Zen Durham Thai Restaurant Review


 

Zen Durham Review

zen durhamZen Durham is a superb Thai restaurant in the heart of Durham City. It is tucked away around near to Durham Prison, but don’t let that put you off. It’s an asian restaurant, with a bit of fusion going on. The aptly named Court Inn is the pub just next door. They also serve pretty decent bar food, but if it’s the insurance of a proper restaurant meal you want/need, just pop to Zen. This eatery is in a pan-asian foodie greenhouse, all exotic lighting and ambience. It looks quite swanky rich and to some folks, probably is. One good test of how good an ethnic restaurant is – do the people who’s cuisine is represented actually dine there themselves? Zen Durham seems to pass that fitness test, as there’s a good cross section of nationalities eating there, including Far Easterners.

The Durham Food and Drink Bus arrived, as it normally does, quite late and un-booked. Our little trip to the Durham Brewery in Bowburn had lasted longer than expected, and like the amateur fools (copyright Mr. T) that we are, hadn’t had any tea. The waitress told us we’d have to order before 10pm. That gave us 10 minutes, so we got our skates on and picked our food and drinks and still had a couple of minutes to spare. We were both starving, so that wasn’t really too much of a problem.

Starter was DIY Pancakes (£12.50), which is the usual Duck and Hoi Sin Sauce and crisp salad. The pancakes are served in a little bamboo container to keep them warm, and there’s a large bowl of sauce to add. The duck was chopped and shaped into pieces, rather than pulled and shredded. We prefer shredded actually, but it was still ok and didn’t last long enough anyway to give us too much grief. The drinks had arrived too, a Bellini for Mrs Durham Food and Drink and a Long Island Iced Tea for me. Both were priced at £7.00

zen durham mealThe main courses we selected were Massamam Lamb (£14.95) and Satay Chili Chicken (£14.95). Both were served in a nice little white bowl with fluffy boiled rice. The cutlery provided by Zen allows you to either eat with proper Chopsticks or cowardly select the english option. I have every intention of using chopsticks, but never seem to be able to wrap my fingers around the things properly without food flying off at tangents, so to avoid inconveniencing our fellow diners I took the cowardly route.

They didn’t attempt to hide the chili on the Satay Chicken. The little blighters were there, brazenly glistening on top of the dish, drawing me in like sirens do to lost sailors. I took a bite and …. Flash, Bang, Wallop ! I’d have been better off sucking on a chunk of semi-molten magma! Delicious though, and like all good Thai fusion food, the flavours come through and enhance, rather than masking the taste of the meal altogether. Still too hot for Mrs DFD though, poor lamb. Speaking of lamb, the Massamam Lamb was also top class, with a dryness and total lack of fattiness that most lamb dishes have. It was an inspired choice as well. The rice was exceptional, like a culinary fire blanket that could be used to dampen the chili flazen durhammes when needed.

I must say, the drinks were a bit of a let down, with no real depth to them. With hindsight, maybe they were used too much like quenchers after the chili, so I should give them another chance next time we visit Zen Durham.

Price was £56 for two. The drinks jacked this price up by at least 14 quid though, so the food price was better value than the value score might suggest.

Durham Food and Drink Rating for Zen Durham
First Impression : 8  Service : 8  Food : 8  Value : 7

zen durham eight rating

Zen Durham,
The Cathedrals,
Court Lane,
Durham,
DH1 3JS

Phone: 0191 384 9588
Email : info@zendurham.co.uk

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Durham Brewery Review


Durham Brewery

durham brewery header

This was a neat little visit we went on with a tour voucher Mrs Durham Food and Drink had bought me for Christmas. The Durham Brewery isn’t actually in Durham, it’s on an industrial estate in Bowburn. It’s been running since 1994 and the place is well known to the real ale fraternity, but maybe not so for the casual drinker who mainly likes to trough a bit (us).

We were fortunate that we were able to get a lift there from the young ‘uns, instead of firing up the Durham Food and Drink bus, maybe paying back some of the free taxi service that’s been lovingly provided for them in the last few years? Anyhow, we were last in, with the tour and talk due to start at 7:30pm on the Friday night. It’s very dark in the car park and could maybe do with an extra light for these evening tours in winter, but we found the right door eventually.

