Norton’s best kept secret?

Lyndsey McGeary reviews a relative newcomer to the Teesside restaurant scene – and is not disappointed…

There’s always an anticipatory buzz in the air when date night comes around again. While the children are busy plotting how best to take full advantage of the babysitter’s relaxed behavioural boundaries, I can generally be found meticulously analysing the online menu of the evening’s chosen restaurant.

We opted to visit The Violet Green on this occasion. Nestled charmingly into a corner of the picturesque Norton Green, the restaurant is fast approaching its first birthday. The brainchild of Anna Hand, third-generation manager of the locally venerated Blackwell’s Butchers, and her husband Chris, the restaurant offers a casual dining experience in a romantic and intimate setting.

Within the lovingly restored basement vault of an old bank, the charm and contemporary industrial appeal of the place are striking as you descend the staircase to the restaurant. Clever lighting, velvet furnishings and stripped-back brickwork really give a clue to the promise of a very special dining experience.

We were shown immediately to our table – a smart looking booth – and offered a bottle of perfectly-chilled tap water (which was very welcome on a warm summer’s evening) while we made our selection from the drinks menu. Unanimous in our choice of a Joven Tempranillo Spanish rioja, priced at £20.95 for a 75cl bottle, we then reviewed the menu we had familiarised ourselves with earlier on the restaurant’s website.

For my starter, I plumped for the coronation chicken terrine with gem lettuce, coronation mayonnaise, sultanas and seeds, at £8. My husband picked the spring lamb ribs (at £8.50) with mint glaze.

The portion sizes were generous on both plates and we were so curious about the other’s choice that we decided to eat half, then swap dishes, to maximise the experience! Both plates were delicate and quite delicious, although I found the terrine a little too chilled for my personal taste. My husband disagreed with this and devoured his half. The lamb ribs were perfectly cooked, and the meat came easily off the bone.

Having previously given our trust and custom to Blackwell’s Butchers, we felt that a meaty main course was also very fitting.

I was lured by the Blackwell’s fillet of beef with beef cheek croquette, Tokyo turnip, baby carrot, pickled and roast fennel and mustard leaf pesto, at £28. It certainly did not disappoint. The beef was medium rare and so tender, and it fulfilled the cliché of melting in your mouth.

My husband chose his dish from the Butcher’s Block section of the menu and was presented with a 10oz sirloin with Hornley’s sauce, at £25. This was accompanied by new potatoes (served with salsa verde) and cauliflower cheese croquettes. Now, I must tell you, those cauliflower cheese croquettes were a clever little hit of flavour.

A stroke of genius, perhaps. Together, we devoured them in no time, with my husband declaring: “It’s better than an onion bhaji, and I didn’t believe I could ever say that!” (Trust me, reader, you have to understand how much he loves a bhaji).

As our empty plates were being cleared, we enjoyed a relaxed chat with the attentive waiting staff, who were efficient and helpful from the moment we arrived at The Violet Green.

I combined the two loves of my life, coffee and ice-cream, and selected the Violet Green affogato for dessert. It was priced at £6.50 but, throwing caution to the wind on a Saturday evening, I took up the option to add a shot of amaretto for an extra £3. Wow, it was delicious, and I was immersed in my own little corner of Italy for a few moments.

My husband selected the tiramisu at £6.50. It was served as a deconstructed dessert, which wasn’t described in the menu, but he certainly enjoyed it as we perused the “night caps” menu. Deciding we’d sufficiently over-indulged, we headed off out onto the beautiful green to begin to make our way home.

With an emphasis on locally sourced meat and produce, coupled with a beautifully romantic, contemporary interior, The Violet Green is a gift of a restaurant to locals and visitors alike. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll reveal the recipe for their formidable cauliflower cheese croquette to me? I can dream… Until then, we’ll just have to pay another visit.