WHEN the aspect of a restaurant that most enthuses one is the quality of the pepper mill, what does that say for the overall eating experience?

Not a lot, I guess. But don't underestimate this reviewer's obsession with pepper and the appropriate dispenser. I love the stuff but it has got to be freshly milled.

So many restaurants economise with their condiments - typically settling for a pair of sub-IKEA glass salt and pepper pots which are usually gummed up and virtually useless.

Posher places have the waiter bring the mill to the table and grind it freshly for the diner. Sometimes it goes on the plate, most of the time it just sprays over the tablecloth and the diner's lap.

At Fellini's in Middlesbrough's Linthorpe Road, every table is, praise be, equipped with salt and pepper mills that firstly are full, secondly work, and thirdly are not whisked away at the first opportunity.

Wonderfully gratified by this, my wife and I looked through the Italian restaurant's lengthy standard menu which we found to be umm, very standard. There was an average selection of antipasti, pizzas, pastas and meat dishes. There were some specials on a board high above the dining area but this wasn't pointed to us by our waiter and we didn't spot it until after we had placed our order.

It transpired there are weekly pizza and pasta special dishes plus a fish specials board which changes daily.

There's nothing in itself wrong with a menu packed with classics, of course. We choose two of them for starters, Sylvia opting for Costolette alla Fiorentini, or baby ribs, (£4.95) and I went for Insalata Classico (also £4.95). The ribs were exactly what they said on the menu, nothing more and nothing less. They were coated in the traditional sticky-sweet barbecue sauce and there were plenty of them. The salad - mozzarella, tomato, red onion, olives (just two) with balsamic dressing - was OK too, especially when liberally dusted with pepper from that ever-handy mill.

The main courses were a mixed bag. My Pollo alla Champagne (£12.95) featured an excellent light sauce made from garlic, white wine, mushrooms, champagne and cream. Unfortunately it accompanied a piece of overcooked chicken which aficionados of Rotary luncheons and the like will be depressingly familiar with. This piece of rubber chicken would have bounced if dropped on to the restaurant's marble floor.

Sylvia's Agnello al Barolo (£14.95) was more successful. A tender piece of lamb fillet cooked in a red wine and mint sauce, it was full of flavour.

Both came with small bowls of chipped potatoes and a timbale of roasted vegetables.

The dessert menu was dominated by ice-cream so we skipped that in favour of some good strong coffee - a latte and a cappucino (£1.65).

The bill, which included a couple of drinks and mineral water came to a shade under £50. Considering portions were, with the notable exception of the miserly number of olives in the salad, more than ample, that represents reasonable value.

Service was efficient verging on the brusque but Fellini's is not a place designed for a leisurely eating experience. We got the impression that it works best with a high turnover of diners who don't necessarily want to dwell too long.

Its interior is contemporary if undistinguished in style with plenty of mirrors and marble.

Thankfully, all the hard materials somehow don't create the aural equivalent of a car-crash in Babel where you can't hear your dining partner speak for all the noise boucing off the refelctive surfaces (the otherwise entirely praiseworthy Pizza Express in Darlington, please note).

The food was certainly not poor, but unfortunately it wasn't that memorable either. Unless looking for quick bite after a shopping visit to Middlesbrough, I am not sure we would go out of way to call again.

Great pepper mill though.