VALENTINE OSBORNE was my great-great-grandfather. I have his American pocketwatch ticking beside me as I write. He was a skilled bootmaker who family legend says was sent to the States to make boots for a president.

He returned in the 1890s and found success in the concert halls of the capital with his “dramatic and musical” recitals. As well as possessing a fantastic moustache, he had a “very happy and pleasing style”, according to the one newspaper review that survives, and he died young, aged 38, in 1903.

I was idly googling his name to see if the internet could shed any more light on him when one of those weird algorithms kicked in and I was told that I may also like Valentines restaurant in Barnard Castle, the number one restaurant in the town for the last 19 months according to Trip Advisor.

We decided to go and have a look.

A sight test reference to Barnard Castle is, of course, inevitable – Dominic Cummings has certainly benefitted the town by putting it on the map – and it would seem that I had somehow failed to see Valentines, in Galgate beside the Three Horseshoes, for the 20 years it has been trading.

We got Saturday evening’s last table via Facebook. Valentines has taken out 12 covers because of the pandemic and erected wood and metal screens so each table is safely in its own cubicle. For me, it was a bit like eating with blinkers on, because I do like to have a good nosey at the peccadilloes of my fellow diners.

Valentines menu is quite traditional, with burgers, lasagne and steak and ale pie, but it has a flash of individuality with five fish and three vegetarian dishes, often with a fruity element. Many of its dishes are noisily served on sizzling cast iron platters that cause everyone to look as they are paraded past.

We shared a couple of starters between the three of us: Mac and Cheese Bites (£6) and half a rack of BBQ glazed ribs (£9). Both dishes came with a bowl of basic, crunchy salad, enlivened with a fruity dressing.

The bites had a clean and crispy coating which contrasted beautifully with the gooey, creamy interior of molten cheese. They were accompanied by a nice tomato salsa. Although I couldn’t find any heat in it, Petra, my wife, said it was definitely there.

Theo, our son, was finishing off the ribs. The meat fell from them perfectly, and there was lots of lovely sauce in the bowl. The trouble with ribs is that they don’t make good spoons, and it seems criminal to send so much back, so we made sauce boats out of the crunchy lettuce leaves once our meat had gone.

The ribs came with a good little pot of homemade coleslaw, which was crunchily creamy.

Fortunately for my nosiness, a couple had occupied a table just within view, and they had a peculiar peccadillo: he was unable to start his food until she had tasted a large chunk of it. Perhaps he was a Government advisor on the run and lived in fear of being poisoned, because she had about a quarter of his fish before it was deemed worthy of his palate.

Petra heard her dish coming long before it arrived: the king prawn sizzler (£16). Theatrically chattering away to itself was an enormous dish of vegetables – broccoli, peppers, leaks, courgettes and sugar snaps – swimming in a garlic butter sauce, with the prawns on top. With the extra heat of the sizzler, the vegetables could have been reduced to a mush, but each piece retained its own integrity and the prawns kept their juiciness.

She had wondered whether to accompany her sizzler with some chips, but had been advised that it was enough on its own – and it was.

Theo had the twice baked pork belly (£15). It had a properly porky taste but also a variety of textures, from the crunchiness of the crackling through to the smoothness of the meat. It came in a dark rich sauce with a good hint of apple.

I had been tempted by many items on the menu – the bacon and brie beefburger (£14) sounded especially interesting – but surprised myself at the last moment by opting for the garlic and mushroom chicken (£13) topped with mozzarella.

It could have been a Barney take on Teesside’s parmo: a succulent chunk of chicken, topped with cheese and garlic and a layer of very grey mushrooms. Mushrooms are usually hidden in a sauce – perhaps even enrobed – so you don’t see how very grey they can be, but these, like all the Valentines’ vegetables, tasted extremely honest, and the mushroomyness added to the garlic to create a satisfying dish.

Theo and I decided we had room enough for desserts, which, for £5.50 each, were very large. On the table within eye range, the lady had a huge spoonful of her partner’s sticky toffee pudding before he was allowed to tuck in. She then polished off an enormous glass bowl of sundae, which was a gargantuan effort because both Theo and I struggled with the enormity of ours.

Theo had a flapjack sundae while I went for a Belgian waffle with a nutty chocolate sauce plus some syrupy tastes and two scoops of vanilla ice cream all topped off with fresh cream and chocolate shavings. It was really good, but it defeated me.

The bill for the three of us, with drinks, came to £96. I’m sure even my great-great-grandfather Valentine would have been impressed by the generosity of the portions but also with the down-to-earth nature of Valentines where clean and honest flavours shone through.


Valentines Restaurant

11 Galgate, Barnard Castle, DL12 8EQ

Phone: 01833 637146

Menu on Facebook: search 'Valentines restaurant'

Ratings: Food quality: 8, Service: 8, Covid security: 9, Ambience: 7, Value for money: 7.