Review of COARSE

Reform Place, North Road, Durham, DH1 4RZ

Tucked away in a little courtyard off North Road in Durham just down from the, in construction, new bus terminal, Coarse is a relatively newly opened restaurant, (Sept 2022). When I say tucked away try not to be put off by the entrance to the courtyard, which incidentally also houses a pub, they are very badly served by others and presumably the council too. The line of overflowing bins greeting you is not indicative of the restaurant and clearly not their fault either but nonetheless it is by no means enticing! Would we see this in any other European country?

The restaurant was the dreamchild of a young chef Ruari MacKay who has done the rounds of the region via some very good establishments and mentor’s, who along with co-owners, Gemma Robinson and Craig Lappin-Smith had crowd funded the investment needed to get it opened. Simple in it’s décor and design, and apparently pretty much decorated by themselves, as is almost compulsory for new restaurant ventures, and I should know! 

The only booking time we could get for the Thursday night we wanted to visit was 5pm, not ideal, that’s almost still lunch time not dinner time in my book, but hey good for them if they are that busy.

When we arrived, staff were still setting up some of the tables and over the following 15 minutes there was a flow of staff arriving for work. Not often the staff arrive after the first bookings in my experience. Booked for 3, our colleague was sadly late in arriving, traffic at that time of day in and around anywhere, never mind Durham, is never easy or free flowing meaning he was almost 25 minutes late. The young lady serving us was getting a bit nervous after 20 minutes telling us that if he didn’t arrive soon we may have to miss out on a course as they needed the table back by 7.30pm. Personally, I have been in the restaurant industry now for well over 50 years and owned plenty of my own places, I do not like to re-book tables. I understand why they do it but I don’t have to agree with the practice.

The set menu of 6 courses priced at £40, with an optional course for an extra £8, is sparse in its description of what one is about to receive, the headings below are the only printed description of the dishes. 

The commentary that follows is of course taken from what I experienced on the night but also relies (fairly heavily) on the description offered by the server at each course. I say this as I think that is what our server said, they all spoke so very quietly, and it becomes tiresome having to ask every time for someone to speak up as you are unable to hear them properly. So, if any of my descriptions of the dishes are not actually what we received then I apologise, but cannot accept total responsibility for getting the occasional thing wrong. As novel as the brief descriptions are (these are in bold and are as they appear on the menu), they are not that helpful if the room you’re in is too noisy to hear what you are being told.

Lamb Katsu                                                                                   Spring Forward

Snacks:             

These began with two types of bread with two different flavoured butters, followed by a small taste of slow cooked lamb neck with Katsu sauce and Panko crumbs. Really quite delicious indeed and I would have loved it for a main course, as a result our expectations were raised dramatically. 

Spring Forward:         

Who knew what this was going to be? It turned out to be a very nicely soft poached egg sat atop a mixture of vegetables such as asparagus, shallots and samphire, some were said to be pickled, but not so’s you’d notice sadly, served with a green wild garlic oil (but not much). The whole thing could have been really lovely but was lacking in flavour and certainly lacking the pickle which it so desperately needed.

Salmon Pastrami                                                                                              Fish Pie

Pastrami Salmon:       

Highly seasoned with pastrami spices the salmon was warm and very good, served with what we were told was a burnt butter and mustard sauce with pickled cucumber and slices of radish along with a borage flower. There was also another green oil, this time I believe it was chive oil. Sadly the burnt butter and the mustard could not be detected at all and the pickled cucumber, I think someone forgot to pickle it! The three slices of radish that adorned the plate were a total waste of space and radish as nothing at all had been done to it and it added nothing at all to the dish unfortunately. Such a shame as it held so much promise especially as the salmon itself was so good. With it came a pesto – green and oily.

Fish Pie:          

The course we were warned we might have to miss out on and one I could in all honesty have happily done without once I had tried it. Explained to us as halibut, prawns, mussels, samphire and peas with a potato foam. Making a foam out of potatoes is not easy, it requires techniques that are not normally used as potatoes are extremely gluey and really do not lend themselves to becoming a light frothy foam as one would like. Many have tried to make a potato foam and many have failed, this foam was no exception, it was not light and fluffy but extremely gluey, more reminiscent of wall paper paste than the topping of a fish pie. The whole ensemble was topped off with pieces of crispy salt and vinegar batter bits, which I sincerely hope they made rather than (as I was reliably told by our companion, bought in), that was the second course to include samphire, and the 3rd to include a green oil.

Pork-Shire                                                                                     Cake & Custard

Pork-shire:                  

A small piece of slow braised then roast belly pork, small, lacking in flavour and quite over roasted making it very dry. An oblong of black pudding, with a blob of rhubarb gel which was very nice and necessary. A piece of slow braised cheek served on a small bed of what I think was cabbage and, we were told, made like a sauerkraut, yet was actually nothing like a sauerkraut and almost flavourless. A small spoon of carrot puree, and a sauce that was really quite bitter. It missed vegetables, I missed the accompaniment of vegetables, it was too much of a meat fest albeit a small meat fest. Topped with crisp crackling pieces (which apparently may also have been bought in although I sincerely hope not). as a dish goes it was really very uninspiring and lacking in interest and quality.

Cake & Custard:         

The first of two desserts, this a small (very) bowl with a spoon of stewed Forced Rhubarb topped with a frothed/aerated milky custard spooned over and a slightly warm Madeline served on the side – the cake element. I love forced English Rhubarb, I adore custard, and I could eat Madelaine’s till the cows come home. The custard was too milky and not as aerated as I think they hoped it was, the rhubarb was okay, and the Madelaine? I’ve had far far better I’m afraid, this one had been made too long and was not warm enough and was a little heavy. Straight form the oven they are to die for.

Malteaser

Malteaser:                  

Again we had absolutely no idea of what to expect, what came was an interesting broken egg shell pottery dish meant to resemble an emptied out egg shell of a boiled egg, in which was served, and again here the issue was we missed half of what we were being told, but the gist is that it was a malted chocolate mousse with a passionfruit puree, some small crunchy bits and it tasted very nice indeed. Not incredible but very well presented (I like the egg shells), well flavoured and too small a portion, which seemed to sum up the night, the two best courses the first and the last were also the smallest.

Service was unobtrusive throughout the evening but as already mentioned they need to speak up so all ages can hear what is being said. Our final bill for 3 people with 2 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of sparkling water came to just a little over £222.00, this included the £8 supplement per person for the fish pie. The staff were all very friendly and there was a good atmosphere throughout. I sincerely wish them luck and really hope they do well as Durham needs a quality restaurant, my comments may seem picky to some but the points I raise are all important and are the difference between being a good restaurant and being a great one.

Food: 8/20  Service: 7/20

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