Durham is often an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quirky dining establishments.
But if it’s possible to “out-quirk” the competition, then Gadds Townhouse has done just that.
I tend to loiter around Saddler Street and Walkergate when eating in Durham City, but it’s worth the short walk over Elvet Bridge to sample the gastronomy at Gadds.
Though it’s an established hotel, restaurant and bar, I’d never visited before.
However, it didn’t take me long to find it – its eighteenth century Georgian townhouse facade, complete with ivy tumbling from its window boxes, is like a scene from a chocolate box and can’t help but catch your eye.
The grandeur of that bygone era continues inside with plush furnishings, opulent chandeliers and a dense, dark-colour scheme.
Dark purples and swathes of heavy brocade can be an oppressive decor, but trendy touches and clever use of lighting help to create a welcoming atmosphere. Its restaurant is fairly small, but the tables are well spaced out so you don’t feel like you’re on top of your fellow diners.
Fancy surroundings usually equate to fancy prices, but the lunch menu offers one course for £9, two courses for £12.50 and three courses for £15 from the fixed menu. Or there’s a more simplified menu of rolls and sandwiches for those after a quick, light bite.
With time to spare, we decided to go for the fixed menu.
It’s concise, but well thought out, with hearty options, such as crispy black pudding fritter, shepherd’s pie and seared pork rib eye, from which to choose.
There’s also a small deli board section which managed to sway us for our shared starter.
It’s slightly more expensive than the set menu at £15.50, but our Durham charcuterie choice offered a plethora of palate-pleasers. So many in fact, that we could have had this alone for lunch.
A slate board was laden with crispy black pudding bonbons, battered chipolatas, pork scratchings, fish cake, game spring rolls and various dips – it was a meat-lovers paradise.
I’m not usually a fan of battered foods, but this batter was light and fluffy enough not to cause offence, and the fish cakes were divine. Packed with fish and flavour, they went down a treat.
After all that, we needed a break between courses. Fortunately, there’s a pretty hefty drinks menu you can wade your way through with a large range of wines and cocktails – a small glass of house white comes in at £4 and cocktails priced £7.50.
I was still stuffed from the deli board, but my main looked so good it had to be devoured.
I’d gone for the smoked haddock with cheddar mash. The fish was delicately-flavoured, in contrast to the rich and creamy mash.
As a nice touch, we were able to have our post-meal coffees in the bar area – a grand room that echoes the building’s tasteful theme.
Beware if you’re driving to Gadds though, there’s only on-street parking for restaurant users which, as this is Durham, comes at a price.