DARLINGTON is changing. There is now a homemade cake shop on every corner in the town centre and an artisan bakery down every back alley.

For the first time in a generation, tables and chairs spill out onto High Row from a newly-opened dining establishment, and there’s even a doughnut bar in an upstairs room.

Habits are changing too. It is said that breakfasts are to become the new eating out in these days which are worried by the cost-of-living crisis. They are cheaper than an evening meal out but still provide a gastronomic treat while also setting you up nutritionally for a full day ahead.

A generation ago, the breakfast was only available in a traditional café – some would say “greasy spoon” – with condensation running down the windows and an explosion of salty tastiness awaiting the tastebuds.

Now, though, some establishments restaurants are elevating the full English almost to the level of fine dining.

In Grange Road, every outlet begins with the definite article: there’s The Juniper Tree, The Blind Pig, The Unicorn Tree and the sex shop.

The Northern Echo: The Wandering Duck, Grange Road, Darlington

We breakfasted on Saturday morning at The Wandering Duck (above), where a full English is £10.95. This is cheaper than most evening meals out, although it is at the upper end of the market: The Juniper Tree next door offers two breakfasts for £16 while along Skinnergate, the fabulous if more traditional Three Squares café is priced at £5 eat-in or £4.90 takeaway. None of these can match a sign I spotted at the weekend during a drive around the Headland at Hartlepool where an all-day breakfast was just £2.95.

As well as a full English, the Duck offers a variety of eggs – Benedict, Royal, Florentine, scrambled – plus salmon, bagels and even roasted asparagus.

Petra, my wife, chose the “crushed avocado on toasted sourdough topped with cherry tomatoes, feta, poached egg and drizzled with basil oil” – which is certainly a mouthful – for £6.95.

I started with a glorious glass of orange juice (£2.50). OK, it came from a carton, but I feared it would be a thimbleful as served in irritating hotels which are trying to keep the costs down. Instead, it was in a tall glass served over ice so at least it felt different from what I could find in the fridge at home.

The Grange Road area, known as the “Imperial Quarter”, is one of Darlington’s trendier areas, and among the diners there were several careful cultivated beards and artfully shaven heads, plus plenty of shorts and even a pair of ultra-fashionable sliders – whether there were as expensive as Rishi Sunak’s £95 ones, I could not tell, but, unlike the Chancellor, the chap was wearing them without socks. They must have felt at home among the rough sawn wood ambience of the Duck.

Several runners from the park run soon joined us, looking to replenish the calories which they had just sweated out at South Park.

The Northern Echo: A classic full English at The Wandering Duck

The Duck’s breakfast is a classic English: great bacon, two herby sausages, a grilled tomato, a roundel of black pudding, some fried mushrooms plus two poached eggs. Of the five eggs delivered to our table – our son, Theo, had also got out of bed for the occasion – four were perfectly poached, joyously runny inside. Mine exploded when I pressed my fork into it, shooting out bright orange yolk.

The breakfast also included what I considered to be two American interlopers: baked beans and hash browns.

The full English is largely a Victorian invention – Mrs Beeton talks of it in her 1877 cookbook, but she is not prescriptive about what it may contain for as well as bacon, sausages and eggs, she has potted meats, devilled kidneys and even a lamb cutlet or pork chop to satisfy those bigger appetites.

The heyday of the full English seems to be Edwardian times in the era of extravagant railway travel and grand hotels, when business was conducted at a slower pace across the Empire, until the First World War blew all those good times apart.

The baked bean was a North American speciality until Heinz put it in a can in 1886 and it features on those Edwardian plates. The Duck, though, thoughtfully served their beans in a separate dish, perhaps agreeing with me that the bean rarely compliments other tastes as, rather like the Japanese Knotweed of the culinary world, it overpowers everything.

The hash brown became popular in New York in the 1890s – it is grated, or hashed, potato which is then browned. It is a more recent addition to the full English, and the Duck’s was crispy and savoury so it went well with the soft fruitiness of the black pudding and the sweetness of the baked beans.

The plate was finished by a robust piece of sourdough toast, made by a Darlington artisan baker, and so much more interesting than a soggy slice of white bread.

The Northern Echo: The crushed avocado and poached egg and sourdough breakfast at The Wandering Duck

Petra’s less traditional breakfast featured a good layer of creamy crushed avocado on another piece of the artisan sourdough. It had a fresh salsa of tomatoes and red onion which worked well with the creaminess of the avocado and the yolkiness of the egg.

Poor Theo was not so impressed, largely by his cruel parents who had dragged him out of bed before 9am on a non-school day and then set the acquired tastes of black pudding and fried mushrooms before him.

I thought it was a fine breakfast without any puddles of fry-up grease: the food was dry and clean so that each individual element could be tasted (until you poured the beans on top, as the bearded chap on the table next to me did, which must have destroyed everything).

The Northern Echo: Lion Bar Brownie

The Northern Echo: Millionaire's Krispie

The Duck serves breakfast until 3pm, and also does sandwiches and salads at lunchtime, plus some interesting cakes – I took away a very good Lion bar brownie while Theo later had a millionaire shortbread krispie that oozed lovely caramel (above).

Not, of course, that we needed such things after such a hearty breakfast: I was well set up for a day of grasscutting chores, which made it pretty good value.


The Wandering Duck,
15, Grange Road, Darlington DL1 5NA
Phone: 01325-463008
Web: wandering-duck.co.uk

Ambience: 8
Food quality: 8
Service: 8
Value for money: 8