The column finds spice and all things nice at Darlington's first African restaurant.

UNLESS Green Bus begins a twice-daily service to Marrakech, and goodness knows they run to places almost as improbable, it is now highly unlikely that we will ever be Eating Owt of Africa. The DVTs, wings clipped, did for that.

The next nearest thing may be Landela, so near that it's not a quarter of a mile from the office. Darlington's first African restaurant is in Kendrew Street, alongside the inner ring road and next to a martial arts emporium.

It's described as Mozambican, and thus a culinary unknown. There are times when it feels like they've not just explored the interior but found Dr Livingstone playing Pooh sticks with the natives and others when, having set off for Africa, they appear to have turned back at Appleton Wiske.

The Green Bus goes further than that.

It's fronted and co-owned by Dean Blumears, a thoroughly charming and engagingly enthusiastic Zimbabwean with a distinctly non-Darlo hairstyle. Penny, his mum - who may be Africa's piri-piri queen - is presently cooking; Lindsay, the wife he met in Harare, had got there via Jarrow.

Said to be hot and spicy, piri-piri - not to be confused with beriberi, which is something altogether more unpleasant - is the "secret" sauce which not only accompanies several dishes but which, bottled with Penny's name and picture on the label, is now being marketed in America.

Landela, explains the menu, was the father of Zulu, the founder of the Zulu nation. The food, it adds, is "a blend of colonial culture and African tastes". Right.

The furnishings are attractive and unusual, lots of African-type artefacts which might have come on a slow boat from Cape Town but which were mainly bought from a shop called Drum, on the other side of the town centre.

Music is reminiscent of what Paul Simon did in the 1980s, a sort of state of Graceland. The Boss recalled a long gone Radio 4 broadcast in which Chief Buthelezi had sung My Grandfather's Clock, learned at his English public school and (as might be imagined) never thereafter forgotten.

As great moments in broadcasting go, it could be right up there with Brian Johnston and the slight problem of Ian Botham's leg over.

A couple of large wall maps of Africa serve as a reminder of how vast the place really is. Mozambique, once Portuguese, is somewhere near the bottom right.

So to the food, a choice perhaps best described as Anglican African - much demand for strawberries and cream in the homelands? Starters, for example, embrace prawn cocktail, giblets and garlic bread, soup of the day, "avocado Ritz", smoked salmon, breaded mushrooms and dressed crab, which wasn't available, anyway. The soup was carrot: carrot and one or two other things but carrot, nonetheless. The Boss thought the avocado (Ritz) and prawns terrific - "I'd forgotten how good they were together" - and also enjoyed the six sumptuously char grilled sardines (£10.95) served with roast peppers and onions.

More unexpected dishes included galinia piri-piri, a char grilled chicken which they recommend eating with the fingers, and sadza nyama ne murino - "ground maize cooked into a stiff porridge served with meat, spinach and tomato gravy and cooked and prepared as it is in Mozambique."

It, in turn, was not to be confused with a mess of pottage. A mess of pottage is what Esau's birthright was sold for.

Carile a mendoine, another traditional Mozambican dish, is basically bits of chicken breast in peanut sauce with rice and a little salad.

Perhaps unfairly, you almost expect African cooking to sing and dance and jump about a bit on the table. This one - nothing wrong with it, understand - was just learning to walk.

We'd also hoped for a Malawi shandy, a non-alcoholic drink enjoyed by African fishermen. Dean, nine years in restaurants in Harare but latterly working in IT for Darlington council, said they couldn't get the right sort of ginger beer and The Boss recommended something called Idris.

Hitherto we'd supposed Idris to be the dragon in Ivor the Engine. There may be a connection.

Puddings, altogether English, were spot on - a best ever creme brulee, a very good crepes suzette but no "pudding of the day", as advertised.

The coffee wasn't hot enough, the bill without drinks came to around £40. Just a taste of the Dark Continent.

* Landela, Kendrew Street, Darlington. Presently open from Tuesday-Saturday evenings, but expected soon to open lunchtimes. The restaurant is upstairs. (01325) 367676; the Green Bus probably goes right past.

BACK from a "lovely" holiday in Crete, Malcolm Dunstone in Darlington sends the preface from the menu at the Seven Brothers Taverna. Usual losses in the translation notwithstanding, Malcolm's particularly taken by the bit at the bottom about "the same friendly mood for service and hostility".

HER birthday falls on All Saints Day, which may not entirely be coincidental. From all our labours resting, we lunched at the Stables bar at the Hallgarth Hotel, in Coatham Mundeville, and as a prelude listened to a lengthy litany of what was unavailable.

"Typical Monday," said the waitress. Back home in Shildon on a typical Monday we'd have a bit of fry up, a sixpenny pie from Edgar Robinson's and some home made rice pudding and that simple washing day lunch was ambrosia compared to the Stables.

Equine comparisons may be inserted to taste. "Hot favourite" wouldn't be among them.

Though a banner outside advertised the "United Tastes of America", the menu was predominantly Chinese. Several tables in the bar remaining uncleared, even of fag ends, we ate in the conservatory.

The duck pate came with toast so tired it's a wonder it got out of bed and would have been better had it stopped there. The bit of salad was woeful, the sort of thing you find in a long forgotten sandwich at the bottom of the outings bag.

A vegetable samosa starter was perhaps the pick of a sorry bunch, only the misplaced apostrophe - samosa's! - causing offence.

Then there was the Shanghai sizzler, a mixed meat dish tasting of nothing more greatly than the pan from which, long sacrificed to the god fire, it had reluctantly been scraped.

Boiled rice, more salad, more seasonally affected disorder.

The birthday girl had goujons of plaice, not bad as these things go, with chips so utterly devoid of life and spirit that they might have been exhumed for the purpose.

Coatham Mundeville's a couple of miles north of Darlington, near the A1 and thus mercifully convenient for a quick escape down the motorway. An unhappy birthday, for all that, nothing to venerate at all.

THE Wensleydale Brewery, described as "very wonderful" in the North West Yorkshire CAMRA newsletter Daily Ale, is on the move. Begun by Richard Thompson and Peter Fairhall out the back of the Foresters Arms in Carlton-in-Coverdale - that's outstandingly good, an' all - the burgeoning brewery is to expand into former farm buildings at Len Scott's in Bellerby, down dale. The pub will be let out as a tenancy - but with a brewery tie, of course.

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what comes out of a wardrobe at 100mph.

Stirling Moth, of course.