I’M telling you, I’m getting a bit bored with this gig now.

Sixteen years of trailing about the 2,000 square miles of Echo-land to bring you intelligence of what’s what in pubs, restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars is beginning to wear a bit thin.

I mean, how many average prawn cocktails, steak pie and chips and sticky bleeding toffee pudding does a man have to eat?

Now when I say average I don’t mean bad. Perfectly acceptable in fact. That’s the problem. So many places can turn out fairly decent fare these days. My quest is to find something that really excites these somewhat jaded taste buds - something novel, something really fresh, something to write about.

Pulling together 800 words on a meal which perfectly edible but for most part utterly unremarkable is too much like hard work really.

Occasionally, I come across a gem and the words flow like water – but that doesn’t happen very often.

Back in the beginning you could rely on stumbling across somewhere really terrible on a reasonably regular basis. Fully justified 800-word condemnation would flow easily.

But it’s been a long time since we had the misfortune (or luck, depending on your point of view) to experience a place so rank that it sits up and begs to be slated.

Now the Chequers at Dalton-on-Tees just off the Darlington-Northallerton road may consider itself very unlucky that we crossed its threshold recently in a state of some desperation.

A new-ish place in Darlington town centre had turned out to be nothing more than yet another drinking den with an over-priced cocktail list that was longer than its limited choice of tapas. Turning tail with a deadline pressing, we headed south seeking an alternative which hadn’t been reviewed of late. And that was the Chequers. We had fond memories of it when Barry Dowson was in charge many years ago.

We bowled in through the front door to the central bar, drinking area to the left, eating to the right, and asked for a table. We hadn’t booked, of course, so beggars couldn’t be choosers.

We are escorted through the right-hand and half-full eating area to a rear, slightly separate, dining space. If the front of the Chequers can be described as being on the dark side and cosy, this ill-thought-out space was positively Stygian in its gloominess. The view of the car park was great.

The absence of flowers on the tables when those in the bar sported carnations didn’t do much for Sylvia’s spirits and neither did the patina on the tables and stone floor – a sort of tackiness you find in places where thousands of meals principally made up of fried grub have been served. It’s perfectly clean; it just doesn’t feel like it.

The food was seriously underwhelming.

Sylvia kicked off with some salmon and prawn parcels (£6.25) served with some mixed salad and a lemon and chive mayonnaise. The mayo was great, the smoked salmon so-so but the prawns were condemned as watery and utterly devoid of any flavour.

My chicken and chorizo terrine (£5.95), served with ciabatta, salad garnish and our old bete noire – the individually and wastefully-wrapped slablet of butter - was a good idea poorly executed. So dry, it just crumbled on the fork and the quite spicy tomato garnish couldn’t hide that.

Mains courses didn’t improve matters.

Sylvia’s gammon steak (£10.25) was served with two fried eggs, garden peas and suspiciously dark-looking (fat passed its best?) chips. She had declined the battered pineapple ring which would normally have come as well.

The steak was acceptably tender but cooked in the same fat as the eggs which were burnt black on the bottom. A greasy spoon on the old A1 came to mind. The garden peas weren’t cooked enough.

My homemade fishcakes (£10.25) were lacking in fish (not sure what was in them, to be brutally frank), moisture, seasoning, but heavy on the potato and the bread-crumbed coating. Deep frying didn’t help.

The chips and the garden peas were as unappealing as Sylvia’s.

There was some coleslaw and the spicy tomato chutney made a reappearance.

We barely ate a third of what was put in front of us.

Anxious to make a quick getaway, we didn’t trouble the dessert menu and went to pay at the bar.

The first attempt to generate a bill produced one without the starters included. Tempting as it was to just pay and make a sharp exit, we pointed out the omissions. The second bill, almost correct as it turned out, was £37.20. Later I realised they had also undercharged us by 30p for one of the starters. Were the staff - youthful and willing, but little more than that - subliminally trying to tell us something?


The Chequers Inn, The Green, Dalton on Tees, Darlington DL2 2NT

Tel: 01325-721213

Web: None, facebook page not updated since February

Food serving times: not published

Half-a-dozen veggie options

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 4, Service 5, Surroundings 6, Value 5