BLACKWELL’S and Norton go together like steak and kidney.

Anyone who knows the Teesside village will have heard of the traditional butchers and deli opposite the duck pond. It’s an institution.

Norton has developed its own character and identity, a growth in new establishments for both eating and drinking. Or both.

Yarm was the destination for many for a number of years, that was perhaps a generation ago. Yarm was a novelty, but while it’s still a draw for many, there’s a newer feel about Norton.

It’s a year down the line since the Violet Green opened. Next week (August 14) and the birthday is marked with a number of celebratory events.

The third generation of Blackwells, Anna Hand, and her husband Chris, have overseen a transformation of the former bank vault on the village green.

That’s the green part of the title taken care of and the Violet is Anna’s great grandmother.

There’s no lavish frontage, grand lights or flash entrance to the place, just a door and inviting opening. A sign on the front of the upper level, opposite the butchers, points the way. It’s all about what’s inside and below.

Enter and step steeply downstairs into what was the NatWest bank vault for many years, metal steps to the brick-walled, brick-floored restaurant and bar area.

The bricks were reclaimed from the walls to form the floor. Character in abundance. You are dining where once sat cash reserves, jewellery, even gold perhaps.

There’s no Hatton Garden type heist planned there these days, just tables, décor and an open kitchen. It’s not vast, it’s intimate, dusky and warmly lit.

A small bar to the right, with the dining area ahead to the left as you enter. The kitchen and serving hatch overlooks the tables, but it adds to the atmosphere.

Smell and see what is being cooked and served. Watch the chefs at work, masters of their art. No TV-style tantrums or attitude, just a willingness to serve.

With booths on one side for bigger parties and smaller tables on the other, there’s a real comfort about the place. It’s as intimate as it is open, with a private dining area also available.

“We wanted to create something different here in Norton, and we like to think we have achieved this,” said Anna.

“I knew there was an opportunity there. After running the pop-up restaurants in the shop, it felt like a natural progression.

“And we are over the road from Blackwell’s, which doesn’t seem as daunting. There is a buzz about Norton.’’

Meat comes, naturally, from 100 yards across the way at Blackwell’s. Fish supplied by Hodgson’s of Hartlepool, a familiar presence at venues in the North-East and beyond. Fruit and vegetables from The Gourmet Garden of Sedgefield.

After some fine home focaccia and salted butter with onions as we decided on the menu: fish or meat.

Fish and chip taco with pea ketchup or BBQ pork belly kebab? I’m a stickler for all things Hodgson’s, but after asking for the staff’s expert advice I opted for the meat option.

Juicy belly pork dripping in a hosin sauce. Faultless.

We also sampled house cured bacon, with a black pudding puree, fried quails egg and fried bread. Thick bacon, with a chunky egg and small squares of fried bread as tasty as I used to get at from my nana as a kid but on a much smaller – and healthier – scale.

My main of duck (not from the pond opposite) had layers of thick meat, with mushrooms, peas, bacon and red wine jus. The duck was rich and plentiful, complimented by the light additions in the bowl.

I managed to leave one pea as the plate was cleared.

The fillet of Blackwell’s beef with beef fat carrot and crispy beef croquette was melt in the mouth goodness; pink, with flavour oozing out.

There’s four main plates – the others being stuffed courgette and sea bass – with a butcher’s block option of roast skin on chicken supreme, 10oz sirloin or a chateaubriand with extras for two to share.

Dessert was shared. A delicate Strawberry and cream cheesecake with pistachio ice cream, the meal washed down with a bottle of sauvignon blanc, a gin from their considerable list and a couple of pints of Budvar.

To mark the birthday next week, there’s a number of events taking place.

Wednesday, August 14 is chop night – choose your chop, choose sides, choose sauce and a drink. Choose life from £20 a head.

There’s an eight-course tasting menu the following evening, Friday night features food, booze, and blues with live music, Saturday evening has live music and a special birthday menu, with Sunday lunch accompanied by an acoustic set.

Happy first birthday Violet Green; here’s to many more.


The Violet Green, 68a The Green, Norton, Stockton, TS20 1BN
Tel: 01642 533 006
Open: Wednesday – Saturday from 5pm. Sunday from 12pm
Vegetarian options available.
Early evening special Thursday and Friday 5-6.30pm, Saturday 5-6pm. Two courses £18, three courses £23.
Ratings (out of ten): Food Quality 9, Service 9, Surroundings 10, Value 8