THERE are times when you know your timing is just not right. We realised it was one of those moments shortly after arriving at the Frenchgate Hotel in Richmond.

The splendid Georgian building is under new ownership and we were tempted to call following a recent article in this newspaper which recorded proprietor David Todd's lofty aspirations for his new establishment - a Michelin star no less.

Now Michelin stars are hard to come by and we reckon that if you choose to run a restaurant north of Leeds your chances of a Michelin inspector calling are just about nil. Only one establishment in our neck of the woods, the appropriately-named Star at Harome, possesses the coveted award and as for County Durham it might as well not exist according to the Michelin Guide. Given the number of very good eating places around here, we just don't believe Michelin inspectors can be giving the region a fair assessment.

But should a Michelin inspector dare to venture north to Richmond, we hope he or she waits a month or two before calling at the Frenchgate.

It's fair to say, and Mr Todd wouldn't argue with this, the Frenchgate is very much work in progress. Refurbishment has so far covered the front of the building but there's still lots to do as we found out when going to the loo (the gents is currently in what was a bedroom) and sitting at our table (a splendid view of an overflowing skip).

Before eating, we had pre-dinner drinks in what was meant to be a lounge. The selection of upright and not-so-easy chairs and tables, and the white walls and laminate flooring created the ambience of a posh doctor's waiting room. When the waitress popped her head round the doorway to call us through to the dining room, I half expected her to shout "Next".

The slightly clinical, albeit very contemporary, feel was echoed in the dining room. More laminate (I know it's old fashioned but what's wrong with a bit of carpet?), hushed tones among our fellow diners and a distinct chill in the air despite our proximity to a radiator, meant we didn't feel particularly comfortable.

The standard of cooking was, however, very high. Chef Michael Benjamin has worked at a number of high-profile establishments, including the Gidleigh Park in Devon (two Michelin stars), and his expertise was evident throughout.

My rabbit terrine wrapped in bacon and served with a fruit and vegetable chutney (£4.75) was gamey yet light and the chutney was a perfect foil. Sylvia's leek and potato soup (£3.95) served with saffron bread was also greeted with enthusiasm, somewhat tempered by the modest amount.

It should be said trenchermen and women should not bring a hearty appetite to the Frenchgate because the quality of the cooking here is not measured by the volume on the plate.

Our main course selections were also modest in proportion if not in taste. The slow-cooked confit duck leg with new potatoes, apple puree and parsnip crisps (£11.95) was beautifully presented. The duck was crispy on top but meltingly soft beneath with the puree nicely cutting through the richness of the meat.

Sylvia's rump of lamb with shallot puree and French beans (£12.95) was tender enough and cooked as requested to just pink. However, the single new potato (cut in four) and the 10 green beans did seem rather miserly.

Other main courses were cod and chips with tomato and sesame mayonnaise (£9.95) and a pithivier of mushrooms, goats cheese and spinach in puff pastry, served with a green salad (£9.75).

I finished with an excellent curranty and vanilla-infused bread and butter pudding served with clotted cream (£4.95). Sylvia's rather lukewarm latte came with some very rich truffles (£2.50).

Service from a young staff was very good throughout and the bill came to £50. That included the pre-dinner drinks but no wine.

Mr Todd subsequently apologised for the coolness of the dining room. Previously, diners had complained about the heat so the thermostat had been turned down. His future plans include building new toilets and a new restaurant to the rear. He has just employed a second chef and will start serving lunches before the end of the month.

Clearly very ambitious, he believes he is offering something Richmond has not previously experienced. Time will tell if that Michelin star is a realistic aim. A few fundamentals need to be sorted before the inspector calls.