Malcolm Warne keeps a promise he made to himself to return to a village pub enjoying a renaissance

WE’VE been taking some entirely justified flak about giving County Durham the cold shoulder of late so we ventured back over the border to keep a longstanding pledge to myself to return to a pub where an excellent lunch in 2013 suggested a return visit for the evening fare would be worthwhile.

The revival of The Tuns at Sadberge, east of Darlington, in 2013 was a bellwether transformation which signalled that there could a future for small village pubs at the time when the rate of pub closures, particularly in rural areas, was reaching alarming proportions.

Back then, most Sadberge villagers had resigned themselves to losing one of their two pubs after what had been the Three Tuns closed – and stayed closed. But nine months later, after new owner Ross Serino had secured, crucially, the freehold, it reopened shorn of the “Three” in its name but refurbed and offering succour in equal measure to the village drinker and those mainly interested in dining.

It helps that Ross, supported in his new venture by partner Becka and Barbara, his mother, had extensive experience in the hospitality business having worked in, and at times run, his father’s long-established restaurant in Yarm, Santoro.

That lunch in 2013 was memorable for the pricing which had an authentic cheese soufflé for just £3.90 and two fillets of Dover Sole with a buerre blanc sauce for just £4.90. A real bargain.

Our return visit on a Friday evening revealed that pricing might have firmed a bit but not by much and kitchen standards have been maintained.

So has the cheddar cheese and spinach soufflé on the starter menu although it is now at the industry-norm price of £6.95. Ricotta fritters with chorizo (£5.50), an antipasto plate of cured meats. cheeses and olives (£6.50) and smoked haddock fishcakes (£4.95) give a flavour of what the Tuns offers – a mix of the Mediterranean and modern British cooking – a trait it shares with the place where Ross learnt his trade.

Sylvia’s favourite starter at Santoro is king prawns so she needed little persuasion to opt for the Tuns version and these five plump, pink beauties in olive oil with garlic and chilli – served with a little dressed salad - fully justified the £7.50 price and the regal description.

I chose the lobster bisque (£5.50) from the specials board. Power-packed and creamy, it was teensy-weeny bit over seasoned, or perhaps the stock had just been reduced too much, I wasn’t quite sure. A little bit of lobster flesh would have been the finishing touch but perhaps for a fiver that’s expecting too much. Those quibbles aside it was a very good bowl of soup.

Fresh baton rounds of bread and butter were served with the starters and proved useful in soaking up the last of the chilli oil in the prawns and wiping the bowl of bisque squeaky clean.

Sylvia’ choice for her main was lamb. Regular readers may detect a familiar pattern here – prawns and lamb. A creature of habit, this is her favourite starter/main combo. It’s not particularly helpful for yours truly chronicling our culinary travels but it does have the merit of some consistency. She is the prawns and lamb expert.

This was roasted rump of lamb (£14.50) which Sylvia deemed very lean, tender, spot-on medium rare as requested and with good depth of flavour. But she really, really loved the pancetta cabbage which came with it for the contrasting texture and the gentle sweet-sharpness of the pancetta – a rather more subtle alternative to bacon.

It was also accompanied by some cubes of roast potato and a side dish of carrots, cauliflower and something green which neither of us can now recall.

My spicy meatballs with linguine (£10.95) were heftily hearty and close textured, infused with lots of cumin. The Napolitano-style sauce had a bit of kick to it and the pasta was properly al dente but had been drained a little bit too much. Loosening with a little of the starchy cooking water would have made all the difference.

We shared the assiette of puds which was incredibly good value for £5.95. The mini-desserts were a terrific sticky toffee pudding (and I’m not a big fan), a classic Eton mess with lots meringue and fruit and a beautiful brandy snap basket holding a scoop of top-quality vanilla ice cream.

Service was very good despite Ross and the team having an almost packed dining area and the busy bar. The bill, sans drinks, was on the money at £44. Still top value in our book.


The Tuns, Sadberge, Darlington, DL2 1RU

Tel: 01325-332080


Open for food: noon-2-30pm Tuesday to Saturday; noon-3.30pm Sunday.

Evening meals 5-9pm Tuesday to Saturday. Closed on Monday.

Disabled access: one small step at front entrance. Plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options.


Food quality 8/10

Service 9/10

Surroundings 8/10

Value 9/10