REVIEW: Bill’s, Saddler Street, Durham City

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I’VE reviewed this site in its many guises over the past few years, from Hide bar and grill to the more recent reincarnation as pan-Asian Lotus Lounge.

It was a shame to see the latter go, but it’s all change again in this Grade II-listed building and new kid on the cobbled block is Bill’s.

I’ve eaten at this chain, spawned from a small East Sussex greengrocery, at branches in London and York and it may well have the recipe for longevity on Saddler Street.

Its theme of shabby chic meets farm shop meets stripped back industrial fittings, with seasonal produce lining the walls, works well in the low ceilings of Durham’s historic streets.

And its candlelit glow made for a warm welcome on a chilly winter’s night.

It’s laid back, but it manages to feel special too, a tricky balance to strike.

We took a seat in one of the cosy booths, which are perfect for date nights.

But this is a restaurant which specialises in all meals of the day from breakfast and brunch through to afternoon tea and evening dining and cocktails.

You don’t get bogged down with choice here, the menu’s concise but well thought-out with starter options ranging from mini Cumberland sausages and mustard (£4.25) to the ubiquitous sharing mezze board which seem to feature on every menu these days.

This one comes in at £9.95 and you get a pick’n’mix selection of sunblushed tomatoes and basil, baba ganoush, houmous, marinated olives, halloumi and wholemeal pitta for your pennies.

I went with the grilled halloumi, chickpea and cous cous salad (£4.25).

It was a generous portion for a starter, four chunky slabs of perfectly rubbery halloumi on a bed of cous cous. Pomegranate added some zing to the salad and a yoghurt and lemon sauce injected some rich texture.

Despite it being a main meal, my next course wasn’t much bigger.

I’d chosen the avocado, bacon and spinach salad (£8.95). It arrived in a small round bowl with deep sides which made the meal difficult to dig into with a knife and fork without contorting my elbows.

And though there was plenty of spinach as advertised, it was lacking in avocado and bacon which would have given the dish more flavour. Perhaps I should have gone for one of the heartier options which include peri peri marinated half chicken (£11.95), burgers for £9.95 and duck pie topped with a buttery mash and Cheddar (£11.95).

My friend fared better with his choice of Bill’s green chicken curry.

It was a large portion with considerable bite. The smooth curry was punctuated with sugar snaps and red chilli and he devoured every last scrap.

Drinks prices are an added bonus. You can pick up a bloody Mary for £4.75. a tipple that usually costs twice the price.

For beer lovers, prices start at £3.85 for Bill’s own brew to £4.50 for a bottle of Cornish orchard cider.

Though prices are fair, the food fresh and staff friendly, there’s a slight sting in the tail with Bill’s bill.

As a bad habit picked up from the London branches perhaps, they whack a 10 per cent service charge on your bill.

But you can ask for this to be taken off if you’d rather choose your own tip.