IF YOU blinked you could miss it, but the Cellar Door is well worth a visit.

The only sign of eatery in Durham's Saddler Street, as you wend your way from the Market Place towards the cathedral, is a doorway with its name painted on the window above the frame.

Apparently it's lack of presence on the high street is not much of an obstacle though, as it was packed when we visited on a cold October evening. Clearly its reputation goes before it.

There have been so many new restaurant openings in Durham in recent months it has been something of a challenge keeping up. But as I was searching for somewhere to visit this month it occurred to me that I had finally caught up with the various new venues in town and it was time to visit an old favourite to see if it was still up to scratch.

It’s been a while since I visited, and I seem to recall on the last occasion eating a burger on its beautifully situated riverside terrace.

Al fresco dining was definitely not on the cards this time around and things seem to have edged towards the fine dining end of the spectrum.

What was on the menu was pretty tempting though, including one of possibly my favourite ever dishes – squid ink risotto and fresh crab (£9).

The Northern Echo:

Squid ink risotto, topped with Whitby crab

There are a few things I love about that dish; Memories of eating in the Mediterranean sunshine, accompanied with copious amounts of wine; the sweet flakes of Whitby crab; the drama of its strikingly black appearance.

I can't fault Cellar Door's efforts with the dish, which was perfectly executed.

While my starter might have reminded me of summer holidays by the sea, Carlo’s was a homage to autumn.

His wood pigeon breast (£8) came with a sweet little pie with the leg meat (or pithivier to use the lingo) and served with carrot puree, blackberries and beetroot confit, it had a colour palate to match the season.

The Northern Echo: A starter of wood pidgeon with carrot, blackberries and beetrootA starter of wood pidgeon with carrot, blackberries and beetroot

I’m told the pie was particularly good (it’s only downside being that it was gone before I had a chance to sample it for myself).

While my starter took me to the Mediterranean, my main was more inspired by the flavours of North Africa. A rack of lamb, caked in pistachios, served with a Moroccan spiced belly croquette and a side of pickled courgette and aubergine (£22).

The Northern Echo:

The rack of lamb, with pistachios

The star of the dish was the pink and tender lamb, while the courgette and aubergine made a good contrast. The croquette, which had drawn me to the dish on the menu, was the only slight let down as I thought it lacked a bit of punch on the flavour front and was leaning towards the dry side

Carlo’s slow cooked beef shin (£21) was drool-worthy, cooked until it was falling apart. His only complaint was the quantity of fondant potato not quite matching the substantial chunk of meat.

The Northern Echo: Slow cooked beef shin, with fondant potatoSlow cooked beef shin, with fondant potato

I have to say I was a little disappointed in my pudding. Described as a dark chocolate aero, served with passionfruit, coconut and a mango sorbet (£8) I thought it had the makings of something great. For me, the reality on the plate didn’t quite live up to expectations. I liked the bitterness of the chocolate but its texture was too hard and the pile of toasted coconut too dry so what was a good combination of flavours didn’t translate into a particularly moreish dish to eat.

The Northern Echo: Dark chocolate aero, mango sorbet, passionfruit espuma and coconutDark chocolate aero, mango sorbet, passionfruit espuma and coconut

The Northern Echo:

White chocolate and blackberry entremet

Carlo was somewhat happier with his choice – a white chocolate and blackberry entremet with a Northumberland wildflower honey ice cream (£8.50). The layered cake element was both stylish and tasty, while the ice cream had a clean flavour which was a satisfying end to the meal.

One thing I will say about the desserts is they were both served on beautiful crockery, matching the casually elegant ambiance of the venue.

Our final bill came to £85, which while not being the cheapest was certainly worth the money.

The lunchtime menu looked particularly good value, setting you back £15 for two courses or £18 for three.

Cellar Door

41 Saddler Street, Durham , DH1 3NU

0191 383 1856


Open: Monday – Sunday 12pm-9:30pm

Food: 9

Service: 8

Surroundings: 8

Value: 8