Named the North-East's Sunday best, the column finds that the Dun Cow, in Sedgefield, doesn't disappoint.

THE Observer has named the Dun Cow in Sedgefield as the North-East's best place for Sunday lunch. Without offence to the Observer or to the Dun Cow - good paper, good pub - it's nonsense.

It's nonsense because they can't know. Changing the subjective, their judge probably hasn't eaten at a fiftieth of the region's pubs which serve Sunday lunch. Prompted, nonetheless, we took a look for ourselves.

The Dun Cow's other recent claim to fame, of course, is that it was where Tony Blair took George Bush for fish and chips - nee scrapin's, mind - and a bit crack with selected customers. Those not selected were kept behind police barriers 200 yards away.

In rolling out the metaphorical red carpet, The Boss wondered what the Dun Cow had done to conceal the real one in the restaurant, which has seen better years.

It's a relatively minor matter, just as it wouldn't do to over-egg a large and arid Yorkshire pudding unworthy to tie the boot laces of an otherwise excellent lunch. (It is perhaps a moot point whether roast pork has boot laces, but if pigs have trotters, why not?)

It was Easter Day; we booked late, lucky to get in. Help yourself mini-eggs lay in little bowls around the place; a nice touch. Staff smiled.

Sunday lunch is served from 12-8pm, a moveable feast which greatly would have confused the column's Old Mum. On the average Sabbath she'd have washed up the dinner things by noon, made tea by 4pm - John West salmon, Co-op pears - served supper before In Town Tonight and still have to mount a 24 hour guard on the biscuit barrel.

At the Dun Cow, things are more leisurely. Though George Bush had other things on his plate and Tony was also inexplicably absent, the place was once again chocker.

Usually we just call in for a pint, four or five immaculately kept real ales on this occasion, including something called Snaffle from Nick Stafford's Hambleton Brewery near Thirsk, and with what appeared to be a pair of music earphones on the pump clip.

The nice barmaid explained that a snaffle was a bit, as in bit and bridle, though why the estimable Mr Stafford should want to name a beer after a piece of equine equipment - other than to invite weak jokes about bit and teeth - it is impossible to imagine.

The menu is more imaginative and both more extensive and expensive than is usually the case, and is almost wholly to be commended.

From nine possible starters - mackerel with spring onion and horseradish dressing, smoked salmon with olive oil, lemon creme fraiche and flutes - The Boss had deep fried Brie with spicy tomato sauce and apple chutney. She liked the Brie, loved the chutney.

The chicken and mushroom soup was substantial, chunky, richly flavoured and, above all, different. Unexpected, too, was that from time to time, we were attended by Geoff Rayner, the manager, a disappointment only in that we'd hoped to be served by the tall blonde with the appetising glimpses of bare midriff.

His virtues else - tall enough, and with about three gold watches to his credit - Mr Rayner isn't blonde and certainly doesn't go around exposing his midriff.

There's a serious point to all this. Half the many recent disappointments hereabouts encountered, at least so far as service is concerned, may be attributed to the fact that no-one - no-one above Beano reading age, anyway - appeared to have been in charge.

Geoff Rayner is clearly captain of his ship, and runs a tight one, though the decision now to relaunch it as the modish "restaurant with rooms" appears naff a minute.

Notwithstanding a substantial and hugely convivial Easter breakfast which included about 3lb of the cheese she'd inexplicably given up for Lent - with thanks to all at Westgate Methodist church - the lady followed with steamed salmon with chilli, garlic and coriander.

We had the pork, aforesaid, arriving with roast parsnips akimbo, like the ears of a Palm Sunday donkey.

It was terrific: proper, inch thick, snout-in-the-trough pork with multiple bowls of good veg and cracking, crackling roast potatoes. The salmon melted away like a noonday chocolate Easter egg.

Though three courses with coffee would cost little less than £20, it is by no means just an establishment for posh folk.

On the next table, a woman was teaching her friend the rudiments of retailing:

The customer is always right,

Never treat him like *****.

It was disgusting; didn't scan at all.

From 11 puddings - home made New York cheesecake, sticky toffee or banoffee pie perhaps - we ordered "caramelised pineapple and raspberry stacks with cassis and blackcurrant sorbet" .

Whatever it was, it was a big hit. The Observer corps clearly know a good thing when they see it.

* The Dun Cow, Front Street, Sedgefield, County Durham (01740 620894). No problem for the disabled.

THE bar on Kings Cross station has been refurbished and - travellers beware - it looks like the price list has been refurbished to pay for it. Last Wednesday we paid £2.80 for a pint of Young's Bitter. There wasn't a return ticket to the counter.

THE column a couple of weeks ago sought information on places where those with coeliac disease - requiring a gluten-free diet - might eat.

George Clarkson, whose daughter has the disease, recommends Barkers' store in Northallerton, the Frenchgate Cafe in Richmond, the Tawny Owl pub near Darlington FC and the TGI Friday chain nationally.

Margery Burton in Shildon, who suffers similarly, was just off out to the Manor House in West Auckland - who'd been very understanding when advised of the problem in advance - but bore a flask of Bisto roast onion gravy, which is gluten free.

Margery also recommends seeking information from the Cleveland branch of the Coeliac Society, which covers all the North-East. The secretary is Karen Thompson in Darlington (01325) 351614, email

Margery still eats well. "It gets easier," she says.

NOW billing his business "The cream of Hartlepool since 1985" , our old friend Krimo - formerly on Seaton Carew sea front, now moored by the Marina - celebrates 20 years of achieving the gastronomically unlikely with a bash on May 4. Unfortunately, it's also the day of the Albany Northern League Cup final. RSVP. Sorry.

A YET more improbable location, we enthused a few months ago about Villa Spice - above the Trotters Arms pub in Ramshaw, near Evenwood. Ethel Hand in Bishop Auckland agrees, having first sent her son and daughter-in-law - who spent several years in India - on a recce. "The food, the decor and the service were all beautiful," she writes. Told you.

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew the definition of an archaeologist.

A man whose career is in ruins.

Published: 05/04/2005