All too often new restaurants go down the industrial chic road when it comes to decor, all exposed pipes and Scandi-esque hygge vibes to look at while you eat your avocado smash.
How refreshing, therefore, to venture down The Rabbit Hole to uncover a supper club of old school opulence. It bills itself as hidden and we drove past it twice before spotting this Durham City newcomer. There’s little to suggest that behind an antiques shop of curiosities on Hallgarth Street there’s a warren of decadent dining, other than a red light down a cobbled alleyway.
Admittance is by doorbell only - this is not a place you’d stumble in on a bar crawl - and it’s one of a handful of house rules. Taking phone calls over dinner is frowned upon, as it should be, and this adult only restaurant is a sportswear-free zone. There’s plenty of other places you can do all that, and the rules help to set this place apart as somewhere a little bit more special.
Step through the velvet floor-length curtains and you’re transported to the 1920s with a Great Gatsby-esque bar called the Drinking Den where you can recline on fringed chairs under tear drop chandeliers, choose from the Art Deco mirrored bar and enjoy pre-dinner drinks while projections of old silent films illuminate one of the walls. In keeping with the Prohibition theme, it’s moodily lit but illuminated menus make it easier to choose your tipple, from choices including cocktails (priced from £7.50), gins and an interesting wine list you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in the city, starting from £5.70 for a small glass.
Up the mirrored stair case and under the pitched roof of this eighteenth century building is the restaurant area. It’s quite the tardis will a mixture of cool blue studded booths and cosy tables for two and a stage area for jazz performers. The decor is akin to that of a fine dining carriage on The Orient Express and it has a menu which also looks East with a menu that’s part Oriental and part grill.
I chose the steamed hand dived scallops with red nam prik pao dressing (£12.50) to start. They were prettily presented in a half shell on china richly decorated with Chinese dragons. You get plenty of meaty molluscs for your pounds and the scallops were plump with delicate flavour, which was lifted by the punchier Thai chilli paste sauce.
For mains I had Singapore Vermicelli (£17.50), which was packed with contrasting textures of honey roast pork, chicken, prawn, wok tossed curried noodles, shredded omelette, beansprouts, pak choi. The natural flavours were allowed to shine and it was much less greasy than other versions of this staple I’ve had elsewhere.
Prices are as you’d expect from such a unique setting, but note that all table reservations after 6pm in the restaurant require a food and beverage minimum spend per person of £35.
The house rules aren’t strictly enforced by the friendly staff and I took a few snaps for Instagram but most other diners were taking in the ambience and enjoying their digital detox at this Wonderland of a restaurant, which has a curiosity round every corner.