IN THE olden days on a snowy night you walked in through the front door of a country pub and were greeted warmly by a roaring fire and a foaming pint.

When we arrived on Saturday to pick up our takeaway at the Tuns in Sadberge, the snow lay crisp on the ground and the front door was locked. Signs pointed us down the icy side, in through the woodstore and up through the beer garden to the back door where another couple sat wrapped up and masked over on a wooden bench.

Blankets had been provided to throw over our knees and a large wood-fired pizza oven emitted enough heat to take the bite off the frost.

Takeaways and home deliveries were doing a roaring trade, but our wait was short.

The Tuns is one of the best eating pubs around Darlington. Specialising in Italian-inspired cooking it has modified its menu a little to appeal to the takeaway crowd who, like us, predominantly want pizza, parmo and burgers – but if you want a 17oz Chateaubriand steak, it's still on the menu for £65.

The Tuns’ website has been taken over by a link to JustEat, through which it was simple to order. However, an hour before we were due to collect, we got a text saying that we hadn’t been successful and were being refunded. JustEat didn’t explain why, and didn’t say how we could reinvigorate the order.

A quick call to the pub and we learned that they’d sold out of belly pork which had caused the whole order to be cancelled. Perhaps instead of putting our faith in new technology we should have dialled direct to begin with.

We chose a couple of starters: an antipasto sharing box (£9) and zucchini flowers (£6). The box contained some great ham, some very lively chorizo, a couple of light cheeses plus bread sticks, crackers and a piece of garlic bread. I really liked the prosciutto, my wife, Petra, was impressed with the dipping oil and pesto, but we both felt there could have been a couple more slices of bread.

Zucchini flowers are from a courgette plant and are a traditional Italian delicacy. Stuffed with a light cheese, these were big and plump, deep fried in a slippery batter and served with an excellent chilli and lime mayonnaise. All-in-all it was an appealing and interesting dish.

There are nine pizzas on the Tuns’ menu, but our son, Theo, chose a plain margherita (£10.50), topped with buffalo mozzarella and small tomatoes. It was mis-shapen, bits of the crust were burned black, it whiffed of wood smoke as soon as the box was opened, and Theo absolutely loved it. A classic tomato and cheese combination, rich and warm, gooey and stringy.

The wood smoke gave it a rustic charm, certainly in comparison to pizzas from some chains which might be perfectly round with just the right amount of topping, but taste of sweaty cardboard.

Genevieve, our daughter, had gone for the Tuns burger (£12) once her belly pork had fallen through. It had plenty of trimmings – cheese, onion ring, gherkins – and was a large juicy patty of meat. She enjoyed it with her big chunky chips.

I had gone for the classic chicken parmo (£12). There are not many dishes that travel well on a snowy night then sit contentedly while you explore the contents of an antipasto box and delve into a courgette flower. The parmo had not enjoyed the journey, and had developed a crust where the once molten cheese and bechamel sauce had hardened.

Once through that I found a succulent piece of chicken, a good centimetre thick, combining nicely with the cheese. Even better, was a rather grey looking slaw which had a vibrant kick and a lively crunch to it, and a magnificent garlic mayo which really topped it off.

There were two out-and-out vegetarian dishes on the menu. Petra had hummed and hawed over her choice of the rigatoni pasta (£11.50), which had tomatoes, peppers, onions, courgette and mushrooms in a garlic sauce. However, it was perhaps the biggest hit of the night – lively and fresh with the oily garlic sauce sticking to the ridges on the pasta.

It was a huge dish, which quite defeated her, but fortunately Theo’s pizza had completely disappeared and he was on hand to finish up every last morsel, calling it “good pasta” with every mouthful.

He still had room for a desert! We had ordered sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie (£4.50 each). Because we were eating at home, we had to microwave our own deserts, but we were also able to cut them in half and have toffee and chocolate in the same bowl.

Both were puddings crammed with goodies and served with plenty of sauce. The toffee sauce was so sweet that even I couldn’t finish it all off, while the chocolate sauce with the brownie was rich but understated and quite delightful.

For four of us snuggled up in front of our own logburner with the FA Cup on the telly, the meal came to £70.50. Although not as sophisticated as the restaurant experience, there was still some genuine cooking and lovely tastes and accompaniments.


The Tuns, Sadberge, near Darlington

Website: (takes you to JustEat for the takeaway/home delivery menu)

Phone: 01325 332080

Ratings (out of ten): Covid security: 8. Food quality: 8. Value for money: 8.