Review of The Rabbit Hole and its decadent Durham dining experience

Venture down this Rabbit Hole in Durham for the first time and you’ll be in for a surprise.

An innocuous white wash facade on Hallgarth Street (up towards the cluster of University buildings) belies a warren of decadent dining at this restaurant, which channels the opulence of a Prohibition-era Shanghai supper club in its decor.

While the front parlour area, which is open for casual dim sum lunches, brings the hustle and bustle of the Far East with its ceiling festooned with parasols, burnt orange and yellow lanterns and feature murals, the restaurant area is a more indulgent, opulent affair.

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It’s a swish restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond film with its teal velvet seating complete with fringed base, booths framed by swathes of heavy taffeta, chandeliers amidst the old building’s beams and ambient lighting that makes you feel as though you’re in a secret subterranean jazz club, instead of a short walk from the centre of Durham. It’s a real gateway to old school elegance.

The Rabbit Hole, on the corner of Hallgarth Street and Mavin Street in Durham City
The Rabbit Hole, on the corner of Hallgarth Street and Mavin Street in Durham City
The Rabbit Hole, on the corner of Hallgarth Street and Mavin Street in Durham City

We’d booked in for a Saturday lunch and you can eat either in the bright parlour or the atmospheric restaurant area – with its light up menus, filled with Far East-inspired dishes, adding to the experience.

We were seated in one of the upstairs booths, which is perfect for date nights, or a birthday treat on our visit. But there’s also larger spaces for family and group dining.

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Back to that light up menu and you can choose from the dim sum and small plates menu, which runs Monday - Saturday from 12noon - 4.30pm or the a la carte evening menu which runs from 5pm Monday – Friday and from 12noon on Friday and Saturdays until close, which features more substantial options such as Sizzling Beef Cantonese Style (£19.50), Red Snapper Curry (£18.50) and Singaporean Fried Vermicelli (£15.50).

I chose a chicken and sweetcorn soup to start (£7.50). It’s oft a watery affair, but this version was packed with flavour and chunky shreds of chicken, perfect for scooping up with a side of prawn characters. It’s a simple soup, but this was the kind of quality you just can’t get from the shop-bought stuff.

As well as the entrance on the main street, there's a side entrance which you can access via a doorbell on evenings, in Speakeasy style
As well as the entrance on the main street, there's a side entrance which you can access via a doorbell on evenings, in Speakeasy style
As well as the entrance on the main street, there's a side entrance which you can access via a doorbell on evenings, in Speakeasy style

It’s all beautifully presented, too, in authentic tableware that echoes the Shanghai theme.

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Feeling flush on January pay day weekend, we ordered oysters to share between the three of us, priced £3 each and served natural style with crispy seaweed and chef’s hot sauce, which slipped down a treat.

For the table, we ordered White Fish (£8.50), Pork Buns (£5.50), Chicken Gyoza (£5.50), Crispy Spicy Beef (£8.50), Pork & Prawn Sui Mai (£7.50) and Crispy Duck Spring Rolls (£8.50). For small plates, they were generously portioned.

My favourite? The delicate Sui Mai were tightly-packed parcels of flavour complemented by goji berry and chilli-soy dip that whisked our tastebuds to Asia.

A selection of dim sum and small plates
A selection of dim sum and small plates
A selection of dim sum and small plates
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The chunky white fish with an addictive salty light soy broth also impressed. The pork buns could have done with more Chinese BBQ pork filling perhaps, but they still had that delightful springy texture so typified by buns from Asia.

So too, the crispy spicy beef; a meat feast mound served with a sweet and sticky honey, chilli and soy sauce that had that distinct intoxicating aroma of good Chinese food.

Drinks included exotic cocktail choices, all priced around the £9.50 mark, such as Lotus Blossom Martini, the classic Singapore Sling and Amaretto Sour Twist, draught options including Tiger (£5.50 a pint) and a wide range of wines starting from £20.

There’s some real sophisticated options on there, as you’d expect from this luxurious Taste of the Orient.

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Oysters are served natural and priced £3 each
Oysters are served natural and priced £3 each
Oysters are served natural and priced £3 each
One of the upstairs booths
One of the upstairs booths
One of the upstairs booths
Crispy beef from the small plates menu
Crispy beef from the small plates menu
Crispy beef from the small plates menu
The dim sum parlour
The dim sum parlour
The dim sum parlour