Steve Gibbs and his wife do the talk, running through the theory of making beer and demonstrating how the raw materials affect the flavour of the finished pint, playfully interrupting each other along the way. We started sampling with the lightest beer and ended up on a dark Porter Stout (“Temptation“), all included as part of the brewery tour fee. We then went over to the storage area where the casks/hogsheads/firkins are kept, and saw the actual production facility where Steve and his brewers do 3 brews a week to keep the locals supplied with Durham Brewery beers.

The brewery tour was very informal but informative, there were lots of questions and even a bloke from another brewery (at Appleby) had come down to see how Steve and his crew do their thing.

At the end of the tour, you can buy bottles of the Durham Brewery beers, which are nicely packaged up in a little carrier to help get them home safely. We came away with 3 bottles, including their 1994 Anniversary Imperial Pale Stout, a White Stout and a bottle of the “Temptation”.

We’d thoroughly recommend Durham Brewery to anyone, even if you’ve never drunk a single pint of real ale before. It’ll make you appreciate what goes into making all the different beers available to us in the North East, and is delivered by a man who is clearly still so passionate about his brewery.

Website : http://www.durhambrewery.co.uk.

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Caffe Capriccio Durham Italian Review


Caffe Capriccio Durham

caffe capriccio durham frontWe have walked past Caffe Capriccio on many many occasions, in favour of other cafes, as it always appeared incredibly small, with only a few tables inside, and a few outside, but ooooohhhhh how I wish we’d visited sooner, it was fab!

We visited at about 10am on a Sunday morning. There were more tables than expected on the inside, although still not very many to choose from, due to the quirky shape of the building. We decided on a window seat so we could watch the world go by. On one side of the doorway we had the choice of a breakfast bar style table, and on the other side of the doorway, there was a slightly squished two-seater table. We opted for the squished two-seater, but when we sat down, we didn’t even notice the lack of space, as the ambience of the Caffe Capriccio far outweighed any other thoughts. We were served by a pleasant and friendly lady behind the counter, and in the background was the sound of Italian singing, no not the radio, it was a gentleman going to and forth from the kitchen with the happiest sounding singing voice. The happy-Italian-singing lasted for the whole of our visit, with the exception of the odd conversation in between, and it was like a breath of fresh air to go into a place where people are naturally happy at what they are doing, not because of good training, not because every customer demands a high quality service with a smile nowadays, but because some people appear naturally happy, happy with themselves, happy with the world, and happy with their work.  On this occasion we only ordered 2 coffees, and two caramel slices, but without a shadow of a doubt, we will definitely be returning, on a lunch time next time around. When we left, we were waved goodbye by both the lady and gentleman.

Before entering, we had the impression that it was going to be a tiny place inside, and it would feel more like a coffee take-away shop, rather than a café, but how wrong we were. The size is part of it’s charm, it is perfectly formed, with happy-characters, and we left with a smile, with every intention of returning.


Durham Food and Drink Rating
First Impression : 8  Service : 8  Food : N/A  Value : 8

cafe capriccio score eight

Caffe Capriccio,
26 Elvet Bridge,
Durham
DH1 3AA

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Filini Durham Radisson Blu Italian Restaurant Review


Filini Durham

Firstly, it’s often been said that Filini at the Radisson Blu is one of the best restaurants in Durham City. For that reason, I’d booked it for a Valentine’s Day meal. I wanted it to be right so that we could have a nice romantic meal out.

filini durham restaurant

The Radisson Hotel is quite an imposing structure by the river, opposite where the old Durham Ice Rink used to be. The new Millennium Bridge joins The Radisson to the Gala Complex, with its bars and theatre. We’d been delivered to the rear entrance by our taxi and went straight to the little bar and had a cheeky cocktail whilst waiting for our table time to come around. There was a wedding party having photos taken in the hotel but there was also quite a lot of people milling around, including a bunch of lads who suddenly appeared in sports kit and shorts, so it was a strange old mixture.

