“ Address: High Street North / Shincliffe / Durham / DH1 2NU / England „
The Seven Stars Inn in Durham seems to be one of those places that almost everyone you speak to recommends... but with the caveat "it's quite expensive, though." And so it proves.
The Seven Stars is an old 18th century inn situation just a couple of miles from Durham City Centre. It's pretty easy to find: head out towards the village of Shincliffe and as you reach the end of the village, there is the Seven Stars. Certainly, armed only with an A-Z and the vaguest idea of where it was, we were able to find it with no problems - although Mrs SWSt does have a sense of direction which would put a champion homing pigeon to shame, which always helps!
The first issue with the Seven Stars is that it doesn't have its own car park. You can leave your car on either side of the road around the inn, but this can get quite parked up. If you arrive at a busy time, I suspect you may struggle to find somewhere to park. The road outside is also fairly narrow, and with cars parked on both sides, becomes narrower still. Passing traffic is fairly frequent, so there is always the danger of clash of wing mirrors and some people might have a few concerns about leaving their car there.
The layout of the Seven Stars is rather nice. As you go in through the main door, you have a choice of two directions: right will take you into the bar where you eat in a more relaxed environment or enjoy a drink from the bar which serves a range of real ales. Turning left takes you into the more formal restaurant dining area. You can choose to eat in either area, although it's usually advisable to book if you want to eat in the restaurant, as it is popular and does get busy.
The restaurant is very well laid out with tables of varying sizes with seating ready set up for parties as small as2 or as big as 8-10. You can obviously book for larger parties as well and they have a couple of alcoves set back from the main restaurant to give such groups a little more privacy. The tables are well-spaced, so although there are a lot of tables in a relatively small area, you don't feel that you are sitting on top of anyone else.
The dining area was pleasantly lit and had a really comfortable atmosphere to it. It wasn't dark and dingy, but neither were you blinded by the glare if the lights. Thankfully, there was also none of the awful intrusive, loud music that so many restaurants feel the need to play these days, so you could eat your meal and chat without having to shout.
The whole style of the restaurant was stylish, but unfussy. The tables were well-set, without having ridiculous mounds of cutlery or swan-shaped napkins, whilst the décor was in keeping with a fairly traditional country inn.
The restaurant is open Mondays-Saturdays from 12-2.30 (for lunches) and 6-9pm (5-8pm on Sundays) and there are two different menus, depending on which sitting you go for.
The service at the Seven Stars was excellent. The waiters were attentive without being in-your-face. They gave us plenty of time to look at the menu or finish our meals without you feeling that you were somehow holding them up. At the same time, though, they were efficient in taking your order once you had decided and clearing away empty dishes. Perhaps this was partly because we went as soon as they opened, so they weren't particularly busy when we arrived, but I got the impression the level of service we experienced was fairly typical.
The only slight criticism was that serving staff had a tendency to stand and chat in the area just outside the kitchen (near to our table). In some cases, they were discussing some very personal things and we could hear every word they said - not necessarily something you want when you're trying to have a nice meal!
We went along for an evening meal and so chose from their Winter a la carte menu. You can check this out on their website, which is a nice touch, as you have some idea of the type of food they serve before you go.
The food served was a little bit different, without being pretentious. Much of the food is fairly traditional pub food, but with a little twist.
For starters, Mrs SWSt had Roasted Pepper and Goats Cheesecake, whilst I selected the Black pudding, blue cheese and leek risotto. Both dishes were very well presented and absolutely gorgeous. I'm not normally a risotto fan (it was the black pudding which tempted me), but it was excellent. It was slightly disappointing that the black pudding was cut into very small chunks, but it was still very tasty Mrs SWSt's cheesecake was also delicious - packed with cheese, but not too rich or sickly.
The main meals were of similar quality. I selected the chicken wrapped in bacon and stuffed with haggis (again, the attraction was the haggis) and it just melted in the mouth. It was also stuffed with a surprising amount of haggis - not the token amount I half expected! It was accompanied by a light and fluffy mash, whilst the green beans were chargrilled rather than boiled, which made them far tastier.
Portion sizes for the main courses are not that big and, in particular, you don't get many vegetables. Before going, we had been warned that, we should order some side dishes. Certainly, had we not done so, we might have still felt a little hungry once we'd finished. That makes us sound like great big fat whale pigs, but that's not the case (honest!). Neither of us eats that much, so if you have a healthy appetite, you will definitely need some side orders. As it was, we felt pleasantly full, but not stuffed after the meal
The only disappointing aspect of the menu was when it came to the desserts. Whereas the other courses offered something a little different, the puddings were pretty standard and unadventurous offerings. There was really nothing to even remotely tempt us.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, The Seven Stars is not the cheapest place to eat and you do pay a premium for both the location and the superior quality food. Yet, it's not so expensive that you have to take a second mortgage out to eat there! Our meal of two courses, side orders and one round of drinks cost us just under £50. That might sound a lot initially, but I know of places where you can't get one meal for that, never mind two! Obviously, you can find places which are much cheaper, but the quality of the food on offer meant that we were pretty happy with the price and certainly didn't feel like we'd been ripped off.
The Seven Stars is likely to be somewhere you go as a special treat or for a celebration meal. If you want to make someone feel that little bit special, you'd be hard pushed to find anywhere better in the Durham region. If you want great food in a pleasant atmosphere with friendly staff, The Seven Stars is well worth considering.
Having been there, I can now join in the mantra of recommending The Seven Stars but with the caveat "it's quite expensive, though!"
Seven Stars Inn
High Street North
© Copyright SWSt 2009