Chris Lloyd found the Fox and Hounds in Neasham a good port in a thunderstorm

A THUNDERSTORM broke over the garden on Saturday evening, bringing the digging to an early end as the hailstones forced a rapid retreat inside. But there was still enough time left in the night to throw on a few clean clothes and head out for something to eat (it was only when we got home a couple of hours later that I noticed I still had an embarrassing smear of mud across my upper lip).

With headlights on at 7pm, we drove through the torrential rain to the Fox and Hounds at Neasham, and got a table in the large conservatory. Once it had a splendid view over the River Tees, but grassy floodbanks have now blocked it out, but we still had a great aspect over the car park as people of all ages scurryied to get out of the downpour as flashes of lightning filled the sky.

We had last eaten at the Fox and Hounds more than a decade ago – a meal that was truly memorable, but only for the wrong reasons. However, new owners took the pub on last year and refurbished it early this.

The menu is simple, but the conservatory was well populated: families with prams left as the night wore on to be replaced by older couples and groups.

For starters, I was tempted by the spiced chipolatas and curried mayonnaise or the deep fried Brie with Cumberland jelly, but instead chose the asparagus wrapped in Parma ham with a deep-fried, boiled egg and curried mayo (£6.25) – possibly the most adventurous item on the menu. Petra, my wife, opted for chicken liver parfait (£5.50), and young Theo plumped for a plateful of hot garlic bread (£2.50) which he quickly devoured, crusts and all.

Petra said the parfait was good – smooth and not too pungent – and came with red onion marmalade and olive oil toasts. Restaurants never get the bread/pate ratio right, and Petra ran out of toast long before she ran out of parfait. The up side of this was that I, without any decorum, was able to roll up the remaining parfait in a lettuce leaf and eat it with fingers – she was right, it was good.

The combination of my own starter worked well, and the egg was expertly cooked – the yolk still runny despite its two encounters with heat. The Parma ham had been seared on a grill which brought out its saltiness in comparison to the mild asparagus. It, too, was good, but the searing had left the dish with a smoky, post-barbecue smell.

All of our main courses were served with a little metal bucket of chunky chips. I often find chunky chips to be too chunky, but these were tremendous: a little crunchy on the outside and very light in the middle.

They were also accompanied by the house salad, which was a nice helping of leaves, beansprouts, onions and peppers with a light dressing.

Theo had the grilled chicken breast (£10.95) which he consumed with relish (it actually came with a little dish of tomato relish although he preferred ketchup to ease down his chips), and Petra had a veggie burger (£8.25). It came on a wooden board with a vertical kebab skewer holding it together . It was perfectly pleasant, although the lower part of the bun had been seared, like my starter, on the grill so it was burnt and rather bitter. However, there was a bucketful of chips to keep her satisfied.

I had chicken parmesan (£8.50). I’ve had parmos that were at least four times as big (I once got a doggy bag from The Ship at Worsall and was feasting on the gargantuan contents for at least a week afterwards), but this was still ample. Nice moist chicken, a tasty cheese topping and accompanied by a good garlic mayonnaise, it was a decent dish.

All of the food was well presented and service was speedy.

For dessert, I had a sticky toffee pudding (£5.50) which was spongey, accompanied by plenty of sauce and topped with a dollop of ice cream. Theo’s chocolate brownie (£5.25) was enlivened by a raspberry coulis, and Petra’s crème brulee (£4.95) was light and creamy, although the speckles of grey vanilla at the bottom were a little unnerving.

The bill for three courses for three, plus drinks, was £80 – very fair, and the most searing criticism was over the over-enthusiastic grilling.

As we left, the sky was momentarily illuminated by a brilliant fork of lightning, and a loud peal of thunder rolled along the Tees Valley. By the time we reached the car we were drenched, but at least we’d found a good port in a thunderstorm.


Fox and Hounds

Neasham, Darlington DL2 1QP

Tel: 01325-720350


Food quality: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Surroundings: 3/5

Value: 4/5

Value: ****