Eating Out with the Phoenician Trader: Nine Altars

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A sizzling meal

Nine Altars

Durham is a lovely city with World Heritage Listings, old stone bridges, a castle (which resembles a student hostel for some reason) and a cathedral of immense proportions. Anybody who has been in the area and not popped in has missed an amazing sightseeing opportunity.

It doesn't take many minutes reviewing the city centre to note that it is a place short of halfway decent food offerings. Yes there are the big chains but they offer precisely the same food, wine and orange juice in every town in the UK from Torquay, Stratford-upon-wherever, Aberdeen and, of course, Durham: they really don't contribute to your experience of Durham, history and what-have-you, at all. There are a few touristy tea shoppes with plastic table covers and stuffed teddy bears as decoration. All this is exacerbated because the University owns the pretty much the entire centre of the town, and the wet-behind-the-ears students all live in College where the food and beer is cheap, so there are few decent pubs to pick from either.

Durham, my friends, is a culinary desert. Except for a tiny café on an even tinier lane way at the rear of 19A Silver Street (I wouldn't want to try and get a wheelchair up there). It is perched on the cliff face over the River Wear with a small out door eating area (lovely in summer) and an equally small first floor area upstairs.

What sets this place apart, other than the view, the fabulous staff, and the price, is that they do basic food well. If you want a sandwich they make you a nice one. The scones are fresh. The coffee is really very good. It is, in fact, so unexceptional that it is.

Also, if you continue on the path you end up at the back of the Cathedral which, in terms of size, grandeur and ability to last, is probably right at the other end of the scale from the Nine Altars Café.

Getting There: Get off the train at Durham, over the bridge and up the tiny lane to your right.

Who should eat there: Those desperate for decent food in student city.

Dining Style: Prop yourself up at a bench.

Price: £4ish.

Quality: Great sandwiches, cakes and coffee.

Would I go Back: The only place for lunch in a lovely town.

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