A DAY out in Durham – with the shop-loving teen in tow – offered a chance to try out a hot new restaurant which pays homage to the city’s mustard connection.
And eaterie Mrs Mustard, seems to be, er, really cutting the mustard, with its quirky condiment link.
The restaurant, located on the city’s central Saddler Street, opened in July in what was the former Hide bar/eaterie.
I was dining one Saturday lunchtime with a friend, who was bringing her baby along, whilst my baby, now all but grown-up, was keen to join us as it’s on the same street as a certain Jack Wills, a label beloved of teens.
In fact, after eating, she went off to meet a friend in the city – and they made a beeline for said store, leaving my pal and I to our chat.
Mrs Mustard takes its name from a piece of culinary history created in the city when it became the first place in the world to use mustard powder.
A Mrs Clements – whose first name has been lost over the centuries – is known to have taken the revolutionary step in the 1720s of taking mustard seeds and grinding them into a fine powder.
The eaterie with its smart, dark green-painted frontage is housed inside a cosy, characterful townhouse, with wooden floors, exposed brick walls and, in the part where we were sitting, modern touches with blinds in Union flag print and crystal lights embedded in the ceiling.
It has three distinct areas – a more casual drinking part at the front, a central room serving up food and a room at the rear, overlooking the river and Elvet Bridge, where we sat.
Cheery staff were extremely accommodating, helping us to get my friend’s pram down the few steps to our sunny window seat.
This is probably the country’s first mustard-inspired restaurant and an assortment of mustards, made in-house, are brought to the table to complement various dishes.
But having said that, the mustard thing is not obligatory! So if you’re not a huge lover of the condiment then it’s not a problem.
The menu focuses on traditional British dishes cooked and presented with a modern twist.
The 120-cover venue offers a wide-ranging menu of lunchtime sharing plates and uses seasonal and, where possible, locally-sourced ingredients, such as Durham Blue cheese and lamb from Northumberland.
There’s also a children’s menu, all dishes priced at £6, with offerings including mini Yorkshire puds with gravy, roast beef and mash, and sausage and mash.
We sipped glasses of wine, an easy-drinking pinot grigio for me, £4 for 175ml, a Chilean sauvignon blanc for my friend, £4.25, and the daughter went for a Diet Coke.
Large plates are the focus of the evening menu where diners can choose from Mrs M’s maple-glazed pork belly and king scallops, cod supreme with hot pepper and rose petal with a creamy grain mustard mash and wild mushroom saute with potato dumplings in sage butter. We were in the mood for a snacky, picky lunch, so opted for a mix-and-match selection of sharing plates, all at £5 each.
These included miniature homemade steak and ale pies (three of them) with chunky steak and button mushrooms spilling out around the plate and jug of rich gravy; cod cheek fritters with avocado creme fraiche, smoked haddock Scotch eggs with tartar sauce, cauliflower fritters with curried mayo, and salad of pickled pear, blue cheese, walnut and rocket; plus a bowl of hand-cut chips, £3.
The teenager tucked into a flatbread with tomato, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes topping, £6, served up on a rustic wooden board. It was a very generous serving, crisp, well-cooked and with a generous topping offsetting any dryness.
Every inch of the table was covered when all the dishes had been served, the fritters in metal colanders on oblong white plates.
Our friendly waitress offered us a selection of complementary mustards – a mild but perky tarragon and mascarpone mustard going well with the fish dishes, a honey mustard, and a delicious punchy mulled wine mustard which went beautifully with the steak pies.
The dishes were all very tasty, the batter encasing the naughty but nice cauli fritters and cod cheeks so crisp and light, and the complementary dips working well, especially the avocado creme fraiche – an accompaniment that was very moreish.
Lunch was relaxed and informal and suited us down to the ground with baby – good as gold – being passed from one to the other for cuddles while the other one tucked in! I remember those days ...
Desserts, all £5, included Eton Mess and baked Kahlua custard with dates. My friend opted for a fruity dessert with a summery nod of chilled summer berries and strawberries with crunchy crumble top and tangy fruit coulis, while the teenager made short work of a very rich chocolate tart with dense truffle-like filling, encased in sweet pastry with vanilla ice cream.
My cheese plate, £8, was rather uninspiring in its presentation, a choice of three cheeses, the excellent Durham Blue, goat’s cheese and farmhouse cheddar with half a dozen cream crackers, a pot of homemade pear relish and butters in mini individual packs.
Butter in its own dish would have looked better and a varied selection of crackers would have been a vast improvement, especially at this price.
The food, on the whole, was good, the atmosphere buzzing with a busy turnover of diners and the mustard connection interesting and quirky.
Address: Mrs Mustard, 39 Saddler St, Durham, DH1 3NU. Tel: 0191 384 1999.
Open: Monday-Saturday noon-late; Sunday noon-4pm.
First impressions: Smart frontage on bustling Saddler Street on the road leading to Durham Cathedral.
Style, design and furnishings: Rustic and characterful with modern touches. Wooden floors, exposed brick walls, views of the river and Elvet Bridge at the rear.
Cuisine: Traditional British dishes pepped up with mustard connection.
Value: Good. Starter dishes were filling and hearty.
Disabled facilities: Accessible.