We all know of the current trend for local produce. Some people choose not to eat mangoes because of their carbon footprint; others won’t eat apples out of season. Being in receipt of a fortnightly organic veg box, my husband (Chris) and I feel we are on the way to joining these holy ranks. And going to Oldfields gives you the same kind of feeling: when you eat there you feel you must be one of the best kinds of human beings.
A map on the wall in the restaurant (pictured) shows you where your food has come from, while Old Mrs Macpherson who makes the egg custard smiles from a photo and pours warm happy feelings of superiority into the hands that operate your fork and spoon. At Oldfields, you feel you are in the company of the great and the good of Durham, joining them in doing a service to our country by eating dinner.
The view from the restaurant can’t help but feed this moral high horse. On a normal (let’s-not-spend-£50-on-dinner) night out, you might be very happy to eat a pizza or carton of chips from one of the take-aways just opposite. On the night you go to Oldfields, you will contemplate (if facing the window, as I was) the glaring, gaudy take-away lights and consider bulldozing them, much as José Bové, the French sheep farmer, flattened one McDonald’s in 1999.
Inside the restaurant, the waiters are friendly and the service efficient without being overbearing. It’s a shame the tables are so close together; our waitress could only stand roughly in the vicinity of ours and peer over at us to take our order (or, very kindly, my coat). At a table for two there is no illusion of privacy; if this is the first time you hold hands over the table, you will not feel unobserved, but in the Oldfields atmosphere of satisfaction (smiling waiters, smiling customers) you will probably mind less.
In celebration of my birthday, Chris and I went for the more expensive evening menu (the one where the chips are served with your fish and don’t need to be ordered separately). Feeling adventurous, I went for the rabbit and cider casserole, which was deliciously and subtly flavoured and interlaced with peas and leeks. The testament of glory to the quality of ingredients used at Oldfields was, for me, in the peas. Eighteen years of my parents’ best efforts failed to convert me to my one green enemy; but I needed no encouragement to eat these. Sweet and crunchy, they perfectly complimented the salty creaminess of the rabbit and rapeseed mash. Chris was happy too, with his beautifully succulent chicken, homemade chips, tomato, mushrooms and watercress.
Feeling quite full after a generous main course, I chose poached pear for dessert. I’d hoped for something fresh-tasting, but it was sweeter than I had expected and lacking in acidity – so I was glad that I had my house red to wash it down. The ice-cream, however, was velvety perfection. Chris had sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce; this was everything you could hope for: sticky, toffee, puddingy and yet not too sweet, again served with the wonderful Archer’s Jersey ice-cream. The meal was rounded off with an espresso: very short, but very good.
One of the great things about Oldfields is that if you don’t want to spend the earth, you can go before 7pm Sunday to Friday or before 6pm on Saturdays for the “lunch and earlybird menu” and enjoy two courses for £11 or three for £14 – although unfortunately this doesn’t include the sides to accompany the mains. The service for lower-paying customers is certainly not reduced in quality; on one occasion the waiter serving my friends and I appeared to be Bill Oldfield himself (identity indicated by the photo on my placemat), whose friendly and attentive manner made us feel that we were his personally invited guests rather than his customers.
So, if you want a special night (or even afternoon) out, and you want to feel good about the food you eat, go to Oldfields – but be sure to book in advance!