Quite a few restaurants, thankfully, derive their character from the owner, who may or may not do the cooking, but whose individuality puts a personal stamp on the operation.

NORTHUMBERLAND

Elizabeth Middlemiss is in the "gifted amateur" mould, an enthusiast who cooks from a sense of vocation, as the name of her restaurant implies. At Funnywayt'mekalivin, 41 Bridge Street, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland (01289-308827), she concentrates on cooking simple things well, from crab pate to creme brulee. Soups with chunky home-baked bread are particularly good, fishy things taste fresh and properly of fish, vegetables are innovative (potatoes cooked in Sauternes), and puddings include baked lemon pudding and first-rate ice creams. This is tasty provincial cooking tackled with care and common sense. She also does B&B (three rooms). Open for lunch a la carte Tues-Fri, 11.30am-2.30pm; set dinner Wed-Sat, pounds 22.50. Major credit cards

COLCHESTER

Brasseries outside major cities don't always hit the button, but Anthony Brooks and Mel Burley have given Warehouse Brasserie, 12 Chapel Street North, Colchester (01206-765656) most of what it needs to thrive, and the customers have added the rest. Duck rillettes, excellent scallops, rabbit sausage, roasted whole sea bass and mutton cassoulet indicate that more or less anything Anglo-French goes. Or try a twice-baked cheese souffle, a home-made beefburger, or strawberry shortbread with a cup of cafetiere coffee. The pounds 10.25 set lunch is a bargain. Open 12-2pm daily; 7-10pm Mon- Sat. Major credit cards

MIDLANDS

Michael and Valerie Hope have made flexibility their goal, at both Wig & Mitre, 29 Steep Hill, Lincoln (01522-535190) and Welford Place, 9 Welford Place, Leicester (01162-470758), which are open from 8am to 11pm, seven days a week. Usefulness is what the customer-centred Hopes are about: whether you just want a sandwich, a special off the blackboard, or a full a la carte meal; a big breakfast, an afternoon snack, or something after the theatre. Treat them as a bar (a pint of Ruddles and potted shrimps), a cafe (tea and toasted crumpet), or a full-blown restaurant (gnocchi, roast quail, banana fritters with chocolate ice cream). Wig & Mitre: starters from pounds 3.50, main courses from pounds 5. Welford Place: three-course menu, pounds 10.50. Major credit cards

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

Frederic Desmette is a Belgian who cooks in a quiet village of thatched cottages. No, his restaurant is not called Belgo Ruraal, but La Chouette, Westlington Green, Dinton, Buckinghamshire (01296-747422), and is named after one of his obsessions, owls. He serves up asparagus mousseline, salmon with bacon, and duck breast with morel sauce. For the hard-pressed, a three-course lunch for pounds 10 can be served in under an hour. A good selection of Belgian beers helps things along, and M Desmette seems to do both cooking and serving all by himself. Open Mon-Fri 12-2pm; Mon-Sat 7-9pm. Three-course menu, pounds 10, 4-course pounds 19.90 and pounds 26; 5-course pounds 36. A la carte, about pounds 30 per head. Major credit cards, except Diners

Emily Green returns in September

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