I WOULD always deny being a food snob.

Generally, I don’t subscribe to absolute, hard-and-fast rules about what and how anyone should eat.

The worst case of food snobbery I ever came across was the fine dining establishment in Durham (long gone now) that refused to supply salt and pepper mills because, basically, chef knew best and didn’t want diners over-seasoning his perfectly prepared dishes.

That’s an extreme example perhaps but there’s a whole host of other diktats that those who “know about food” say should generally be followed.

Such as insisting that only red wine goes with beef and lamb, and white with chicken and fish, or that cheese really should be eaten before the dessert course. Some of these rules I might follow, others I don’t and I would never turn my nose up at anyone who chose to do the same

I even prepared to accept that some deviant individuals think it perfectly acceptable in polite company or even the privacy of their own homes to put the clotted cream on top of the jam on a scone.

Each to his own and all that.

But every now and again one gets a reminder of why some rules are broken at your peril – like the classic Italian thing about never serving Parmesan cheese with a seafood dish, typically pasta.

We were in Il Mulino, a new Italian restaurant that opened earlier this year in what used to be Howard’s café in College Square, Stokesley.

Il Mulino is Italian for the mill which is the name of a pub in the town – the connection is owner Alex Cook who is clearly set on creating something akin to a Stokesley hospitality empire. His next venture is Leven and Soul (geddit!!) a gin bar due to open just round the corner from the restaurant. His spirit of enterprise deserves credit.

His menu at Il Mulino is strong on pizza (21 to choose from), pasta and risotto plus a good range of steaks and burgers, salads and stuff that might best be described as modern British. It’s long for a relatively small establishment.

My eye was caught by tagliatelle vongole (£12) – described on the menu as “mussels, white wine, chilli and herbs” which sounded like an interesting variation on the traditional southern Italian dish made with spaghetti and baby clams.

I could understand substituting mussels for difficult-to-get-hold-of clams – and these looked like really good plump mussels as well – but the dish was overwhelmed by the heavy tomato sauce where the combination of cheese and chilli meant the mussels might as well have not been present.

It was perfectly pleasant bowl of pasta but the relatively expensive seafood element made no meaningful contribution. And that’s why you don’t put a strong-flavoured cheese like Parmesan into a fight with the delicate flavours of seafood. It’s no contest.

Having got that bit of food snobbery off my chest, I can tell you there’s lots to like about Il Mulino. Such as the light and bright café-style interior, its outside seating area for better weather and the breezy, friendly service (up to a point which I’ll touch on later). And the three-courses-for-a-tenner set lunch which is a real steal if you are ravenously hungry. Portion control is non-existent.

And that’s a feature of the a la carte too from which I selected a starter of arancini (£5) – four ping-pong ball-sized bundles of deep-fried, crisp-coated risotto rice and mozzarella, served with a large dollop of Neapolitan tomato sauce and mixed salad. Two arancini would have been just fine for a starter: I managed just three.

Sylvia’s experience of the three-for-a-tenner menu kicked off with a starter which again could easily have served as a main course – Doreen’s incomparable black pudding with spring onion mash and lashings of red wine and shallot gravy (the menu described it as a jus but I don’t think that sort of volume of liquid can ever really be considered something as effete as a jus).

Crisp, fatty pudding, smooth, creamy mash enlivened with the spring onions and moistened with the gravy/jus had Sylvia in raptures which could only partly be explained by it being long time since breakfast.

Her main course of chargrilled chicken, new potatoes and green beans and a strawberry cheesecake dessert didn’t quite scale the same heights but that was primarily due to the size and gorgeousness of the starter which served as something of an appetite suppressant.

Service was a mixed bag. Excellent at the start, it fell off a cliff at 3pm when our waitress clocked off and we seemed to enter a different time zone. The remaining staff seemed preoccupied with the coffee maker and stacking plates and it took take ages to be served desserts and then get and pay the bill of £46.50.

That included my dessert – affogato (vanilla ice cream and a shot of espresso: £5) – and a bottle of lightweight, crisp and delicate Veronese white house wine (£14.50).

Il Mulino

Church House, College Square, Stokesley TS9 5DN

Tel: 01642 713391 Web: il-mulino.co.uk

Open daily from 9am to late; Sunday 9am to 4pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 7, Surroundings 7, Value 10