What to expect from Durham's new £1m restaurant The Curious Mr Fox
Curious about the new addition to Durham that’s four restaurants in one? You should be.
Durham City is undergoing a huge wave of investment along the banks of the River Wear with the ongoing development of the £30million Riverwalk and, further up the river, the new Milburngate complex, which will bring a mixture of restaurants, leisure and homes to the former passport office site.
On its prime spot on the cobbled road to Framwellgate Bridge, The Curious Mr Fox overlooks both Durham’s past, with views of the majestic cathedral to one side, and the historic city’s future with the flurry of new openings on the Riverwalk on the other side.
While some of the new additions are chains, such as Turtle Bay and Cosy Club, The Curious Mr Fox has seen a huge amount of local investment – £1million to be precise.
Sunderland-based businessman and the venue’s licensee Trevor Davis teamed up with Clearbell developments and The Other Group for the three-year refurbishment project to transform a number of historic units, parts of which date back to the 1800s, to create four bars and restaurants in one.
Step through the main door of The Curious Mr Fox and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just one bar, but the centuries-old venue gets curiouser and curiouser when you go upstairs with three more rooms of quirky interiors, designed by Seaham-based TCL at Home.
Each room has its own theme. The downstairs bar, Foxes Bar, is the most informal of the four and with its views, and outdoor tables, is a great spot for breakfast, served from 10am to noon, with a side of people watching. Post noon, you can also order bar snacks in one of its leather booths. The theme here is a modern take on Victoriana with a heritage blue colour scheme, wall paper decorated with elaborate walking canes and flying ducks and shelves filled with velvet busts.
Head upstairs and The Ivy Room, as the name would suggest, has a botanical theme with an original exposed brick wall peppered with trailing faux foliage, shelves filled with plant pots and a wall covered in striking rose wallpaper. Attention to detail is key here and it really helps to make each room a different experience for patrons.
Next door, the Oyster Room is the largest of the rooms and has a more upmarket feel with its rich navy and gold theme, and period windows overlooking the cathedral – even the coasters are fancy here with a gold agate look.
Finally, there’s the Foxes Lounge, which has a Soho private member’s club vibe thanks to its plush curtains, velvet-edged bar, Art Deco carpet and salubrious gold leaf effect wallpaper.
Even the ladies toilets are a talking point (I can’t vouch for the men’s) with their gold taps and elaborate wall paper, a swirl of coloured leaves and foliage.
Premium bar snacks such as truffle fries, sharing boards and farmhouse cheeses, are available across all four rooms. There’s also a bottomless brunch menu which is ideal for The Ivy Room, a Sunday lunch menu and an a la carte menu, which is suited to the opulent surroundings of The Oyster Room.
We ate in the latter and on a soggy Saturday afternoon it was the perfect place to warm up and unwind with those spectacular views. We were particularly impressed with the atmosphere: although the restaurant feels special, it’s also really accessible and certainly not stuffy.
Down to the menu. As you’d expect from the room’s name, oysters feature with three Lindisfarne oysters for £9 or six for £17.50.
The rest of the a la carte menu, which changes seasonally, is a real hearty affair with starter options such as rabbit fritter with clams, ham hock and samphire tartare sauce (£8) and smoked salmon scotch egg with curried mayonnaise (£10.50).
Mains, meanwhile, are also substantial with choices such as herb fed chicken, leek and mushroom pie (£15.50) and curried cauliflower steak with rum soaked raisins and almonds (£19), one of the vegan options.
There’s also specials to tuck into.
To start, I chose the ham hock terrine which, although a traditional French dish, was packed full of British flavour with its chunky slab of meat, complemented by a punchy piccalilli.
For mains I devoured a perfectly-executed seafood risotto, a beautifully-moist rice punctuated with plenty of plump prawns and mussels and topped off with a Parmesan crisp.
Drinks-wise, there’s a huge range from which to choose, from aperitifs to dessert wines and everything in-between. We enjoyed a great bottle of Riesling, which was just the right side of sweet.
To shave off a few pounds from the bill, there’s a fixed price menu, which changes often, where you can pick up a two-course lunch for £22, a three-course lunch for £25 and a two-course dinner for £26, or three-course dinner for £31 which, considering your grand surroundings, is very good value indeed.
Drinks are served Sunday to Thursday 10am - 12am and Friday & Saturday 10am - 1am. Food is served Monday - Saturday 10am - 8.30pm and Sunday 10am - 5pm
Coming to Sunderland...
Although they teamed up with other investors for this venture, the Davis family also have their own venues, including Old Tom’s gin bar which neighbours The Curious Mr Fox and Tin of Sardines, the world’s smallest gin bar, on Elvet Bridge.
The latter is soon to open a sister site in Sunderland with a complete transformation of the former toilet block in Pier View, Roker.
Work is forging ahead on the Tin of Sardines Roker site with a view to it opening later this year as part of the wider seafront regeneration scheme.
Visitors will be able to expect a range of gins and other tipples, as well as a food offering, with new bi-folds offering some of the best views in the city with a sweeping panorama of Roker Pier and beyond.