Our table at Filini Durham was at 7:30pm, so we wandered through. The entrance to the restaurant is just off the hotel reception area, but isn’t that prominently signposted. Quite surprisingly, there was no-one working front-of-house to greet us and show us to our table, we had to actively go to attract a member of staff’s attention. This was right down at the far end of the restaurant, where the point of sale stuff was. Our table had a name tag on it. Were they expecting us to wander in and just find our own table? I don’t know, but that is what it seemed like to me. The restaurant space is a large one, with the tables arranged in no particular order, and although a contemporary light jazz tape played background ‘muzak’, the place had little atmosphere. Some tables had candles, ours didn’t, again a little inconsistent. We ordered a bottle of pink prosecco (£25).

The Filini Durham menu was a little different from the one posted on their website. We’d had a sneaky look to pre-select what we’d like to eat, but a lot of the options were no longer there, so we had to choose again. Our two selections for starters were Italian Sausage (£6.50) and Crispy Oxtail (£8.50). The sausage came with onions and gravy. It was slightly spicy and not bad. The oxtail was presented in four cubes, which weren’t really crispy, except on the outside. They tasted a little strange. In the meantime, the wine had arrived, but it was just put on the edge of the table in a cooler. No-one asked if we wanted it opening. It was in a screw top bottle as well, maybe something else we were expected to do ourselves?

filini durham main course
For the main course, Mrs DFD had chosen Sea Bass (£17.95). I’d gone for a Sirloin Steak (£26.95). The Sea Bass was slightly pink but had a nice light texture. It was served on a bed of peas and carrots. The steak was cooked nicely to my medium/well done instruction, but was served on a wooden board with handle, which wouldn’t stay still on the table whilst I was trying to cut the meat. Very annoying! Both meals came with vegetable accompaniment. The baby carrots were served in a little glass jar and the roast potatoes and parmesan fries were also provided as a side, but both were completely lacking any form of presentation whatsoever. Not good really.

We did choose to have desserts, which were presented a little bit better: Chocolate ice cream (me) and Pannacotta (her), which were very nice but a little pricey at £5.75 and £5.95 respectively. The ice cream was garnished with mint, with strawberries and grapes. The Pannacotta had a nice firm consistency, although a little too firm for Mrs DFD. Finally, two cups of americano coffee to finish. These were good and strong.
filini durham desserts

Overall, we were quite disappointed by the experience of Filini. There was nothing to make you feel special as a customer, I could only describe it as like a restaurant with café style service. I’m not criticising the waitresses who were pleasant and always accommodating, but it didn’t feel right and the quality of the food was very average for what was being charged. The bill came to £103 altogether for the two of us, so not cheap. I don’t mind paying good money for good food, but felt short changed at the end of this.


Durham Food and Drink Rating
First Impression : 6, Service : 7, Food : 6, Value : 5

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Filini Durham Restaurant,
Franklin Lane,
Durham
DH1 5TL
Tel: 0191 372 7200

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Sambuca Durham Review


Sambuca Durham

sambuca durhamSambuca opened its first restaurant in Jesmond, Newcastle nearly 30 years ago. Sambuca now have a chain of Italian Restaurants throughout the North East, with branches at Ashington, Heaton Park, North Shields, Forest Hall, South Shields, Sunderland, Whitley Bay, Tyne Tunnel, Blyth, Hartlepool and this one in Durham. It’s right next to the Travelodge just off Gilesgate Roundabout, so just 10 mins walk from where we live.

We pride ourselves on providing good service, and good quality food and drink at affordable prices, despite the economical recession we’ve managed to maintain our rock bottom, very modest prices…

Every hour at Sambuca Durham is happy hour! We advise you book in advance to avoid disappointment, however walk-ins are always welcome.

We arrived early on a Friday evening and the place was already bouncing. As usual, we hadn’t booked, but were shown to a table straight away and the waiter took our drinks order. Mrs DFD selected a bottle of pink fizz and off we went! We tend to share more these days when we’re out together, so it was a Garlic Bread with Cheese and Tomato to get us in the Italian Mood. The breads at Sambuca are nice and thin and not stodgy like the deep pan stuff you get elsewhere. It was sizzling hot too, and we singed our fingers a bit getting it on our plates. Considering it was very busy, it only took about 10 mins for the food to arrive. Impressive! Waiters are buzzing around in here, and you can see what’s happening in the kitchen. On most nights they play music when it’s someone’s birthday and the waiters join in with the dancing and frivolities.

