12 Harland Place
Mon-Thu 11am - 9pm (last orders)
Fri-Sat 9.30am - 9pm
Sun 11.30 - 3.30pm (last orders for lunch)
The first thing that strikes you is the cake. An phalanx of creamy, evil seducers in a cabinet near the entrance stands waiting to trap unsuspecting secret diners. We were relieved we hadn’t brought the children – we wouldn’t have got them past the five varieties of chocolate.
12 Harland Place has the atmosphere more of a café than a restaurant, with a modest frontage facing the main drag of Norton Village, on the outskirts of Stockton.
Inside it’s like an Aladdin’s Café, stretching back into a large wooden beamed place that used to be an antique shop. It’s undergone a really nice makeover, with brick walls, old shop signs, flagstone floors. And a huge cake cabinet.
Until recently, there was a deli at the front, but this has now been replaced by large dining tables. We were soon installed by superfriendly staff.
12 Harland Place is owned by a lady called Kelly Easby, who’s created a homely, personal style for this place. She’s also found a rather good chef called Chris.
It’s clearly very popular, open for most of the day and evening. A traditional breakfast menu, augmented by French toast and eggs benedict, light lunches of panini, soup, salads, pastas, pizzas – so far so predictable; a “Tea Time” menu (this made me smile – an old-fashioned Northern meal of fish, braised steak, and so on, is served from 4pm to 6.30pm, with two courses for £15); and, in the evening, a broad mix of pizza, pasta and grills. It reminded me of the over-large, often rather bland menus that feature in so many of the big bar-restaurants in Newcastle.
Except that something about this place was different. Perhaps it was the presence of Blackwell’s sausages and Doreen’s black pudding on the breakfast menu. Doreen is Doreen Haigh, wife of Arthur, whose Thirsk-based company has won awards all over the world. Her black pudding is sweet and melting and worth seeking out. And Blackwell’s is the award-winning local butcher in Norton High Street.
We were handed a specials menu. There was a “seafood sharing board”, with mussels, calamari, langoustines, whitebait and oysters, or quail scotch egg (we assumed more than one), king scallops, rack of lamb with goats cheese mousse, monkfish with Asian shellfish broth, or pork loin with juniper berry and coriander.
How could a café cope with this level of ambition?
The answer is, rather well. We chose scotch egg and scallops, lamb and monkfish.
The scallops were beautifully presented, with a bonus langoustine that was deliciously firm and sweet, and spoonfuls of Doreen’s gorgeous, velvety, black pudding.
Less impressive were the scotch eggs (they must like them hard-boiled in Norton – I don’t), but they came with a good beetroot dressing and a little glass of excellent tomato chutney.
The main courses (around £17) were huge. My lamb was pink, and came with ratatouille, nice herby potatoes, some creamy goats cheese and was garnished with pea shoots.
Monkfish, clad in prosciutto, was moist and tender, with half an ocean of seafood – big New Zealand green-lipped mussels, clams, prawns and so on, but almost no “broth” – just a trickle of very un-Asian (though seafoody) sauce. Chips were poor, and we had some rather unpleasantly seared broccoli with chili. House wines were good value at £4 a medium glass, including crisp Sicilian Cataratto.
Afterwards we let Denise destroy our waistlines. Denise is the cakemaker. She bakes them at her home and must bring them round in a lorry.
Her produce was listed on a double-sided blackboard – 20 varieties in all, mostly types of cheesecake, from lemon curd to chocolate fudge.
I recommend the white chocolate and stem ginger. If I lived in Norton, I’d be huge. OK, huger.