IN the first three weeks of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August, 64 million meals were served across the country as the whole nation went mad for a Rishi.

However, the Government’s half price deal came to an abrupt end on August 31, with many of our pubs and restaurants crammed on Monday evening as diners took the last opportunity for a Government-subsidised meal.

Then came September. Without the deal, but with economic uncertainty growing, how will the hospitality sector cope?

Many venues have decided to keep the Eat Out to Help Out spirit alive by offering their own early week deals. One of those is The Smokehouse in Bishop Auckland, where the Government scheme has worked well. They’d previously only opened at the back end of a week, but adopted new hours to take advantage of the Monday to Wednesday scheme. These had been practically fully booked, creating additional shifts for their staff which was the Government’s main intention, and so when September, they wanted to maintain the momentum by offering their £20 meal deal – starter, main, two sides, Brownie dessert and a soft drink – for £10.

On Tuesday, September 1, this remarkable venue in Railway Street, opposite the Hippodrome bingo parlour, seemed pretty busy.

It is in an old, small industrial warehouse in a street crammed with building suppliers, motor factors and rustproofers and dog groomers. The tiny exterior is covered in artful graffiti and has a rough sawn timber door. Inside it is bare bricks and unadorned lightbulbs (one had a flicker which would have prompted a warning on the 10 o’clock News), with railway wagon plates and pictures of Timothy Hackworth engines on the walls.

The front half of the warehouse accommodates 20 people on benches around four wooden tables. The rear half is open so that the four young male waiters, in red tops and shorts, can be seen preparing the food.

Everything, apart from bread, is made on the premises, with the meat smoked overnight, and the menu changing regularly depending upon availability.

Three of us – my daughter Genevieve and son Theo were along for the ride – shared our starters. The food comes in blue and white enamel camping tins lined with greaseproof paper bearing the restaurant’s logo.

Theo had one taste of the belly pork bites and decided they were all for him. Beautifully cooked, moist and plump, in a sticky sweet sauce, he enjoyed them so much he ate all of the crunchy salad as well.

The Northern Echo:

The BBQ brisket burnt ends were just as good. They were in a rich Chinese style sauce with a bit of a heat and a waft of smoke coming through them.

The hot nachos came with an enamel tray of cheese sauce, which was a yellow-grey sludge. It had pieces of carrot, onion and perhaps jalapeno in it, and after our initial misgivings, we all thought it was pretty good.

Our mains were prepared with a blast of orange flame emanating from the cooking area. Service was a bit haphazard, with bowls appearing as they were ready – the final touches on several occasions being supplied by a theatrical sprinkling of seasoning.

The Northern Echo:

Theo had chicken pieces, which had to be eaten by hand and had plenty of meat on them and a Southern-style coating. Genevieve enjoyed her smoked chicken enchilada. Both dishes were eatably warm, but they could have done to have been a few degrees hotter.

The Northern Echo:

I’d hoped for the half rack of ribs, but it had sold out, so instead I had a Railway burger, which was a homemade pattie in a crumb coating with a melting of cheese on top. It was fine.

The fries were great – crispy on the outside but fluffy in the middle – and the sides were very interesting.

Theo had pit beans, which arrived in a camping cup, and which were baked beans in a fruity BBQ sauce and onions. He was really taken by them.

The Smokehouse’s menu is unashamedly meaty, but Genevieve had sniffed out the one green side: green beans in garlic and Parmesan salt. These were really good.

The Northern Echo:

I’d gone for slaw and pickles. I got a huge enamel tray of a pinky slaw when a dollop would have sufficed, and six or so huge slug-shaped slices of pickled gherkin. McDonalds put a single slice of gherkin in their burgers and most people take it out; I managed four giant fingers of gherkin before accepting that I was in a bit of a pickle and gave up.

Dessert is a choice of six or seven types of Brownie and Blondies with six or seven flavours of ice cream. The Brownies – chocolate orange, salted caramel, fudge – and the Blondies – M&M, Rolos, Kinder – are all made by one of the young waiters, and they were huge and great: warm with oozy centres, and accompanied by proper Jersey ice cream (there was no squirty cream for Genevieve who, oddly, does not like ice cream).

The Northern Echo:

At £10-a-head for three courses, it is utterly impossible to criticise. The food is deliberately not the most sophisticated – it fits with the industrial vibe of the warehouse and the chipped nature of the enamel trays – and its audience is at the younger end of the market. The Smokehouse does have a website and an app, but it is really alive on social media – I booked via Facebook.

And yet there is an authentic touch to this family-run business’ food. They make their own sausages, roast their own coffee, smoke their own garlic and engineer their own Brownies. It is quite an amazing find in a Bishop Auckland back street.

The Smokehouse

Railway Street, Bishop Auckland DL14 7LR

Phone: 07593 675590

Website: (more information on Facebook @smokehouserailwaystreet)

Ratings (out of 10): Surroundings 7; food quality 7; service 7; value for money (extended Eat Out offer) 11.