With glorious views of the river, glazed over by the surprisingly warm sun, and a picturesque view of Elvet Bridge, summer was in the air. Found halfway up Saddler Street, the Cellar Door's small entrance with steep steps draws you in (although having missed a step or two, I’d thoroughly recommend not wearing your highest heels).
At the bottom of these very steep steps lies a dark room, a 13th century cellar to be precise, and as with many things to do with Durham, this building has history. It was once a theatre box office, a robe makers for the university and even a prison. After choosing our drinks (a refreshingly chilled glass of rosé wine and bottle of Brooklyn Beer) we were led into the restaurant, which was elegantly decorated with fresh flowers and crisp white tablecloths. Sunlight flooded in from the large open windows and the whole atmosphere was bright and vibrant.
The summer à la carte menu offered a delicious range of seasonal dishes, which made use of summer produce sourced from local suppliers. We opted for a light Mediterranean starter of mixed breads accompanied by a pot of garlic butter and selection of olives. The service was quick and efficient, and despite a party downstairs and it being a Saturday night, staff were only too keen to look after us.
For my main course I ordered cod en paupiette (£11.50) – a delicious combination of cod, lemon, new potatoes, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. The buttery vegetables, tangy tomatoes and fragrant sauce complemented each other perfectly. My dining partner went for the chargrilled caesar salad (£11.50), which was a heavenly mix of soft-boiled eggs, gem lettuce, salty pancetta, proper parmesan, garlic crostini and two large succulent pieces of chicken.
The Cellar Door doesn't just focus on flavour; the team also take pride in their presentation. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the chefs are all quite new to the industry. The three young chefs had a total of 10 years' experience, and their drive to succeed was evident in the quality of the food.
For dessert I picked out the gooiest slab of sticky toffee pudding (£5), which was accompanied by a generous scoop of clotted cream ice cream. Our knowledgable waiter (who obviously shared our passion for pudding) also recommended a warm chocolate fondant (£6), oozing with salted caramel sauce, raspberries and honeycomb, which was the perfect combination of sharp fruit, crunchy candy and sinfully sweet sauce. Delicious.
Not wanting the night to end, I indulged in a glass of merlot, in true Mediterranean style, and enjoyed the relaxed ambience of the restaurant, into the late evening. We'll definitely be returning to this hidden gem – though next time, I'll perhaps choose different footwear.