The Fox Hole, Piercebridge, near Darlington DL2 3SJ

Menu and order:

Phone: 01325-374286

Food quality: 8

Covid security: 9

Value for money: 8

ON the last day of the cold snap, when the roadside snow had turned from fresh white to filthy sludge, and the slate grey clouds sucked all the light out of the day, my dirty silver car, stained by road salt, was almost camouflaged against The Fox Hole pub at Piercebridge – moon grey walls and steel grey frames – as we waited for our Sunday lunch takeaway.

Between the weather, the car and the pub, there may have been 50 shades of grey – but what we found when we opened our tinfoil containers brought colour to our lives.

Although there was a slip-up, this was probably the best all-round takeaway of our year of lockdown.

The Fox Hole is only doing a Sunday lunch. The menu is on Facebook and is limited: four starters (£5 each), four mains (£12 each), three desserts (£5 each). We ordered via Facebook, and were given a precise time at which the food would be ready – and it was.

Driving away with the food in paper bags on the back seat, I had a niggle: I thought the bill had been a little cheap and I doubted whether there were enough containers for all the courses we’d ordered.

Closer inspection over the hotplate at home revealed our desserts had been missed out – although there was a pot of sweet-tasting yellow stuff. I immediately phoned the Fox Hole, said I’d got the custard and no pudding, and they offered a discount and a delivery.

Mistakes happen. It is how they are resolved that counts, and this was a very good outcome.

There wasn’t even a note of superiority when it was pointed out to me that the sweet-tasting yellow stuff wasn’t custard, as I had supposed, but it was sweetcorn puree which was meant to go with the crispy chicken and tarragon drumstick starter.


The generous drumstick was crispy on the outside and had a pleasant waft of tarragon to it, and I thought the sweet puree raised it a distinctive, moist dish. Others around the table disagreed, not able to see the need for custardy stuff with chicken.

Our other starter was cheese and tarragon arancini with mushroom velouté. Arancini are deep fried rice balls, so they had a crispy outside and a delicate soft cheesy centre. Then the velouté – which is French for “velvety” – crashed in. It was a velvet grey liquid with an immense mushroom flavour. I thought it absolutely fabulous, although it did drown out the lighter flavours of the arancini.

Between us, we sampled all the main dishes: pork, chicken, beef and nut roast. Good meat, especially the chicken which came in plump, moist chunks, and lots of good gravy.

Petra, my wife, really enjoyed the nut roast. It was chock full of peanuts and, with its own gravy, even I, an unreformed meat eater, had to admit it was tasty.

There were huge Yorkshire Puddings that billowed up as light as clouds, and there were loads of firm roast potatoes with fairly fluffy centres.

There were great green vegetables – broccoli, kale and beans ¬– plus smooth orange-yellow swede mash and fruity maroon-red cabbage bringing a touch of Christmas. Aside from the beans, which had sagged a little, all the veg was fresh, firm and colourful.

The pork came with teeth-challenging crackling, but there weren’t other condiments. I fished a jar containing a little apple sauce from the very back of the fridge, but it was 13 months past its sell-by date and looking a bit green around the bramleys. It was decided that the pork could go without, but there was an unopened jar of horseradish in the cupboard which gave the beef a satisfying lift.

By now, the desserts had arrived. Grandma was impressed with her Forest Fruit Bakewell Tart which had a generous layer of jam at the bottom which was balanced by a sharp compote.

Theo, my son, and I shared a good sticky toffee pudding and a chocolate brownie which was covered in a dark chocolate sauce that was every bit as chocolatey as the velouté was mushroomy.

Unexpectedly, a pot of thick real cream had been added to our bag so that our desserts ticked many boxes.

Indeed, the whole meal ticked many boxes. It might only have been a straightforward Sunday roast, but not a single part of it let us down, with the starters offering a little imagination. It was all high quality, clean and fresh, and well presented in its tinfoil trays.

Plus the portions were very generous. The great thing about dining at home is that I can drink the tasty gravy off my knife without the rest of the family looking round in embarrassment, and we can keep the leftovers for another meal without looking like cheapskates in asking for a doggy bag.

(I had the velouté the following evening with a fishcake, which worked very well as there was just enough fishiness to be tasted above the powerful mushroom.)

It was an all round success, and brought a splash of colour into not only a grey day but a long drab period of lockdown life.