D P Chadwick's, described on its frontage as a 'licensed continental cafe', has a British ring, as if D P Chadwick might have invented liquorice allsorts or run a chain of ironmonger's. In fact, it refers to the restaurant's owner, Daryl Peter Chadwick, a 26-year-old ex-army parachutist from Darlington.
Mr Chadwick joined the Parachute Regiment at the age of 16, straight out of school. Ten years on, he would not recommend the army for everyone, especially himself. Within two years of joining, he was back in the North-east working in a succession of hotels and restaurants. When he opened Chadwick's in December 1992, he was aiming to create something along the lines of an Italian cafe. Well, it is not Italian and it is not a cafe, but he does have a raging success on his hands.
The large square room looks like any basic bistro; it is the casual charm of the owners and the lusty cheer of the customers that make it work. There are no bookings. Queues of locals, raring to eat and drink, form at the bar, where Mr Chadwick is the wizard with the corkscrew. Ask for something light and white and he may produce a decent bergerac for pounds 8.50. To be precise, a new-fangled 90 per cent semillon, 10 per cent sauvignon blanc blend from Hugh Ryman.
Bring binoculars to read the menu, written in small semi-cursive on a blackboard at the far end of the bar. Or simply take the first thing you can decipher: it will probably be good. A fennel and monkfish soup was perfect, a slightly creamy stock still light and slightly aniseedy; there was plenty of fish in it and a decent showing of crisp croutons. A plate of thinly sliced bresaola was fine. I suspect the beef, wine-soaked then air-dried, was bought in. For some reason, it came with a nest of salad that included unseasonal little asparagus sprue, maybe from Spain, maybe from Mexico. The bresaola is served with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
A couple of items were a shade dull (as were the shop-bought ravioli with a passable walnut and spinach sauce). More frequently, as with a piece of turbot in red wine sauce, it was good.
If the chef, David Brownless - an old friend of Mr Chadwick, whom he met working in a local hotel - has improvements to make, it is in dropping some of the hotel-food flourishes and paying more attention to basic goodness, such as pasta and charcuterie. One good dish that could be simpler was a light cheesecake in an aggressive grapefruit sauce.
The wine list is short but capable of producing for pounds 15 an exceptionally good 1991 Hamilton Russell pinot noir from South Africa. It would be wonderful if this expertise with pinot noir, a tricky grape, had been directly handed down from the Huguenots, because the wine had a distinctly French-style farmyard charm. However, I would bet a bottle or two of the stuff that this particular wine owes its funky elegance less to the French and more to the Californians.
But attempt such winespeak at Chadwick's at your peril. It is packed with Yorkshire types whose explosive laughter could blow an airy oenophile south of Kent. We sat next to a party of young women with broad Middlesbrough accents. One, a little in her cups, was trying to describe an acquaintance. 'She's so common,' she began. 'I mean so common, I mean soooo common, why she's more common than me]'
What else to say about the right restaurant in the wrong county? I wish I lived in North Yorkshire.
D P Chadwick's, 104b Yarm High Street, Yarm, Cleveland (0642 788558). Open Tues-Sat 11.30am-9.30pm (last orders). Children welcome; special portions on request. Vegetarian meals. Blue Note jazz on hi-fi system. Light meals pounds 4-pounds 7, three courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT from pounds 20-pounds 30. Cash and cheques only.