Gourmet Spot, The Avenue, Durham

A spot of bother

At what stage did I realise that going to Gourmet Spot was a bad idea? Was it when the taxi left Durham's spectacular city centre to pull up outside the kind of suburban Gothic hotel the Addams Family would stay in if they retrained as travelling salesmen?

Was it when we saw the sign cheekily announcing that we'd arrived at "The G-Spot"? Or when we picked our way round to a hidden side entrance (in keeping with its nickname, the G-Spot is elusive) and plunged into a tiny black and red bar area that had the look of a granny flat hastily converted into an Eighties bachelor pad? Or when we hovered in that empty bar for several minutes, watching the flickering image of a fireplace on a flat screen TV, until a flustered young waiter emerged from the kitchen, then proceeded to ignore us?

No, at that stage, we still had hopes. After all, here on the walls were the framed certificates proclaiming Gourmet Spot as the originator of "Britain's Best Dessert" as decreed by Restaurant magazine. Publicity about that award, for a breakfast-theme fantasy featuring Earl Grey tea frozen with liquid nitrogen, and served with brown toast and marmalade purée – tipped me off to the curious fact that there was a Durham restaurant experimenting with molecular gastronomy.

When I was a student in the city, dining out didn't usually get more elaborate than a cheese toastie. Now a disciple of Ferran Adria was serving "deconstructed textures of Bloody Mary" and "morphology of lamb" and "warm yoghurt noodles with garlic chips and genetic basil". Surely worth making a 500-mile round trip for such an unlikely collision of the past and the future?

There was nothing futuristic about the food-spattered menu we were handed. No dishes containing grass, or rust. Just three starters, three mains, described with all the panache of a student shopping list. "Haddock, parsley, egg yolk, curry" – what, no Resolve? Confusingly, the menu promises most ingredients are sourced from within a 30-mile radius, while also offering a tasting menu labelled "Taste of the Marches". Yes, that's the Welsh Marches; not strictly within 30 miles of Durham, unless things have changed radically since I left town.

Gradually, it became apparent that the award-winning Adria disciple had packed his Pacojet and left old Durham Town, a fact Gourmet Spot's website doesn't mention. The sweet young waiter was the only member of staff we glimpsed all evening. As he put down our drinks he managed to stab himself in the wrist with a cocktail stick. Carefully, he plucked it out and replaced it with the rest. "Maybe I won't have an olive after all," whispered my friend Cathy. Her observation that our thin Spice Route Chenin Blanc from South Africa could have been colder was met with a cheerful "yeah, quite a few people have mentioned that, there must be something wrong with the fridge".

The 24-seat dining room, lit by a giant chandelier, would have been the height of grooviness when I was at university. The only other diners, a pair of students with visiting father, looked as bemused as we felt at finding themselves in this budget recreation of a Bond villain's lair.

Decent home-made bread, and an amuse of parsnip velouté with curried oil lulled us into a false sense of security. But the dishes that followed were Morse code cooking – all dots and dashes, occasionally conveying flashes of interest, but mainly whizzing past before you could catch the message. My notes are about as communicative as the menu: "breast of pigeon – overcooked – with snail (why?) – sliced beetroot – raw – cubes – quince??" is a typical entry.

Cathy's sea bass and scallop starter, with (I think) a watercress emulsion, raw slivers of baby carrot and (possibly) a cardamom purée, cost £12, and was gone in about six mouthfuls. "There's no story going on," as Cathy, an English graduate, pointed out. "It's just characters, no plot." Main courses showed flair in the case of venison, cooked rare with chocolate sauce, parsley root and baby sprouts. But the dish costs £23; more than most London restaurants charge. A slightly tired fillet of brill, partnered with oxtail, raised questions about the economies of sourcing ingredients when running an operation on this scale.

Our meal limped to a dispiriting end with variations on the theme of caramel and banana (£8.75), and petit fours recalling the chocolates that get left in the box on Christmas Day. We later learnt that when the original chef moved on, he took his prize-winning dessert with him. His replacement, Marc Hardiman, came from Fishmore Hall in Ludlow, which explains the Taste of the Marches menu. He's probably a decent enough chef, but saddled with the duty of creating something sensational, he is trying much too hard.

The G-Spot may have been set up as a sexy place for students with money to burn; now it feels like a passion project that has woken up the next morning, thinking "What have I done?" As I recall, students have enough of that in their lives already without experiencing it when they go out for dinner.

Gourmet Spot, The Avenue, Durham (0191-384 6655)

Food 2 stars

Ambience 1 stars

Service 2 stars

About £60 a head including wine and service

Tipping policy

"Service charge is 10 per cent discretionary – all of it goes to the restaurant staff. All tips go to the staff"



Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Day In a Page

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada