MUCHO gusto can be translated from Spanish to English in two ways, a quick internet search suggests ‘Very nice to meet you’ or, more literally, ‘I like much’.

Whichever rendering you prefer, both are true of the new tapas restaurant my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting one Friday night recently.

Landlord and chef James Wolsey, who spent his childhood in Spain, and wife, Kristine, have turned the cosy, homely dining room at The Lambton Hounds in Pity Me into a Mediterranean magnificence worthy of the streets of Barcelona, Madrid or old town Malaga.

The food is quite wonderful and very reasonably priced, the surroundings fresh and vibrant and the service friendly and welcoming.

To be plain: I strongly recommend you make Mucho Gusto your next dining destination.

The menu includes selections of cold tapas (£1.95 to £3.95, or £7.95 for a sharing platter) and hot tapas (£1.95 to £5.95), plus there are regularly changing specials on the chalkboard.

The Wolseys say they specialise in “authentic rice dishes” – arroces (£9.95 to £12.95 per person), paella (£8.95 to £11.95 per person) and the Valencian noodle-based fideua (£9.95 to £12.95 per person).

As these dishes are cooked to order, they must be reserved in advance for a minimum of six people.

The house’s largest paella pan can serve up to 20 adults, so it’s worth considering for upcoming occasions and celebrations – as long as you read the menu online and call ahead.

As we were just Sarah and I, we stuck to the tapas.

But not, however, before ordering something to take us away to a warm Spanish summer evening – for Sarah, a glass of red wine; for myself, it had to be sangria (£4.50 for a ½ litre jug, £8.95 for a litre).

As the icy fruit and red wine slipped down, I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply and slowly and was magicked in an instant to some far-flung beach bar, the warm Mediterranean gently lapping at the white sand; palm trees swaying in a gentle, warm breeze up from the Sahara.

The soundtrack added expertly to the Andalucian atmosphere; Enrique Iglesias et al singing their Spanish love songs as we dined.

Ah yes, to the food.

To begin, Sarah and I shared some pan con aioli (£1.95) (crusty bread served with homemade garlic sauce) and aceitunas de manzanilla (£1.95)(marinated green olives).

On the advice of our waitress, we chose six hot tapas to share – and the number was about right for two diners.

The menu ambitiously describes the albondigas con salsa de tomate y Jerez (£3.95) (pork meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce), as “the best meatballs ever!”

Well, I cannot disagree. Wonderfully light, almost fluffy; a far cry from the grease balls that have for too long given the dish a bad name.

A superb contrast to this was provided by the chorizo frito con vino tinto (£3.50) (chorizo sausage fried with onions and red wine), which were earthy and dark – the intense flavours conjuring up images of brooding Spanish bars; hanging ham slowly smoking moodily above.

From the specials menu, we picked out manchego cheese fritters (£3.50); and our feast was completed by croquetas de jamon y pollo (£3.95) (croquettes made with chicken and Serrano ham), patatas bravas (£3.50) (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce), and champinones al ajillo (£2.95) (mushrooms sautéed in garlic with a splash of sherry). All of these were excellent.

The more ambitious might try squid or prawns; the more hungry could land the 8oz rump steak; the vegetarian is catered for with lentils and chickpeas.

After a lengthy respite to digest both the food and the events of a busy week, our thoughts inevitably turned to the dessert menu.

Sarah enjoyed greatly her tiramisu (£3.95) and it was nothing short of a revelation to me. Not usually a fan of coffee sponge, Mucho Gusto's won me over completely. The best tiramisu I have ever tasted.

For myself, I opted for the natillas caseras (£2.50), a traditional Spanish dessert of chilled set custard flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla with a biscuit centre.

It was superb – just the light and creamy climax to the meal I was looking for.

With our total bill sneaking under £50, Mucho Gusto is not only a high quality destination, but an affordable one too.

The last time I had visited The Lambton Hounds, some years previously, I had got the wrong destination for a friend’s leaving party – we were looking for The Lambton Arms, in Chester-le-Street.

This time, make no mistake, we’ll be back again soon.

Mucho Gusto? I like – very, very much.

Mucho Gusto Tapas Restaurant

The Lambton Hounds Inn

62 Front Street, Pity Me, Durham, DH1 5DE


Open Tuesday to Saturday, 6.30pm to 9pm

Ratings (Out of 10): Food quality 9 Surroundings 7 Service 8 Value 9