Despite the building's chequered history it's plain sailing for the new Atlantic Bar and Gill.

THE Atlantic Bar and Grill has just opened at the business end of Coniscliffe Road in Darlington. For Atlantic, read Bermuda Triangle. All sorts of resourceful restaurateurs have confidently set sail from those premises, several subsequently vanishing with all hands.

The latest venture is steered by Les Langley, who also owns the Atlantic Bar and Club in Duke Street, close enough to share the same postcode.

"I didn't really know it existed until one day I walked past, pushed the door open and saw at once what fantastic potential it had," he says. "I know now that it's never really done anything, but I'm confident the improvements I've made will work."

Coming up 39, Les still also plays Albany Northern League football for Crook Town and formerly played for Shildon. The lessons learned in playing football for Shildon not only qualify a man to run a catering business but to be General Secretary of the United Nations and Archbishop of Canterbury as well.

There seems a slight image problem, nonetheless. To those of us of a certain age, and of certain browtings up, a bar is across the passage from the lounge - a place with a dart board, a group of old lads in white mufflers and a jar of pickled eggs by way, table d'hote, of sustenance.

A grill is something you make your toast on. This is a restaurant.

There's a small drinking area (nee bar) at the front, full of bright and boisterous young things and thus initially off-putting.

The Boss, indeed, grew so irritated at the rather equine laughter of one gel that she sought, and almost found, a quote from Lord Chesterfield:

"In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal and so ill-bred as audible laughter."

Things were made much merrier, however, by a willing young staff and by a delightful blonde called Annie, in charge since the manager abandoned ship - Jumped? Pushed? - after three days. More of her anon.

Several dining areas vie for attention at the back, attractively refurbished and much cosier and less crowded than in earlier incarnations. We were shown to the far end - "The grown-ups' end" said The Boss - where banquette seating mixed with dark stained tables.

Like the restaurant, the menu is bright and modern - pasta, pizza, burgers including the Yukon (topped with blue cheese, fresh jalapenos and avocado) and the Dixie (with caramelised onions and Creole sauce).

It's also very relaxed and fairly inexpensive, especially at lunch time and during the 5-7pm happy hours. Though they'd only been open six days, though it was Wednesday night and Liverpool were delighting in Turkey, it seemed to be going well.

Starters included ribs, mussels, Caesar and Nicoise salads and a nicely blended Thai vegetable and noodle soup - bit heavy on the noodles - with coconut and lime. The Boss thought her salad Nicoise pretty perfect.

She followed with "pan seared" salmon - they should sear it on a locomotive fireman's shovel - on a bed of green beans, marinated olives and cracked black pepper, adding a bowl of chips for reasons of eye and belly. It worked very well, she thought.

The "Moroccan lamb tangine" had perhaps not as much spring as might have been wished, but - served with dates; almonds and dried apricot cous cous was a very nice idea, nonetheless.

Annie, by this time, was working the room in a manner that even Mr Tony Blair, the great master of that arcane art, would have admired. Darlington lass, she'd previously managed the Mucky Duck (as theatricals know it) in Stratford-on-Avon and had even trod the boards.

"We once played hide and seek in the theatre," she said, by this time having pushed up onto the seat like we were new best friends. Chance...

The usual pudding - one bowl, two spoons - was fine, the "coffee" proved to be double espresso, properly served with hot water for dilution and cold water for refreshment.

Sink or swim? Oh swim,


l Atlantic Bar and Grill, 38 Coniscliffe Road, Darlington (01325) 382200. All pizzas, pastas and burgers £4.50 (children's portions £2.25) between 12-2pm and 5-7pm.

FORMER Hartlepool United FC chairman Garry Gibson tells how BBC pundit Jimmy Hill, when manager of Fulham, would extend the journey to Victoria Park in order to have the fish, chips and peas at the Dun Cow in Sedgefield. George Bush, of course, had similar ideas. We lunched there with Garry, fish and chips (£9.95) twice. They were very good indeed. The split pea, ham and tomato soup was even better.

WALKABOUT, the Australian bar in Durham, invited the column and a colleague to try their "awesome Aussie tucker".

It prompted reflection on why so many Durham pitmen, properly christened Thomas, became known universally as Tucker. Was it simply after Tommy Tucker, who sang for his supper?

We went, at any rate, with the Rev Dr Alan Cadwallader, who has more degrees than a clinical thermometer and who's in Durham on a sabbatical from Flinders University in Adelaide.

You could tell Alan was Australian because he reported that the Test score was 7-98 when everyone knew it was 98-7. You could tell the Australian barmaid, blonde and bonny, because she said a pint of Guinness was £2.30.

The local lass said it was two pounds thir'ee.

The pub is cavernous and slightly cacophonous - may somewhere be slightly cacophonous? - one of the many overhead screens showing the Blues Brothers.

Alan reckoned there's a cinema down his way which has shown the same Blues Brothers film every night for 20 years. "It's a bit of a cult," he said, by way of a bit of an understatement. The colours were very Australian, he said. "Very burned".

The menu now embraces English pub food and Australian dishes like kangaroo and red wine burger, Pacific seafood penne - they're big on crayfish - hickory smoked ribs.

It also promises "authentic coldies straight off the boat". Alan thought the selection so thoroughly lukewarm that he had another Guinness instead.

He suggested the kangaroo fillet (£7.50) with "Kakadu plum chilli sauce" and himself had the crocodile fillet, same price.

"If the kangaroo's fresh and properly cooked it's delicious," he said, which may help explain why it tasted like a third hand pair of Jesus sandals. The flaccid chips were no better, the best bit the plum chilli sauce (or chutney, as we natives know it).

With true Christian fortitude, Alan said simply that the croc was "pub food", though he pulled a martyr's face.

Take the Strine? Roo the day, more likely.

LAST week's piece on wanderings in Weardale prompted an email from Paddy Burton in Sunniside, Crook. Why, he asks, is an area of Wolsingham known as Scotch Isle - and could it have anything to do with drove roads? Not even that doughty dalesman John Shuttleworth knows, though he promises an answer by next week. "I'm looking for someone who's 100," he says.

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew why an art gallery is like a retirement home for old teachers.

Because they're both full of old masters, of course.