I DON’T want to write bad reviews; honest, I don’t. I’d much rather come away from a top-notch restaurant or quirky cafe with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

Sadly, I fear my overriding memory of Langley Park’s Number 4 cafe will be how little was left on the menu.

I had to change my main course three times before the embarrassed staff could oblige; and even the dessert was a second preference.

The dishes themselves were of a reasonable quality, of which more later. But impressions count as much as anything and I felt let down, frustrated and hassled. It takes me long enough to choose once, without having to choose again, and again, and again.

My first choice, a hot roast beef sandwich, was off – no beef left. My second, the lasagne, had all gone too.

Third time lucky: the BBQ pulled pork sandwich was do-able; but even then the waitress had to come to our table a few minutes later to say there were no more baguettes and offer ciabatta instead.

It’s not as though we were arriving at the end of the day: we sat down shortly before 1pm on a Saturday lunchtime.

Sarah could only raise her eyebrows; knowing full well the annoyance building within me.

Adding to that was the seemingly disorganised state of the place. I spotted four or five staff in a cafe with half a dozen tables, but still I stood at the till unattended while trying to place an order, was finally served by staff who were often unaware whether a particular dish was still available, what it contained or how much it cost and, on departure, not afforded so much as a “thank you”, let alone “have a nice day”.

Langley Park is not a metropolis. One would have thought such a village cafe would be glad of any trade and keen to make regular customers.

Having said that, the takeaway counter at the entrance was popular, the reason I had to keep re-ordering was because many of the dishes had sold out and there were always two or three of the “dine in” tables occupied during our visit, so perhaps they know what they’re doing.

Number 4 opened a year gone September, the brainchild of Tracey Russell, described as the creative force, and Claire Ballentine, the business head.

Housed in the Old Co-Op Buildings, its decor has a warm charm: the walls lined with quirky ornaments and old home truths sure to make one smile. Through the takeaway and dining area is a gift shop with more of the same. My wife was permitted to browse; on agreement she left her purse with me.

The menu features paninis, hot and cold sandwiches, jacket potatoes, some hot meals and sharing platters.

My pork ciabatta came with a side salad and coleslaw, to which I added a bowl of chips for an extra £2, and it was very enjoyable – the rectangular bread stuffed full with a hearty serving of meat and plenty of cheese; with just the right amount of BBQ sauce.

The chips, served in a metal basket as seems to be fashionable, were a little soggy and disappointing, however.

Sarah had much more joy with her ordering: obtaining her first choice of quiche (£5.25), although the waitress had to check first whether there was any left and second what variety it was.

The answer: cheese, tomato and onion; and although Sarah initially thought it a little small, she was, in the event, wholly satisfied.

For dessert, I fancied the chocolate and caramel sundae, but was again told – somewhat unceremoniously – that it was no longer available.

Its substitute, the raspberry sundae (£3.50), was enjoyable, however. I particularly enjoyed discovering chunks of shortbread submerged in the thick, gooey vanilla ice cream.

There were several tray bake desserts on show at the counter and Sarah’s head was turned, as was mine, by the bulging coffee and walnut cake (£2.95 per slice). A lesson, though: do not allow your eyes to rule your stomach; it was crumbly and too dry, certainly for my taste.

On the plus side, there was a children’s corner, baby changing facilities and the staff were very welcoming to our ten-month-old.

Perhaps we hit on a bad day, or even just a bad time, and on another occasion we might have a lovely experience. But, sadly, I don’t think we’ll be rushing back to find out.


Old Co-op buildings, Langley Park, Durham

Tel: 0191-373-1404;

Web: traceyrussell.co.uk

Open: Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm; Saturday, 9am to 4pm

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