LOCATION, location, location is all that counts according to TV property experts, and the Park Head Hotel is on the busy A688 on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland, ideally located for visitors to the fabulous Kynren nightshow.

Should a rumoured road, catchily known as the “eastern sustainable access corridor”, connecting the A688 straight into the Kynren site be built, the hotel’s location will become even more impressive.

The Park Head, located at the head of what was the Bishop of Durham’s parkland, is now part of The Auckland Project stable and it reopened a few months ago after refurbishment in time for this summer’s Kynren season.

Despite all the characterful and historic buildings in Bishop, the Park Head doesn’t feel especially special, and the restaurant is right beside the A688. It was a hot evening when we visited, with windows open, and the road was alive with juggernauts, their slipstreams playing with the blinds, and with police cars, their sirens screaming into the badlands of Durham.

Location can be a double edged sword.

The restaurant has been redecorated in fashionable teal and grey with little bursts of orange. It is perhaps a little corporate, although playful minds have been at work in the toilets which are papered with Quentin Blake-style birds.

The menu is straightforward and, in these days of raging inflation, not outrageously expensive: a trio of sausages is £13; fish and chips is £15.

The Northern Echo: The salmon and cream cheese roulade

From the six starters, Petra, my wife, chose the smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade (£8) (above) while I chose the beef brisket and shiitake spring roll (£8).

Both were surprisingly large dishes with plenty of salad. The roulade even came with a couple of pieces of brown bread, rather like a pensioners’ special at the chip shop, but it was a pleasant, fishy start to the meal.

The Northern Echo: Beef brisket and shiitake spring roll

I couldn’t discern the Japanese mushroom in my spring roll (above), which was crispy and crammed with meat. There was a really good pineapple and sweet chilli jam sprinkled around the dish which warmed the mouth with its heat but also counteracted the sharpness of the onion which was one of the main ingredients in the salad.

For our main courses, Petra had chosen the roasted spiced cauliflower (£13) while I had chosen the pan roasted pork chop (£16).

The Northern Echo: The roasted spiced cauliflower

The cauliflower (above) was very good, accompanied by a delicious red lentil daal and a samosa with quite some heat in it, but there was a nice layer of cucumber to cool things down. The flatbread was a bit, well, flat, but there were so many other tasty elements to the dish that she didn’t need it.

The Northern Echo: The pork chop with mushroom cream sauce and a smear of apple puree

My chop (above) was generous, even once I had dismantled its rind of fat and its bone. I think it would be fair to say that it was sturdy. It was not tough, it yielded to the sawing knife – a steak knife might have helped – and my aging teeth were able to get through it but, all in all, it took a little work.

It was served with “herb crushed new potatoes” – basically mash – and some “buttered broccoli” plus a roundel of black pudding.

These were all pleasant enough, but the dish was made by the “mushroom cream sauce”, lovely and rich, and a great smear of apple puree. They stole the show, and I wished there had been more of the sauce.

And we both wished that our dishes were served truly hot. Not that they were cold, but once I had trimmed and boned my chop, I would have liked my plate to have been several degrees warmer.

There were five items on the dessert menu for £6. I was deeply intrigued by the sound of ginger and cinnamon pudding with toffee sauce, but in the end, I plumped for the milk chocolate torte (below), purely because it came with a glass of Baileys milkshake.

The Northern Echo: The chocolate torte with the little glass of Baileys milkshake

Actually, it was only a thimble, but it did taste of Irish cream, and it was the touch of imagination that lifted the honest torte.

The bill for the two of us came to £66.50, including plenty of soft drinks, which represents very fair value these days. Service was friendly and we never felt we’d been forgotten about.

Although the traffic noise had been our constant companion because of the Park Head’s location, it would only have been a short drive in to the growing attractions of Bishop, although we turned the other way home and climbed up the lane to the village of Westerton, with its old observatory. From up there, we had practically the whole county laid out at our feet – it really is some location.

The Northern Echo: Park Head Hotel, Auckland

Park Head Hotel,
New Coundon,
Bishop Auckland,
DL14 8QB.

Phone: 01388 661727
Web: parkheadhotel.co.uk

Surroundings 6
Food quality 7
Service 8
Value for money 8