which was a steep drop down to the River Tees which acts as the North Yorkshire border. It certainly was very close; in fact, the only food-pub that I can think of that is closer is the Comet, at Hurworth Place (which has not yet reopened after the pandemic). It is so close that when the river is in flood, it is actually in the North Yorkshire border.

The pub is an old riverside drinking den – there once used to be a hatch in the wall where jugs of foaming ale were passed through to the sweaty blacksmith at his forge where the car park is today – which is now a pleasantly modern restaurant.

The Otter’s menu covers the world – there are Indian, Oriental, Italian, Cajun, Greek and even Teesside influences.

From a diverse range of starters, I chose the crispy whitebait (£6.50) and got a huge shoal of blisteringly hot little fish swimming on a bed of homemade tartare sauce. They weren’t quite as crispy as I might have expected but they were smooth and salty and a fine taste of the sea.

Petra, my wife, when choosing her starter looked at the desserts and was disappointed to see that there wasn’t a cheeseboard. The cheeseboard – always overpriced – seems to have disappeared almost completely from menus in the last couple of years, presumably killed off by the pandemic as no one wants a piece of old camembert lurking in the fridge over lockdown.

Being a turophile, she needed a cheese fix and so opted for the breaded goats cheese with a mixed berry compote (£6.95). The sharp compote worked well against the gentle cheese, and so her cheesy need was filled.

For our mains, we could have chosen from a global array of tastes: an American burger, an English fish and chips, a couple of curries, a Greek feta salad or a truly sizzling Oriental sizzler, but I opted for Teesside’s national dish, a chicken parmesan (£14.95).

It was a beautiful piece of white tasty chicken topped with breadcrumbs and then a layer of mouthwatering melty cheddar. The chicken and cheddar worked very well together, but – quite shockingly – the dish did not come with garlic mayonnaise. A few years ago, before Brexit, when the mayor of the Tees Valley was trying to get the parmo Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union, I sat on his parmo advisory committee, and we had to define precisely what a Teesside parmo was and how it should be served. The committee concluded that a strong garlic mayo was an integral part of the dish and so should be considered de rigueur, as they say in Strasbourg and probably South Bank.

But perhaps Hurworth has broken free from the union that makes up the Tees Valley and is now forging its own way in the world, which leaves it at liberty to serve a parmo without garlic mayo.

Petra wasn’t worried about the sophisticated subtleties of the parmo. She was delighted to find a grilled mackerel salad (£13.95) on the menu, an unusual dish particularly when compared to the ubiquity of the parmo.

It was beautifully cooked, served on a little bruschetta, and the tomato salsa cut through the richness of the fish. It was a big success.

With the time now approaching 8.30pm, there were still customers arriving to take tables as they became available. They were seen to their tables by a small group of waitresses who, between them, read the room attentively and, in these days when nothing is left on a table, ensured that all our wants were promptly attended to – water, salt, sauces etc.

The menu offered some rather predictable desserts – sticky toffee, Belgian waffle, ice cream and Eton mess – although there was a very leftfield special of a rum roly poly (all £6.50). I went for the predictable, a warm chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, and it was anything but predictable.

If there were a brownie advisory committee, I’d feel qualified by weight of consumption to put myself forward for it. I would advise the committee that a brownie should have an outer cakey – almost crispy – shell and a goey, molten middle.

The Otter’s brownie, like its parmo, went against my preconceptions. It was all goey middle. It was almost a mousse. As it sat on my plate with the weight of chocolate sauce bearing down on it, I could see it subsiding.

However, it tasted superb: a wonderful, powerful hit of chocolate that was neither too sweet nor too cloying.

It was a great finish to a meal – total bill with drinks and coffee £72 – that teed up the weekend so nicely. The rain abated so we got the lawn cut and hedges trimmed, followed by a walk along the North Yorkshire border, a cycle ride along country lanes and then a goal for England after just two minutes…