For the Main course we chose Basilico pizza, and a side of Buffalo Mozzarella salad. The pizza was really tasty and fresh, once again a thin crust, so not too filling for the two of us (on a weight loss regime). The pink fizz was disappearing very rapidly too, so it wasn’t too long before another bottle of that was needed as well.

Various specials are dotted around the walls on blackboards and we selected our sweets from there : Sticky Toffee Pudding and Orange Sorbet. I should point out these are actually two separate items, not a single one, although it sounds quite a good combination. The toffee pud was nice and light. We were a bit disappointed with the sorbet though in that the frozen orange skin wasn’t full, but we were having too good a time to complain really.

When we left, there was a queue of about 20 people at the bar, waiting for a seat. It’s a popular place Sambuca. Overall, the place has a nice rustic feel, and even though it can get noisy, it’s a warm, friendly noise. The service is excellent and quick, you aren’t left sitting for hours waiting for your food. I know our bill came to 60 quid, but at least £35 of that was Prosecco, the food part was only about £25 between the two of us.


Durham Food and Drink Rating
First Impression : 8, Service : 9, Food : 8, Value : 8

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Total cost (for two) : £60.00 (including two bottles of rosé Prosecco).

Sambuca Durham,
Chivita
7 Station Lane
Durham
DH1 1LJ

Tel: 0191 384 1010
Email: info@sambucarestaurants.co.uk

Opening times:
Monday – Saturday: 12:00pm – 10:00pm
Sunday: 12:00pm – 9:00pm

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InShanghai Durham Chinese Buffet Restaurant Review


Visited InShanghai Durham Chinese Buffet after a long business trip to Birmingham on Monday. The place is now very well established down on the Durham riverside, under the rather garish ‘The Gates’ sign next to Framwellgate Bridge. It moved here some years ago after starting life upstairs as ‘The Elephant’ buffet. Try to get a table by the window and you get a great River Wear vista and the imposing Durham Castle and Framwellgate Bridge to frame the view.

inshanghai durham food bar picture

It’s always been fairly cheap and cheerful as a place to eat, and it attracts all types of people because of its ‘everything you can eat for….’ policy (particularly popular with Durham Uni students, who get a 10% discount all day on production of their student card). The price you pay for your food is on a sliding scale, with the cheapest meals on an afternoon, becoming more expensive the later it gets. This seems to work well, but you need to beware if you’re eating across a charge boundary, as the price will be based on the time you leave your table and pay, rather than the time you came in. You are (usually) made aware of this when you first come in though, so listen up to avoid an unexpected hike in price and a nasty shock later.

Lunch Buffet (11:30am-4:00pm) £6.50 (child £3.95)
Happy Hour Buffet (4:00pm-6:20pm) £7.50 (child £3.95)
Grand Buffet (6:20pm-close) £11.90 (child £6.90)

The restaurant is laid out around the three self-service food areas at one end and the bar in the other. The trays are kept refreshed every 10 minutes or so with piping hot chinese food. Typical fare, from Crispy Seaweed to Stir Fry Pork, Noodles, Rice, Curries and Sweet and Sour. Everything is labelled though, so no needing to guess what you’re eating. As already said, you simply get a plate and trough to your heart’s content! You can stay as long as you want, eat as much as you want and go home not needing another meal until tomorrow, or maybe next week. Not entirely sure what that does to your cholesterol levels, but hey i’m not here to judge on that score. There isn’t an Inshanghai Menu as such, you just grab a plate and go look at the food to see what’s on offer. Please be aware though that the food selection changes slightly later to reflect the higher ‘Grand Buffet’ price. It’s especially good for feeding the kids as well, as they get substantially lower prices. Inshanghai’s food also seems to be less MSG-laden than some other chinese buffets i’ve been to, but I still can’t manage more than two platefuls before the FULL signs come up. 😉

inshanghai durham menu picture

InShanghai,
The Gates Shopping Centre,
Unit 30b,
Lambton Walk,
Durham
DH1 4SL
Tel : 0191 375 7333

Durham Food and Drink Rating
First Impression : 7, Service : n/a, Food : 9, Value : 9

Total cost (for two) : £20 including drinks

 

I’ve not scored for Service, as the only thing that gets served up is your drink, and that doesn’t really take a great deal of skill, so i’ll leave that out in this case. In Shanghai scores well for food and it’s extremely good value if you time it right.

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