IT MUST ten years or more since we stumbled across an authentic Spanish tapas bar housed in an old village in the depths of rural North Yorkshire.

Those were the days when most people thought tapas was a particular stupid plumber. Perhaps not surprisingly the North Yorkshire tapas bar-cum-pub, despite being excellent and reviewed enthusiastically, didn’t last. It was a nice idea, nevertheless.

In 2015 someone has come up with the idea of serving the Italian equivalent of tapas in what was a pub in a former County Durham pit village. It sounds almost as crazy.

The “someone” is Tavistock Hospitality, the company behind the Italian Farmhouse at West Rainton, the conversion of the old Greyhound pub into an Italian restaurant that’s about as authentic as one can be just a stone’s throw from the A690 in North Durham. The landscape may be gently rolling but it certainly isn’t Puglia – the inspiration for the Italian Farmhouse concept.

That extended concept takes form in Coxhoe in what was once The Kicking Cuddy and then became the Clarence Villa gastropub. Next door is Sonnet 43, the micro-brewery which produces a range of craft beers for the Coxhoe pub plus the Lambton Worm at Chester le Street.

It is still a pub at the front but go through to the rear and the transformation is genuinely impressive. Whether there is a farmhouse in Puglia that looks something like this is rather beside the point. It’s warmly rustic, atmospherically well lit in the section which is still part of the main building and light and airy in what looks like it might have been a built-on conservatory.

The menu features all the pizzas and pastas one would expect in a mainstream Italian restaurant plus some chicken dishes, steaks and some fish. As is the modern way there are some sharing platters and a clear commitment to local produce as well as the stuff that has to come from Italy if the Italian restaurant is to be worthy of the name. Hence, the highly rated Dropswell Farm shop at nearby Trimdon supplies some of the beef and a lot of the charcuterie, including the “Parma” ham and braesola cured beef fillet.

But it was the cicchetti – Italian tapas, pronounced chi-ket-ti in case you were wondering – that caught our eye. From a list of 15 dishes we chose eight that being the number we were advised would be about right for the two of us to share. Two would be fine as a conventional starter portion.

While waiting for the cicchetti to arrive we had some chunky ciabbata to dip into a tapenade-style dip and also some garlic in olive oil and a really spicy chilli oil.

The pick of the cicchetti was the Arancini alla Roma – crispy and beautifully lemony, herby risotto balls sitting on a bed of rich beef ragu sauce.

Other highlights were some handsome and plump gamberoni (king prawns) alla griglia in a sweetly-flavoured tomato and chilli sauce, some crunchy garlic ciabatta toasted with a topping of stringy Talaggio cheese, slow-roasted tomatoes and walnut pesto, and some sweetly-cured Dropswell Parma ham with melon.

Sylvia rated a splendid prawn cocktail made with crayfish, Greenland prawns and a tiger prawn, a thousand island dressing lifted with plenty of lemon, as well as some finely minced and seasoned polpettine meatballs . Her favourite was the Ali di Pollo Gigliate, top quality chicken wings in a gorgeously spicy and slightly sticky tomato sauce.

We also had some Calamari Croccanti, salty and crisp squid rings which came with a strong and creamy aioli sauce.

It was a great spread of dishes, beautifully prepared and presented, which ranged in price from £4.95 (the ciabatta) to £7.95 (the gamberoni). Choosing any four would cost £14.95, six would be £21.95 – our eight cost £29.90.

Sylvia was very full but I found some room for a really moist and vanilla-y Panettone bread and butter pudding (£3.95) flecked with chocolate and served with crème anglaise.

Service was courteous, informative when it needed to be, and prompt. Important as it was a lunchtime visit and time was short.

The total bill was £38.85 and that included two soft drinks.

FOOD FACTS

The Italian Farmhouse, Durham Road, Coxhoe, DH6 4HX
Tel: 0191 377 3773
Web: www.italianfarmhouse.co.uk
Open: Monday to Friday noon-2pm and 5-10pm; Saturday noon-10pm; Sunday noon – 7pm
Disabled access. Vegetarian options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 8 Surroundings 9 Value 8