I have been a Twitter picture-fan of Stephen Hardy (Head Cheffy Chef at the new look Restaurant DH1 over Durham way) since our two paths collided on the social media site back in 2013. I just plain like the look of what he puts on a plate. It was the same feeling had when I saw work being done by Darren Goodwin at Losehill House in Derbyshire. I had a feeling if I was not disappointed by Darren’s food then, this young man’s skills would equally please me. Quite simply, I was not wrong one jot
Restaurant DH1 is located on the outskirts of Durham on the way up to Neville’s Cross. Not far at all from where I went to college back in the olden days. The main building is Farnley Towers and the restaurant and kitchen overlook the garden, which in turn overlooks the Cathedral in the distance.
A local architect built the property as his own residence in 1870 and from the look of it he had a thriving well-paying practice, it is a lovely property. After an extensive restoration in 1998, Farnley Tower reopened as a 4 star guest-house with a onsite restaurant.
The notion to call it the Gourmet Spot with a signage that left you in no doubt someone thought it amusing, they probably did not entirely help promote the quality of food seriously. All has now been suitably rectified. Restaurant DH1 re-launched and opened its doors in March 2014, now owned by the Head chef (Stephen) and his wife (Helen), the décor to this 22 seat little gem is tasteful and contemporary and modern.
It was Helen and her lovely young front of house team who greeted us warmly and took us through into the snug dining room and settled us with drinks and breads. Let me say this about the breads, eat them all and consider it as part of the meal, they were excellent. As I write this now a few days later and falling back on memory the though “Black Pudding bread… mmmm” pops into my head.
The dimension of the place makes it very intimate, and I found it and the other diners friendly and comfortable company. Nice to find ourselves seated next to a couple visiting from “The South” staying over, who reported a comfortable family room, and who also had enjoyed a wonderful dining experience.
The menu itself has a nice touch to it. I find the logo design has been done well, and its clear neatness marries well with the food ethos.
Inside you will find a brief intro, one sees they wish the diner to be relaxed and welcomed to their world of tastes and textures.
The selection we opted for on this our first visit was the tasting menu. Nothing on the meat selection ran across the bows of the Mrs. Zap, so we both opted for the tasting menu. Our thinking was that it would offer us a good insight into the ingenuity, qualities and skills residing in the mind and hands of the chef. At £50 per head for a wide selection of “fiddly food” I considered it to be an acceptable trade of our money for such gastronomic variety. A glance down the menu was very enticing.
As a welcoming gesture (I like to think in some part due to our previous cross correspondence on the Twitter thingymajig, but he might do this as part of the meal and my narcissism is misplaced) we were presented with a couple of amuses; a lovely light mousse incorporating smoked eel and duck within a crisp filo pastry, first.
This was followed with two delicate beetroot meringues filled with soft gentle tasting goats cheese. The sweet powerful beetroot flavours had us sucking our teeth and “mmm” ing long after the tasty morsels had been devoured. I just know that when that happens whatever is coming next is going to be pretty darned good. It is a great skill to extract that level of flavour and package it into such delicacies.
Crispy Oyster with seaweed and fennel was the first platter.Perhaps purists would frown at a cooked oyster but I like it, it made the texture more like a meaty mussel, the crumbed coat with the fennel and seaweed was not overpowering, and Mrs. Zap found the aniseed taste suitable for her palate, for me I would always go a little more obvious.. but then again I get told by Cheffy Chefs my taste buds are shot, so who am I to say.
The Torched mackerel, cucumber, lemon and horseradish was beautiful. The fish marvellously pink, soft and sweet. The cucumber seared rendering it as a melon like taste and the horseradish ice-cream …. superb, a lovely lovely combination of tastes in this dish.
Following on next was the sea bream with baby leeks, mussels and seaweed butter. Beautifully plated, and excellently cooked and all flavours present and correct. A harmonious creation.
Moving away from the fish we had the first of the big meats; pork cheek cooked in soy with Granny Smith apple, eel and shallot. This was rich and sweet and sticky, the pork melt in your mouth soft the acidic sharpness and sweetness of the apple a lovely taste contrast to the rich dark soy jus.
Goosenargh duck with sprouting broccoli orange puree Juniper and turnip…. Well now… What a fantastic piece of duck. Pink, cooked to perfection, sitting on a symmetrically shaped finger of layered seared potato. Very neat. The orange taste bombs exploded magnificently on my tongue. I loved it to bits.
Rhubarb, pistachio & gingerbread. All I am just going to say is, look at that pud … just look at it. It was that good.
Lastly Aerated chocolate. salt caramel and popcorn. It says it all in the description; the set aerated chocolate was textured tasteful and tongue pleasing, the salt caramel was sticky, sweet and satisfying the popcorn was … well popcorn, and added a textural difference and went so well with salt caramel, just like the stuff I can eat by the bucket load in front of the telly and a good film.
The wine I chose was a Mandrarossa Fiano. A good big, full-bodied white, which I sipped sparingly and took half the bottle home as I was driving. Golden in the glass, and filling the palate with rich tropical fruits and a nice long finish. My choice because of the variety of dishes from fish to meat to rich pudding.
I am pretty sure in my thinking that Stephen and his wife and business partner Helen have put their hearts, souls and futures on the line in making DH1 theirs. It is a bold and scary thing to do, to step out and finance your own restaurant. I can’t see how it can fail. Quite how a two-man team in the kitchen can do what they do is beyond me. If I had known that there was just the two of them back there, plating-up the tasting menu and preparing regular meals for a full service, I would have just gone A La Carte. I apologise for taxing you so hard Stephen.
Table service was handled well by a great young server called Ashleigh, we thank you for being excellent. Kitchen cheffy dudes… we salute you. FOH team job well done, Helen you looked lovely and were superbly efficient.
In conclusion DH1 is worth the visit and still is a Great Spot to eat (in-joke I could not resist).
Thanks Stephen you are a fine, fine cheffy chef.