HAVING lived in flats since I went to university, I have long missed having a garden and generally being able to have that relaxed feeling you get from shutting your eyes when surrounded by nature.

So I naturally jumped at the chance of reviewing the Durham University Botanic Garden cafe as the thought of combining my love of food with a relaxing wander seemed perfect for a day with no plans.

I took my fiancé Ali on a July Saturday for a jaunt out and having never been before I was glad we drove after a colleague warned it was quite a way and all uphill from the train station.

We got there in the afternoon and despite not having lunch, felt we needed to work up an appetite by viewing the gardens first (£4 each).

We spent about an hour touring all 25 acres of the mature woodland and exploring the different exotic plants – we even found a cactus that was taller than Ali!

We even did a bit of bird watching as we followed the map round the trail and even though it was a bit bleak when we started, by the end the sunshine was poking through the clouds.

It seemed only right then to sit outside for our meal when we finally came to it, especially as the inside seating reminded me more of a student canteen with basic furniture and a few leather sofas.

Ali took no time in deciding to have the soup and sandwich deal (£5.50) and selected the meatball soup and Durham roast ham and crunchy piccalilli served with vegetable crisps and side salad, dressed with French vinaigrette.

Meanwhile, I went for the slow roast pulled Houghall pork with apple and sage stuffing toasted sandwich (£4.65).

Armed with our soft drinks, we made our way back out to the outdoor seating and waited for the waitress to bring our food.

I was quite impressed with the service itself in this regard as there was still a strong feeling of a university canteen about the whole process as we paid before we ate.

I wish I could say the food was exceptional but I really can't.

Ali was quite impressed with the concept of a meatball soup which neither of us had ever heard of before and it was hearty with the tomato flavours.

He also said his main was filling with a good portion size although you could hardly see his ham under the mountain of picallili sauce and the salad on both our plates was dry as there was no dressing in sight.

He did better than me though as I was not very impressed with my main at all.

I was expecting tender strips of pork to be oozing out of the bloomer but I was a bit disheartened to find what I can only describe as a toastie packed with stuffing, which made it quite stodgy.

Maybe mains are not their forte as we found dessert was much better for a place where I’d heard the afternoon tea was lovely.

I went for my favourite chocolate fudge cake (£2.75) while Ali decided to go for the lemon drizzle loaf cake (£1.95).

The tables were turned here as the chocolate fudge cake was fluffy with good icing and went down well with my latte which also hit the right spot.

The only regret was that it wasn’t warm and there wasn’t an option for any cream so it looked a bit deserted (sorry for the pun) on my plate.

Ali did not have as much look though as his lemon topping was more solid than a drizzle and a bit hard to swallow.

However, I could not say I was totally disappointed all in all as I was not expecting the food to be anything grand – it is run by a university at the end of the day.

There was also quite a varied menu which you do not usually find in most cafes.

All in all I would say this is definitely somewhere to visit for the gardens but maybe not for the food.


Durham University Botanic Garden cafe

South Road, Durham, DH1 3TN

Tel: 0191 334 5521

Open: Daily, 10am until 5pm in the summer and 10am until 4pm in the winter

Ratings (out of ten):

Food quality: 4

Surroundings: 7

Value: 5

Service: 6