The Judges Lodgings, in York, may look splendid, but the food fails to live up to expectations.

CITY of Vikings and of vennels, of spectres and of street wise cyclists, York is wiping its chin after a ten-day food and drink festival ended on Sunday.

"Paradise for anyone who enjoys eating out," said the brochure, and in truth, it all looked pretty appetising.

There were pub crawls and gourmet dinners, Sophie Grigson and Brian Turner, sushi, sausages and our old friends, Ladies in Pigs.

Dozens of events included an invitation to eat as many pork pies as possible and, perhaps with a slightly higher social cach, a port wine tasting at Bishopthorpe Palace.

Dr David Hope had made his excuses and left, but they gave him a 1995 bottle anyway - the year he became York's Archbishop.

Any port and all that, we had a drink - white port and tonic - with Paulo Russell-Pinto, the Port Wine Institute's ambassador to western Europe, the following evening.

Portugal produces around ten million cases a year, about a tenth of which is drunk in the UK. It's a difficult market, he conceded, an image of age and infirmity, of gout and about and of just desserts.

"Port is also a wonderful aperitif," said Paulo. "It is a most remarkable drink."

Rain at the end of August has bucked up the harvest no end. "The grapes were becoming stressed," said Paulo - though aren't we all, of course.

Word coming down from the hillsides promised a vintage year. Grape expectations, anyway.

WE worked in York many years ago, lived in a city centre bachelor pad with Petergate Fisheries on one side, the Londesborough Arms on the other and, around the corner in Goodramgate, a Chinese restaurant called Stanley's run by an Oriental gentleman who'd flown with Bomber Command and whose accent had crashed near Cleckheaton.

The daily round included Assizes, Quarter Sessions and, on the night of November 15, 1969, an old man's murder which became the last in Britain in which a provincial police force called in the Yard. Between them, they cracked it.

The fish shop remains, the pub's a posh frock place, the restaurant appears to be the earthly headquarters of Professor Mohammed, world renowned eastern mystic. Justice is now seen to be done at the Crown Court.

Once precisely what the name suggests, the Judges Lodgings in Lendal is now a hotel and restaurant, whilst their lordships probably have loyalty cards at Holiday Inn, or somewhere.

In the early 1970s, the Lodgings was also the venue for a formidable Friday afternoon three card brag school which, while educative, offered little to shout about otherwise.

Of all the Food Festival formulations, we gambled on returning for dinner and were disappointed. Grade I listed, Judges Lodgings doesn't live up to its building.

Reached via more ups and downs than the Grand Old Duke, the "brasserie" is perfectly OK in a middle-of-the-range, boarding house sort of a way, the food acceptable but never exciting, the staff friendly but oft at sea.

What happened to style, elegance, individuality and flair? The judges would be lodging objections.

The menu occasionally breaks into French - "pate du chef", for heaven's sake - and, more preposterously, into English. "Depending on the moods of the oceans, we present to you..."

That's the seafood melody, prawns and stuff.

We had seafood pancake and chicken roulade with particularly good saute potatoes, The Boss melon with fruits of the forest and grilled halibut with garlic, the whole lot around £25 and thus entirely reasonable.

Unfortunately, the pint of Theakston's Old Peculier was as sour as a wrongful conviction and the replacement John Smith's Smooth...with what might a pint of Smooth be charged?

Enough of the suspended sentences. Judicial review, about six and a half out of ten.

TRESPASSES forgiven, valour applauded, the Grand in Bishop Auckland holds its "Saints and Sinners" beer festival this weekend, starting on Thursday evening.

The good guys are blessed with ales like Prince Bishop (Big Lamp), Parson's Pledge (Derwent), Matins (Abbeydale) and Archbishop Lee's from the North Yorkshire Brewery, near Guisborough

Not so hellish, either, the other sort include Devil's Water and Devil's Elbow from the Hexhamshire Brewery in the Tyne Valley and Black Mass, a fiendishly strong 6.6abv from Abbeydale.

The pub's on the way into Bishop Auckland from South Church, approaching the new Safeway supermarket. Owner Simon Gillespie, a dedicated real ale man, deserves hugely to be supported.

THURSDAY also marks the North-East launch of CAMRA's 2004 Good Beer Guide, at the incomparable Victoria in Durham City. A toast to that next week.

Cleveland's CAMRA branch, meanwhile, has named the Dolphin in Robin Hood's Bay its pub of the season for the summer.

Darlington CAMRA's beer festival in the Arts Centre seemed much quieter than usual last Friday lunchtime, perhaps partly due to the pig headed policy of closing at 3pm.

The ales were good, though - real pleasures like Cowboy's Delight, Serious Supper and Nailmaker Mild - whilst someone also pushed this way a flier for one of the Arts Centre's forthcoming attractions.

Puppetry of the Penis, sub-titled "The ancient Australian art of genital origami", ends its British tour in Darlington on October 31 and November 1.

Pull the other one? Rather have a pint of real ale.

THE second last time we were in the congenial company of the Mayor of Darlington was helping judge the town's curry chef competition, won by the New Bengal. The last, word on the street, was playing Scrabble with him last Tuesday at the town hall.

The New Bengal is around the corner in Victoria Road, a road that's a tote of takeaways. Pictures of the judges, and the joyous winner, hang behind the counter.

The menu seems remarkably inexpensive, mostly around £4, time after ordering to watch Manchester United score twice against Panathinaikos - which wasn't very long at all - or to peruse the magazines.

There was Tandoori ("The hottest magazine in the UK"), Khana ("For everything hot in the UK") and Spice Business, no less strongly seasoned. They should not be confused with anything similarly sub-titled in the sex shop, two doors along.

We ordered Malaysian lamb (£4) with mushroom pilau from a long and wide ranging list. Clearly, it's nothing like the quality cooked up for a competition but made for a pleasant supper. Best judge for yourselves.

ALREADY a multiple award winner, the Clowbeck guest house near Croft-on-Tees picked up another last week - the inaugural Yorkshire Tourist Board accolade for "local food and drink in tourism". David Armstrong, co-owner with his wife, is delighted. "There was some really tremendous competition. You can never win too many awards." Clowbeck is open only to residents and their guests.

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what's yellow and goes slam-slam-slam-slam.

A four door banana, of course.

Published: 23/09/2003