Is a former incarnation as a church a good enough reason to call your eating house God's Kitchen? The column investigates . . . and discovers some pretty heavenly dishes

AMONG several possible problems in calling your new restaurant God's Kitchen is a visit from the deity tricks department.

Wrath of ages, there are those who take playing God quite seriously.

Another is that Ambrosia may no longer be defined as tinned rice pudding. God's Kitchen demands something a little more ethereal, if not necessarily eternal, the old firmament no longer.

There were at least two reasons that the Hall family, like Christian soldiers, pressed onward. One was that the building in Chester Moor had once been a church. That in an another incarnation it had been a rock venue called Gallery, G's liberally engraved into the windows, was also a consideration.

I spy. . .

Bread upon the water, they opened in December. If not yet feeding the five thousand, it's going pretty nicely. It's also a lot cheaper at lunchtime, but we went last Wednesday evening.

Chester Moor is alongside the A167, south of Chester-le-Street, two food pubs and Chester-le-Street Football Club - where the hot pork sandwiches may most enthusiastically be recommended - within 400 yards or so.

After the Gallery, the old church became a wine bar, then a restaurant called Tobago's and now, holy orders, God's Kitchen.

The car park had too much litter, the beer choice was abysmal, Sky TV and some jazzy canned music played simultaneously in the lounge. It wasn't a good beginning.

The lounge has huge leather sofas and busts of Romans, or Greeks, or someone. They may even have been minor gods. The restaurant is spacious, warmed by fan heaters, the original gallery and lectern still holding forth above. The kitchen - if you can't stand the heat there's always the other place - is visible through a foot high aperture, like a pill box.

Candles burned everywhere. That the following day was Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was presumably unconnected.

The menus arrived. Asparagus soup was £4.95, many other starters £6.95.

The cheapest main courses, like chicken breast with a shittake mushroom sauce, were £15.95.

The poor may indeed be blessed, as the Good Book suggests, but they wouldn't be able to eat in God's Kitchen very often.

It was the sort of menu which made you suppose that it was going to have to be jolly good grub for that price. Happily, so it proved. There are fresh minds and firm hands here.

Forsaking all piscine instincts, The Boss began with Italian Parma ham served with a fig salad and raspberry and black pepper dressing (£5.95), followed by Thai spiced tuna loin steak with stir-fried vegetables, sweet and sour sauce and crispy noodles gathered around it like a sort of triumphal arch.

She was very impressed, not least by the succulence of the tuna and the skill of the presentation. A main course of venison with chocolate sauce proved a temptation rather more easy to resist.

The abundant pressed ham knuckle and parsley terrine came with a walnut of home made pease pudding, a combination pioneered by the much acclaimed Mr Terry Laybourne at 21 Queen Street in Newcastle. The "duo of duck" was served on sauted Savoy cabbage with a "melody of baby vegetables" - Oh, for heaven's sake - and a honey and cumin sauce.

It was one of these rare dishes which seemed to get better as it went along, more musky duck than Washington Wildfowl Park. The sauce worked perfectly. Excellent all round.

The curiosity wasn't the dish, it was the plate. It was shaped rather like the Wall of Death at a 1950s fairground, so that at any moment you expected a miniature motor bike to roar out from beneath a duck leg and essay a couple of circuits.

The only irritation was the music.

Begged to turn it down, the waitress - a bright young thing called Rachel - smilingly obliged. A little later it was surreptitiously turned up again. No choirs of angels here, nor peace for the wicked.

The television, long mute, was different. The staff were all Newcastle United fans, eating only their hearts out as they lost 3-0 at Manchester City.

Michael Tibbutt, the manager, is a season ticket holder, but unlikely to be next season. "I used to wake up on Saturday mornings, really excited because Newcastle were at home, " he said. "Now I've hardly got the interest to be disappointed any more. My mam goes, too, she's worse. It's desperate."

An only pudding, we'd finished with a very good baked vanilla cheesecake with terrific white peach and red currant ice cream and lots of exotic fruit, like Chinese gooseberries.

"There's a proper name for them, syphilis or something, " said the Boss, momentarily forgetting where she was.

The food bill - we drink very little, honest - came to £53.75. Despite it, perhaps because of it, we left in very good spirits. Manna maketh man.

God's Kitchen, Chester Moor, Co Durham (0191-388-4588). Lunch, except Monday and Tuesday, from 12-3pm.

Early dinner, two courses for two £40 including a bottle of wine, from 5-7pm Monday to Friday, Sunday lunch 124pm. Closed Sunday evening. No problem for the disabled; smoking in the lounge.

IN Arcadia is described as the NorthEast's first tarot cafe-bar. "Tarot" as in spuggie, apparently. What's on the menu starts from a couple of quid, what's on the cards costs £15.

It's in Skinnergate, Darlington, opposite the Friends' Meeting House though the Friends may not appreciate the name check, and also offers nose and ear piercing, alternative therapies, Goth and other clothing and a poster for something called Night of the Zombies.

Whatever the future may hold, the reality was that last Tuesday afternoon the upstairs cafe was empty. Spanish muzak played. English is bad enough, Iberian irritated increasingly.

The menu's simple, including very enjoyable broth (£2.50) served with cream and warm roll and butter - a change from tarot and coriander. There are wraps, pasta dishes, tea and coffee that's fair traded.

The cheese and bean wrap, another £2.50, also came with sour cream and some undressed salad. We'd asked for the chilli beans to be hot; it wouldn't have started any fires.

Downstairs seemed a bit busier.

Whether the improbable assemblage will work is anyone's guess. As probably they say in the tarot world, we shall just have to see.

WRITING two weeks ago of the New Frenchgate Cafe in Richmond we observed that its suppliers included the Wives' Kitchen ("whatever that is.") Now Wives' tale, Robin Brooks points out that it's Richmond's premier - "only?" - wholefood shop, "up a narrow passage off Finkle Street".

He's clearly a Richmond enthusiast.

"The market place and its environs on a sunny day give you all the atmosphere of a trip to France without the hassle of getting there."

Another reader, his signature sadly illegible, reports that the bar at the oncewonderfully atmospheric Black Lion in Richmond reopened last weekend after major refurbishment. More from there shortly.

. . . and finally, the incorrigible bairns wondered if we knew why they wouldn't let the butterfly into the dance.

Because it was a moth ball.