This continental cafe on Northumberland Street in Darlington is easy to miss as it’s tucked away on Grange Road.
But it’s been around for a few years and seems to be thriving.
Imperial Express exudes class
So, with some money in my back pocket, I decided to treat myself and my wife to a night out.
The first thing to say about the Imperial Express is that it looks fabulous. Tastefully restrained, it exudes class.
The most striking interior feature is the impressive wine rack that takes up an entire wall. The cafe is also a wine merchant and prides itself on the quality of its bottles. Cigars are also sold, as evidenced by the magnificent humidor in the corner of the room.
The wine wall on the Imperial Express
We had reserved a table for two at 6:30pm and after we were successfully seated, we ordered drinks and looked at the extensive menu.
Well, I like having a lot of choice, but that can sometimes lead to its own problems. There was a lot on this extensive menu that I liked visually, so I had to ask the waitress for a little more time before ordering. No problem.
In the end I opted for a starter of Federblatt beef croquettes in pepper sauce (£11.25). It turned out to be a good decision.
The pepper sauce on the beef croquettes is really something
The croquettes were light and fluffy and contained plenty of shredded meat. But the real star of this show was the sauce. There was a real peppery flavor that tingled on the tongue long after the bowl was emptied.
Frances chose the twice-baked blue cheese and bacon soufflé, served with toasted walnuts and dipping bread (£12.95). She was particularly impressed that the blue cheese flavor shone through in this appetizing start.
Twice Baked Blue Cheese Bacon Soufflé
After a short break, it was time for the main event.
I’m a big fish fan so I chose the fried sea bass from the main course. It was served with nduja, garlic, crème fraiche, roast potatoes, samphire and kale (£18.95).
The sea bass was simple and perfectly cooked, but robust enough to stand up to the other bold flavors in the dish. The nduja had a particularly strong flavor and could have overpowered the dish had it not been perfectly balanced by the accompanying crème fraîche.
The sea bass dish was perfectly balanced
This was a successful dish that I prepared myself with great enthusiasm.
Frances chose something different for her – the Lebanese lamb kofta with flatbread, hummus, mint yoghurt, Greek salad and salted chips (£15.95).
The log-shaped kofta seemed quite heavy, but the opposite was true. Spicy and delicious, Frances explained, with a wonderfully fresh side dish.
Lebanese lamb kofta
The next question was: Would we have room for dessert? We asked to take a look at the dessert menu – and it didn’t take long to decide that the answer to that question would be yes.
The choice for me was simple: warm apple pie with hot Baileys vanilla sauce.
Delicious apple pie and vanilla sauce round off the meal
I can never resist an apple pie as long as it has plenty of filling – which isn’t always the case. I needn’t have worried – it was a huge tart, crammed with juicy apples and topped with a deliciously crispy pastry. The Bailys flavor was easily detectable in the rich, thick custard, but not so strong that it overpowered the dish.
For Frances, the brandy snap basket filled with Eton Chaos was calling to her. And she wasn’t disappointed either. “Tasteful,” was her considered verdict.
The brandy snap basket with an Eton Chaos filling
All desserts on the menu cost £7.50. Along with a couple of pints of Lindeboom-Pils for me and a few glasses of sparkling water for Frances, the total bill came to just over £90 – very reasonable indeed.
Overall, this was a first class dining experience. The staff were polite, attentive and friendly, the environment and ambience was more than pleasant and, most importantly, the food was outstanding.
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I always enjoyed lunch when I previously visited Imperial Express and have no idea why I waited so long to try the evening menu.
One thing is for sure, I will come back – and next time I won’t wait so long.
The Imperial Express Cafe
2 Northumberland Street, Darlington, DL3 7HJ
Food served from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (lunch menu) and from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (evening menu)
Ratings (out of ten): Food Quality 9 Service 8 Environment 8 Value 8