SET slightly back from Neasham Road, a stone's throw from the Mowden Arena, sits the Tawny Owl. The pub, believed to be one of the oldest in the Darlington area, reopened early in the year following refurbishment, so what better excuse to take a trip to Hurworth Moor and try it out.

After parking in the ample car park behind the building, we found the entrance to the pub is also at the rear - and what a lovely entrance it is. Hanging baskets, window boxes and planters are bursting with colour and the warm glow from the lantern is most inviting. A chalk board message welcomes all to the pub and is the first of several nice touches you encounter upon on entering. Another is the wicker basket in the porch area stacked with cosy blankets with a sign encouraging people to take one outside to keep the chill out.

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The pub has been tastefully refurbished. It manages to keep that cosy 'local' feel but without the dusty glumness sometimes associated with 'proper man's pubs'. The wood-panelled bar and stone flagging adds to the country inn ambience, and the comfy-looking leather chairs invite you to pour a glass and settle in for the evening. On our visit the place was sadly rather empty, although Monday has never been the go-to day for a night out and one imagines there's a bit more bustle as the week edges into the weekend.

The upshot of the quietness was that we had the pick of the tables and we found a cosy one for two by a front window. The menu has a good selection of traditional pub fare with all the dishes you'd expect; scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, gammon and chips and so on. Along with some you perhaps wouldn't; handmade lobster fishcakes for one. There's a handful of vegetarian options beyond the usual salads and a vegan menu can be requested. On the night we visited, the fish fryer was out of action, meaning fish was off the menu. It also meant, rather randomly, that the handmade dough sticks I'd opted for were unavailable so the helpful waitress suggested the stone-baked flatbread as an alternative. Charlotte went for oven-baked button and portobello mushrooms in a garlic and cheddar sauce with rustic bread.

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The starters arrived in good time and I must admit to being a little overwhelmed at the size of the large flatbread. Having a notoriously small appetite, I thought I'd barely make a dent but I was half-way through before I knew it, which is surely a good sign. Of the three dips; garlic butter, pesto and a chipotle chilli mayonnaise, the latter was my favourite. It was creamy, with a refreshing bite and went perfectly with the bread. The pesto was as pesto is but I wasn't a big fan of the garlic butter, it being a bit too rich for my taste. Charlotte reported that her mushrooms could have done with a bit more garlic and a little less cheddar tang but the plate was emptied and the bread mopped up the sauce for good measure.

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Our mains arrived promptly, perhaps a little too soon as we'd not had long to let the starters settle, but we got stuck in nonetheless. I'd chosen the hunter's chicken with roasted portobello mushrooms, triple-cooked chips and barbecue sauce. Charlotte opted for the roast carrot and apricot chutney tart topped with goat's cheese, accompanied by an apple and watercress salad and new potatoes. Both meals were well presented, particularly the tart with its springy green salad sitting atop.

The chicken was moist with a pleasing smoky taste and the mushrooms were lovely and juicy and finely complemented by the sweet tomato dressing. However, the chips were a little disappointing. There was nothing wrong with them perse, but I had expected chunky homecooked chips, possibly with the potato skins still showing, but these were just standard yellow fare and nothing to get excited about.

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Charlotte reported that the apricot chutney was a highlight of her dish, whilst also praising the freshness of the veg. She commented that there 'was a lot going on' on the plate and the new potatoes were barely touched due the filling nature of the tart.

Neither of us were able to finish our dishes but we were both well satisfied with the meals, even if they were a little forgettable. The service throughout was excellent. There appeared to be just the one waitress in our area, possibly the whole pub, and she dealt with us and a handful of fellow diners with friendly professionalism.

As we left, I noticed another nice touch; a couple of water bowls and a jar full of dog biscuits, with owners encouraged to treat their four-legged companions. It's things like this which help elevate the Tawny Owl into a thoroughly pleasant place to be. And at £41.60 for two courses for two people, plus four soft drinks, it represents good value for money.


The Tawny Owl

Neasham Rd, Hurworth Moor, Darlington DL2 1QE

Tel: 01325 389027


Open: Daily from11am to 10pm and until 11pm Friday and Saturday.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7, service 9, surroundings 9, value 8