The hotel may be Indigo, the restaurant may be Marco Pierre White, but a trip to this colourful renovation of a Durham City landmark will leave you feeling anything but blue.
The green dome of the red brick Old Shire Hall has been a distinctive feature of Durham City’s skyline after its construction in 1896. Since then it’s had chapters in the city’s rich history as the original County Hall, before becoming administration offices for Durham University and a subsequent six year period of dereliction.
But in April this year it was brought back to all its Victorian glory with a year-long £15million renovation by the Hotel Indigo chain who created an 83-bedroom boutique hotel, Marco Pierre White restaurant, rotunda bar, and coffee house called Tinderbox Espresso Emporium.
Chains moving into historic buildings is not always a good thing and those with memories of this mighty structure in its previous guises may have feared for its future, but there’s been substantial effort ploughed into restoring and enhancing the grand period features of the Grade II-listed site.
Take for instance the striking central staircase with its ornate glazed Edwardian tiling which now glisten under the modern, but sympathetic, halo lighting and old safes found in the renovation, which now form part of the hotel check-in desk. Even the colours of an old Durham University tie have been incorporated into one of the carpets in the hotel rooms, which are themed around Durham life.
It’s a precise attention to detail which flows through to the bar and restaurant, which occupies the former council chambers.
The dining room is spectacular with its domed ceiling, oak panels, elaborate period plasterwork, marble columns and stained glass windows that hark back to the Arts and Crafts era.
We were seated upstairs in the former public gallery, once a place to observe council meetings, which now offers the arguably more attractive sight of the bustle of the restaurant.
This was my first visit to MPW and, coupled with mixed reports of the one in Newcastle, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was impressed. The menu offers a good choice of classic dishes, such as french onion soup (£6.75), honey roast belly pork (£16.50) and vegetarian gnocchi (£13.95) as well as five different cuts of steak and burgers.
To start I chose the scallops with black pudding, pancetta and cauliflower puree to start (£13.50), The five silky scallops contrasted well with the heavier black pudding and the salt crispness of the pancetta, which formed a beautifully-presented medley.
I chose the 8oz fillet for mains (£30.95 including watercress and vine tomatoes and a choice of salad or chips) and it was a perfectly plump cut, cooked medium rare and loaded with flavour. I’d ordered a peppercorn sauce (all sauces are £3.50) but it was the kind of meat that didn’t need any added flavour.
Our waiter was another highlight of the night: courteous, attentive but not in your face.
Marco’s is definitely on the pricey side, with steaks starting at £27.50 for a 10oz ribeye, but for a special night out it has the befitting wow factor. Granted, there’s cheaper places out there, but none of them can offer a setting like this. If you’re looking to spend less check the website to take a bite out of offers such as 2-4-1 burgers.