AS a veteran of more than a few Durham Miners’ Galas with Aycliffe and Brancepeth Brass Band, The County – Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County to use its Sunday name – holds many fond memories for me.

Marching over Elvet Bridge in the Saturday morning sunshine and lining up outside The County to serenade the dignitaries and VIPs up on the first-floor balcony, often with a rousing rendition of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind or The Miners’ Hymn, Gresford.

But I’m afraid my main feeling having dined there for the first time recently was regret.

Not at the quality of the food on offer, which was excellent; nor the surroundings, which were elegant and relaxing; nor the service, which was friendly and informative; but the overall theme of the place – the motivation; the raison d’etre, if you’ll indulge me.

‘What kind of place is it to eat?’ you might ask. Well, nice – very nice. But beyond that, confused.

There are two dining options within the venue – Bar 1815, the hotel bar; and No 59 Old Elvet, the restaurant.

But the website does little to explain this, the person I spoke to on the phone while booking our table only baffled me further and even having visited I’m not entirely sure how the set-up works.

There was talk as we dined of the restaurant being refurbished. It doesn’t need it – the decor is smart, chic and luxurious, creating a soothing, relaxed atmosphere which was most enjoyable.

What is needed is clarity.

On being shown to our table, we were offered the Chop Shop Menu – the menu of 59 Old Elvet. I presume the title is a reference to the fact almost all main courses are based on a core meat, but it rather made me think of dodgy backstreet garages where two bangers are nailed together to make a new cushdy motor, Del Boy-style.

Certainly, it does nothing to add to the idea of an upmarket, fine food restaurant suggested by the 59 Old Elvet name, nor the aforementioned decor.

Main course prices range from about £15 to about £25 for a steak, with starters available for between £8 and £10.50.

However, few, if any, took our fancy and as during my previous telephone conversation I had been promised the International Tapas menu, usually associated with Bar 1815, would be available whether we sat in the bar or restaurant, I asked for this too.

Sadly, the confusion only continued. The menu has three sections – 5, 10 and 20. We eventually established that on 5, all dishes are £5 each; 10 means you can choose any two from 5 with a selection of breads for £10; and on 20 all dishes are £20 each.

My wife and I agreed to share a 10 to start and each choose a 20 for our main course.

But when Sarah ordered the Spicy Quesadilla, picadillo, sour cream and guacamole, the waiter kindly informed us the dish would serve three or even four people and revealed a half-size portion was available.

Why make a dish that serves three or maybe four people? Fine if you want a sharing menu and make that clear, but the Tapas card included no such detail.

Well then, are all 20 section options to share?, I asked.

No, came the reply. Without having ordered all six I cannot be sure (such was the confusion), but my impression was some are and others aren’t.

My paella (which carried no supporting information pointing to its contents), for example, came on a wooden fish-shaped slate served in two metal bowls, either of which would have been sufficient enough for all but the most ravenous of diners.

It pains me to write all this, because our dishes – every one of them – were excellent.

The starters – potato tortilla, manchego cheese and picadillo and spicy meatballs with tomato, basil, garlic and onion – were delicious.

My advice to anyone visiting would be to select three or, at a stretch, four options from the 5 menu which, with the breads, would amply satisfy a party of two.

The paella was wonderfully flavoursome – transporting me for a short while to much sunnier shores than a wet and cold February Friday in North East England.

And Sarah’s quesadilla, of which I was granted a mouthful, was nicely spicy without being overly so.

The No 59 Old Elvet wine list is extensive, if expensive, with a mid-range bottle of red setting you back nearly £40.

Bar 1815 offers a range of signature drinks including a Copa del Rey cocktail and 1815, an Indian Pale Ale produced exclusively for the venue by the fast-growing Coxhoe microbrewery Sonnet 43.

For dessert, both Sarah and I turned back to the Chop Shop Menu.

My wife greatly enjoyed her profiteroles – an option she often turns to when we’re out, as the chocolate-covered pastry balls are not a favourite of mine; and, looking for something light, I chose the lemon tart, which fit my requirements perfectly.

Overall, we enjoyed our first trip to The County greatly; but left feeling it could be so much more than it is – a point perhaps reflected in the fact that by 9pm the night before Valentine’s Day we were the only party there. Could do better, was the conclusion from which I, regretfully, was unable to escape.

Durham Marriott Hotel Royal County, Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3JN 0191-386-6821

No 59 Old Elvet: open for breakfast daily and dinner on Friday and Saturday evening; Bar 1815: open for lunch and dinner daily

Ratings (out of 10): Food quality 8, Surroundings 8, Service 7, Value 7