THIS is going to be a review of two halves; so let’s start with the positives.

Having been part of a press tour of Ramside Hall’s new spa, part of a £15m expansion also comprising a new hotel wing and the Cathedral golf course, when it officially opened in mid-July, I can tell you that it’s excellent. Not really my kind of thing, but it looked top drawer.

And Fusion, the Asian restaurant that sits in the spa, is beautifully appointed: deep soothing browns and crisp cloth colours mingle to create an ambience that exudes relaxation, luxury and comfort.

The food on offer is similarly good. To begin, my wife had the Chicken Satay (£7.50). I was a little surprised. When eating out Asian, I tend to gravitate towards the kind of exotic dishes not easily created at home. But Sarah said this was something quite different to the satay one might stick in the freezer; the superb spiced peanut sauce nicely complemented by the mango and coriander slaw.

I chose the som tum salad (£6.50): papaya, tomato, long beans and toasted peanuts. Now, it was highly enjoyable. But surely it should have come with a more obvious health warning than “spicy Thai dressing”. I felt as though my tongue were on fire. I had to order another jug of water. The waitress, realising my distress, offered a glass of milk, which I, perhaps too proudly, declined.

To see whether I was just being soft, I invited Sarah to try some. She also suffered, reaching for the H20 by the glassful. I cannot remember eating anything so hot, ever.

Having cooled down a little, we turned to our main courses. Sarah had been tempted by the special: duck pancakes with hoisin sauce (£7.50). These are a favourite of hers and she was not disappointed, thoroughly enjoying the DIY-like pancake stuffing process and her little creations. The elements were nicely presented too, each in their own bamboo basket.

I almost went for the Oriental Duck Platter (£18.50) but instead seized the opportunity to enjoy some seafood in the Pad Thai (£10), which boasted shrimps and king prawns alongside chicken. It was very good, the shrimps in particular; and thankfully smooth after my saucy starter.

For dessert, of which there was an impressive number for an Asian restaurant, Sarah chose a fiendishly rich Viennese coffee and chocolate tart, which was deliciously lifted from its darkness by pistachio ice cream (£6).

As for me, intrigued and indecisive in equal measure, I went for the Bento box (£6 for one, £10 for two) – a tapas-style taster of six of the desserts on offer. It was nice to pick and mix, to mix and match. I think the tart was best.

We also thoroughly enjoyed our wine choice: the Spanish Conde de Valdemar Rioja (£23 a bottle), which had a dizzying nose, full body and surprisingly sweet finish. Three whites, one rose, three reds and two sparklings are available by the small or large glass.

So, three courses each and a bottle of wine and still the bill was under £50; very reasonable.

But this is where the review changes course. Despite all that good, we left not inclined to return. Why?

First, the revolving entrance doors stopped several times, leaving us stranded in a glass prison. Then, on being greeted at the bar, we were left unsure whether we were supposed to order there and sit, wait to be taken to our table, or any number of other possibilities.

When we were seated, it was under an overly bright spotlight which we simply could not have tolerated for the evening. I asked to be moved. Instead, a waiter used the chop sticks from a neighbouring table to point the light elsewhere.

We were also next to a door into the residents’ area, which banged loudly and beeped constantly as guests went to and fro and staff carried drinks from the bar and, bizarrely, furniture from the kitchen.

Oh yes, we were also next to the swing door into the kitchen, which also opened and closed loudly, providing further interruption.

Further, it was rather off-putting, on what we had hoped would be an intimate Friday evening out, to be sharing the dining area with groups in white dressing gowns and flip flops. While I can see the attraction of being able to wander between spa and restaurant, surely some form of evening dress code would be appropriate?

And finally, the service was somewhat lacking. Our water and wine were spilled and the waiting staff were overly attentive for my liking.

All these points I make as constructive criticism, and taking into account Fusion is still bedding in. Ramside is a Durham success story and I hope the long-planned spa adds to that. None of the shortcomings are unfixable.


Fusion Restaurant, Ramside Hall, Carrville, Durham

Open daily from noon


Tel: 0191-375-3088

Ratings (out of ten): Surroundings 6 Service 6 Food quality 8 Value 7