An accident with the notes from a Mexican night at the Crown, at Manfield, near Darlington, could have spelled disaster but, as always, the column's never lost for words.

Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish and no mistake, and readers had best take sustenance from that sparse and curious clich because it may be the most substantial mention of food in today's column.

The notes are the problem. The notes so copiously and conscientiously written after every eating experience appear to have been thrown out with the Christmas wrapping paper and with only memory to feed upon the morsels.

What's certain is that we went to the Mexican night at the Crown at Manfield, that it was a most agreeable evening and that Skinner's Brewery in Truro had produced an ale called Hat Dance.

It recalled an American one-hit wonder called Allan Sherman, who in 1963 reached number 14 in the UK charts with Hello Muddah Hello Faddah, but whose song about the Mexican Hat Dance was altogether more ingenious.

After trying on every kind of headgear imaginable, the song concluded magnificently:

If you're ever in Mexico proper

And you're wearing a straw hat or topper,

If the band starts to play call a copper,

'Cause by now you should know

That they'll grab your chapeau

And they'll stomp till it's flat

And that's that.

That's what Mexicans do to your hat.

Manfield's a little place about five miles west of Darlington, the pub owned by Ralph Wilkinson who has the extraordinarily successful Number Twenty-2 in town and itself so popular that the numbers in the pub must frequently exceed the population of the village.

The Crown's jewels aren't usually the food - deliberately limited to baguettes and maybe a dish of the day like the well regarded Irish stew - but the wide range of well kept and ever changing real ales and the convivial atmosphere carefully nurtured by Peter and Karen Hynds.

Around once a month, however, they have amazingly inexpensive theme nights - Indian, Chinese, Mexican - prepared by visiting chef Mark Holmes who works at Catterick Garrison but is about to take over the village chip shop in Frosterley, half way up Weardale.

We headed down Mexico way with our friends Steve and Glyn, who've not only visited the country several times, not only attended Spanish classes so that they have more aspirations than Mr Gordon Brown but knew from their knowledge of Mexican history that the Aztecs only had to see a human limb to imagine it served up with chillies.

There, too, was a model railway enthusiast from Gainford via Shildon, so dedicated to authenticity that he paints rust on the lines.

That was nothing, said Steve, his brother painted coal dust on the grass. It rather put the world into scale.

The whole lot cost £12 each, beginning with a glass of tequila - made from the cactus plant, said Glyn, pointedly - and served, as authentic as rust on the tracks, with salt on a side plate (honest) and a slice of lime. The boys knew the drinking drill; we took it with a pinch.

Tortillas arrived thereafter, with dishes of refried beans, guacamole, tomato and chilli and one or two other things that slip the mind.

Then there was a lovely, musky chicken dish with peppers and spices and, perhaps inevitably, a great bowl of chilli con carne with fajitas. The lads reckoned that the Mexicans had never heard of chill con carne any more than the Indian sub-continent (so it's said) has tasted chicken tikka masala.

It was all accompanied by several pints of this and that and by a deserved round of applause for the chef. Truly a night to remember - or not, as the case may be.

* An Indian night will be held at The Crown on February 25 and, with the assistance of the chef at Number Twenty-2, there'll be theme nights at regular intervals. They don't advertise, but details on (01325) 374243.

The menu at Darlington Arts Centre says they're committed to healthy eating, which may explain why the bar's not open until 4pm. Let them drink Coke. We did.

The menu's wide ranging, all day breakfast (£2.75) cooked up from 9am, any two courses for £5.95 between 4-6pm, other attractive deals on soup and sandwiches and things.

The bistro's spacious, the atmosphere laid back, the customers not necessarily arty or the other thing. The wild mushroom soup was nothing to go crazy about but perfectly pleasant for all that, the bread was excellent.

Main courses range from fajitas to fish and chips, from burgers to bangers and mash. Someone else paid; a treat.

Though Eating Owt readers are generally and classically omniscient, they were only half right - suggests an email from Elaine Leake and a letter from Martin Snape in Durham- in supposing last week that the Latin phrase "Dulci et decorum est, pro patria mori" was from a poem by Wilfred Owen on the futility of war. It originated, they say - and Elaine offers chapter and verse - from the Roman poet Horace: Book III, Poem II, verse IV, line II. Whatever happened to Hungry Horace, anyway?

Forever on the ball, the February edition of the Albany Northern League magazine laments the disappearance from North-East football tea huts of the traditional pork pie, otherwise the growler.

The replacements, says Northern Ventures Northern Gains, tend to be called "steak" or "mince" and are best eaten with a straw or a stirrup pump.

Earlier columns have bemoaned a similar practice in the region's pubs, though there is comfort to be had at the Fox and Hounds in Cotherstone, up the dale from Barnard Castle.

The pork, sage and apple may not be a growler, but there's a bit of bite to it, nonetheless - well seasoned short crust pastry, plenty of meat, nice tang.

It came with chunky chips, red cabbage, cauli and green beans, was preceded by a piping hot bowl of cream of broccoli soup with enjoyable bread and accompanied by a couple of pints of Jennings Cumberland ale. Black Sheep is an alternative.

Though owners change, the Fox has been a Good Pub Guide fixture for donkeys. The 2005 edition not only extols hearty meals and friendly staff - meals more adventurous in the evening; staff amiable throughout - but identifies the noisy beggars out the back as Reva and Charlie.

Reva's an African grey parrot, Charlie a red fronted conure (whatever one of those may be.) "Unusual lavatory attendants," says the GPG.

We'd staggered in the moment they'd unlocked for lunch - snow scurrying along the main street, the coal fire having a bit of a sulk until someone placed the previous day's The Northern Echo in front of it as what colliery folk call a bleezer.

At once the fire leaped into life, warmth and light. Truly the virtues of this paper know no bounds.

....and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what you call a chap who inspects rabbit holes.

The burrow surveyor, of course.