Newest Review: ... is generally quite light and cool. Decor may be fairly basic (as are the toilet facilities), but it's perfectly pleasant. It also has a rat... more
Court in the Act
The Court Inn (Durham)
Member Name: SWSt
The Court Inn (Durham)
Advantages: Excellent food, very good value for money, no mobile phone policy
Disadvantages: Menu rarely changes, can get very busy
One of the things we noticed fairly soon after we moved to Durham was the lack of pubs that serve decent food. Durham is awash with places where you go to eat or to drink, but very few which combine the two.
One exception is The Court Inn. Although not one of our very regular haunts, it's a place we have enjoyed whenever we have been there. For anyone unfamiliar with Durham, it's not necessarily the most obvious place to visit, since it's tucked away in a back street up a hill about a quarter of a mile or so from the city centre. It is, however, pretty easy to find since you can just follow the signs to the court (the legal buildings) and The Court (the pub) is just across the way. The Court Inn is also very well known in Durham, so if you do get lost, it shouldn't be too difficult to find someone who can give you directions.
The Court is probably best described as a "no-frills" sort of place, which is not intended as a criticism. It's the type of place that knows what its customers want and provides it to them. It serves decent, traditional pub-style food, a wide selection of drinks (including a number of real ales) at reasonable prices in a pleasant environment. Despite the fact that it is popular with students from nearby University, it doesn't feel the need to introduce wacky themes, play areas or the other fripperies that can turn some pubs into hell on earth.
Inside, it's a fairly traditional pub. A large bar area greets you as you walk in with tables around the outside. There are more tables further back in an additional area behind the bar. Wherever you choose to sit, it's pretty pleasant since the whole place is generally quite light and cool. Decor may be fairly basic (as are the toilet facilities), but it's perfectly pleasant. It also has a rather nice line in humour, with some amusing cartoons and drawings around the walls reflecting the fact that the pub is close to the courts and the prison, and popular with prison staff.
Thanks to its decent size, The Court can take groups of pretty much any size. Mrs SWSt and I tend to go by ourselves, but I have been in with a party of about 20, which they had no trouble in accommodating. Tables are already laid out in various combinations of party numbers (and can be booked in advance for larger groups) and generally, you will have little trouble finding somewhere to sit.
I say generally because The Court can get incredibly busy. Thanks to its location, its prices and the quality of its food, it's popular with a wide range of regular customers drawn from the local student population, staff from Durham University., the court and the prison. If you arrive at certain times of the day (particularly in University term time and the traditional lunch period between 12-2pm), you can sometimes struggle to find somewhere to sit.
Food at The Court is served for fairly extensive hours - from 11am to 10:20pm. The menu is relatively basic and tends to change only occasionally, but offers a range of dishes suitable for most people. Light snacks such as toasted sandwiches are available as well as more substantial main courses and there is more than enough to choose from. The menu consists of fairly traditional pub food (burgers, grills, fish etc.) with a number of specials which are normally a little more adventurous and which change on a regular basis. Unless you are an incredibly fussy eater, the chances are you will find something on the menu to tempt you.
Food is generally very good value for money. Light snacks tend to be in the £4-6, with more substantial main courses in the £6-10 mark. Steaks are a little more expensive and, costing around £10-17. The Court is renowned for its portions sizes, which are generous indeed. For example, it's famous "Court Burger" costs a ridiculously low £5.50. For that you get a delicious meaty quarter-pounder hamburger, two free toppings of your choice (including things like cheese, bacon or mushrooms), a good sized portion of chips and onion rings.
Service is usually fast and efficient. Even at busy times, food arrives very quickly (usually within 10-15 minutes of placing your order) which is another reason why it is popular with workers on their lunch break. Friendliness of the service can vary a little, with some staff being a little more effusive than others, but it's never unfriendly. Sometimes staff will chat a little as they serve you or smile as they go past, other times, they will simply bring you your order with a minimum amount of fuss and chat. Again, this is not intended as a criticism: some staff clearly see it as just "a job", others enjoy the interaction with customers.
If the excellent food and drink is not enough to tempt you in, The Court has another rather attractive feature: it has a "no mobile phones policy". This means that you can go in there and have a nice peaceful lunch without having it ruined by other people loudly inflicting their telephone conversations on you. Some people dislike this policy, but I say "well done" for ensuring that diners can eat their food in a relaxed environment without having to listen to Mr Business Man demanding his secretary to print out some documents, or to Ms Student telling all her friends about how drunk she got the previous evening.
There's little evidence of this policy being strictly enforced by staff, and certainly I've seen people using their phones in there, but the policy is respected by most people. If someone does forget to switch off their phone and it rings, they either race outside to take the call or switch it off, looking suitably embarrassed!
Disabled access is a bit of a downside. For a start, the pub itself stands part way up a hill (although this can be said of pretty much everywhere in Durham) and also has a few steps at each of the entrances, making wheelchair access tricky. Since the pub is an old one, there is a limit to what they can do improve this, and in fairness, they openly acknowledge these shortcomings in the open access statement which is prominently displayed on their website. However, there is wheelchair access via the rear of the pub, so it's not completely inaccessible.
Although The Court is not one of my very regular haunts, it is a welcome change every now and then. Offering good, homely food, excellent value for money and a friendly relaxed atmosphere, I always enjoy it whenever I go in (even if I do emerged completely stuffed!). It's one of the few pubs in Durham I would bother with for food and well worth a visit.
Telephone: 0191 3847350
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: A good alternative for food and drink