THERE are some great views from the front of the Devonport. Middleton One Row developed in the late 18th Century as a spa resort, with the properties developed on one row to give visitors dramatic views out over Yorkshire as the Durham bank drops steeply to the Tees.

But Saturday evening was wet. There were no takers for the south-facing terrace outside the Devonport, the electric candles in glass bowls reflecting forlornly in the puddles on the tables. Not even a basket of chunky grey blankets in the dry inside the door could entice people to take a dip outside.

There were, though, plenty of people at the window tables inside the large, busy pub, so we were led to the rear, where there were more extraordinary views. Three large backlit windows have been created in an otherwise dark room, showing the sun bathing an immaculate striped lawn which has huge beds of purple and pink rhododendrons on either side of it. It is a clever effect, even if it is like being at Augusta for the US Masters - you could almost hear the tweedling of the birdsong and the thwacking of the golf ball as you waited for Tiger to stride across the artificial landscape.

The menu is wide ranging, with a strong fish section – since the Devonport reopened in November after an extensive refit, its logo has featured a capital D ensnared within an anchor (either that or it has been caught in a plug chain). There are many nods to traditional British food, with several vegetarian offerings, but also a sprinkling of koftas and bocconcinis for those who like their perusal of the menu to be punctuated by questions about exotic foreign words.

Starters range from £6 to £8 – perhaps a pound more than expected, although the main course prices were very well pitched.

I had creamy mushrooms with roasted garlic and tarragon (£6), which were lovely and creamy although not especially garlicy and certainly not tarragony. Young Theo had the rough country pate with apple chutney (£7). The pate was arguably more of a terrine and the chutney more of a compote, but they went together well, especially with a pickled gherkin adding a sharpness. The pate was only served with two small medallions of sourdough, so the pate/bread ratio was out of kilter, but the attentive waitress quickly brought out a couple more slices so he could clear the plate.

Petra went for the salt and pepper squid, served with Asian slaw, and harissa and coriander mayo (£6.50). This, she thought, was excellent. The thin rings of squid did not have that chewy rubberyness that often bedevils squid, and the seasoning plus the coriander and lemongrass in the slaw gave this light starter some delicate flavours.

I, though, was more interested in the view of the man on the table next to us who used his knife and fork in what I, as a confirmed right-hander, would consider to be the wrong hands. More remarkable was the way he addressed his food, dabbing delicately at it in the manner of a painter dabbing at a canvas – I’m far more used to people who slice it up and shovel it down.

Which is what Theo did with his standard sized fish and chips (£11). It was exactly what it said on the menu. Just a battered fish, fresh and white, and a tin bucket of chips served with a little bowl of tartar sauce and, on request, some ketchup. No concessions to greenery, but he thought it great.

Petra had the salmon, cod and smoked haddock fishcakes (£11.50) – two fishcakes the size of ice hockey pucks. Served with a bucketful of chips, she was always going to be troubled by its size, but with its bed of green salad and its top dollop of fragrant lemon mayonnaise, it was a well balanced dish.

I copied my curious-handed companion on the other table and had the hand raised beef shin and onion suet pie (£14). This caused us great debate, as there is also a hand raised pork pie on the menu. We wondered if it meant the cow or pig had been brought up by hand as a pet, or if the pastry had been raised like a potter raises a vase with their hands on a wheel.

But no. It comes from before the invention of the inexpensive metal pie tin, when a hot water crust had to be sturdy enough to stand on its own.

Whatever, it was really just pie, peas and mash, artistically presented, with the wonderfully smooth mash piped into line like white smoke from a charging steam engine’s funnel. There was a dollop of mushy peas on top of the pie and, although I’m not a fan of such things, inconvenient vegetables would have got in the way of the star of the show: the pie, packed full of densely shredded beef.

It was served with a little jug of rich gravy – liquor, as a traditional pie mash shop calls it. My only disappointment was that it was only half full, but the waitress rapidly brought a reinforcement to allow me to clear my plate.

Between the three of us, we had two desserts: a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake (£6.50) which with a strident raspberry puree was very nicely balanced by a light honey ice cream.

The dark chocolate mousse (£7) was an interesting take on a classic chocolate dish, as it had two mini-muffins to give it sponginess, a tuile to give it a concentrated chocolatey boost, and the raspberry puree for a fruity blast. It was much more lively than I expected a mousse to be.

The bill for three came to £95, which includes two glasses of wine at £7 each (we were offered plenty of free, iced tap water). Service was lively, and so the view from inside the Devonport is nearly as outstanding as the one from outside it.


The Devonport Hotel, The Front, Middleton One Row, DL2 1AS

Phone: 01325-332255


Surroundings 7, Food quality 8, Service 8, Value for money 7