THE village of Scorton, betwixt Darlington, Richmond and Northallerton, is much blessed. It doesn’t just have one pub, it has two.

Indeed it’s not so long ago that it had three. The St Cuthbert’s Inn, north of the village, was world famous and featured in the New York Times in the 1990s when a chef called Johnny Edwards was weaving his magic there briefly, before moving on – as he was wont to do.

The Northern Echo: Interior: The Heifer, ScortonInterior: The Heifer, Scorton
Its star rapidly faded after that and it closed around the millennium leaving Scorton with the Farmers Arms and the Heifer, both within a hundred yards of each other facing the village’s handsome, raised, circular green.

Both have been reviewed here favourably in the past, the Heifer more so than the Farmers. Its Sunday lunch more than passed muster back in 2010, so much so that I recall returning a week or so later with a family party.

Nine years on and a return visit seemed in order. Given the turnover of pubs these days, there was bound to be new people at the helm, a new chef, a refurbishment at very least.

The Northern Echo: Interior: The Heifer, ScortonInterior: The Heifer, Scorton
That turned out not to be the case, at least as far as ownership is concerned. The place still has mother and son team Pauline and Adrian Billau at the helm.

As we discovered when Pauline came to the table and said: “I know who you are.” Which is almost the first time that in the 15 or so years I’ve been doing this column that my cover has been blown.

Apparently, I had asked too many questions about the Heifer when ordering our food and suspicions were aroused. It was a fair cop.

The Northern Echo: Interior: The Heifer, ScortonInterior: The Heifer, Scorton
As we always these do these reviews on an incognito basis, could we press on regardless? Should we have made our excuses and left?

Well, yes we could press ahead. While service was 100 per cent, it hadn’t been anything less than that up to the point where our identities had been established. And everything we ate was something which had to have been prepared before our arrival so there was nothing the kitchen could have done to turn on the culinary after-burners for our benefit.

The Northern Echo: Interior: The Heifer, ScortonInterior: The Heifer, Scorton
And we were enjoying ourselves. On entering we had recalled from our 2010 visit that the Heifer’s makeover was not your average millennium gastro-pub refurb.

There is no pretence that the Heifer is still in some way a traditional country inn. There’s plenty of real ales available but it has the feel of an swish city bar, and the addition of lots of bench seating in the bar accentuates that.

What was really striking was the Saturday night crowd. It was different. It was young. People in their twenties and thirties, the kind who generally don’t hang out in village pubs in any great numbers.

We had booked in the restaurant to the rear but we liked the buzz of the bar so much that we opted to eat there. A bit noisy. A bit lively. Good.
We enjoyed our food. The Heifer menu is never going to get sophisticated foodies’ hearts racing but it covers most bases. Vegetarians will be comforted that there are some reasonable choices (three starters, three mains) rather than the token veggie option.

Sylvia thought her vegetable soup (£4.95) a triumph if so humble a dish can be so described. Thick and so deeply flavoured, it challenged her traditional advocacy of meat being at the heart all things good on a plate.
My chicken and chorizo terrine (£5.95), served with small salad and some red onion chutney was coarsely-textured, well-seasoned, not too chilled and with lots of chicken. The chorizo was rather muted – a little more pimento punch might not have gone amiss.

Sylvia’s beef stroganoff (£13.95) had the (paprika) punch my terrine had lacked. Tender beef strips in a creamy sauce were served with fluffy wild rice and veg (cauli, carrots, cabbage and green beans).

The concern I had when ordering my curried fish pie (£15.95) was that the curry element would overpower the fish but it turned out fine with sizeable chunks of white fish and salmon plus prawns in a creamy sauce made with a good fish stock and topped with herby mashed potato. It came with similar, well prepared veg including some roasted cauliflower.

My dessert – peach Melba brandy snap (£5.95) – was dead pretty and full of fresh fruit and pistachios and cream.
The bill – included a pricey but really excellent, fresh, dry, floral Picpoul de Pinet (£26) which went down very well with my fish pie – was £72.75.
By the way of a footnote, on the aforementioned subject of Johnny Edwards the last we heard of him was at the Arden Arms at Atley Hill round about 2013. Where is he now?

Food facts 
The Heifer, High Row, Scorton, Richmond DL10 6OH

Tel: 01748 811357 Web:

Open for food: Wed-Sat noon-2pm, 5.30-9pm; Sun noon-3pm, 5.30-8.30pm

Plenty of gluten and dairy-free options. Three vegetarian starters and mains. Disabled access.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality: 8 Service 9 Surroundings 9 Value 8