OUCH! The trio of reviewers who contribute regularly to this page were taken to task in no uncertain terms in a recent Letter to the Editor.

According to a correspondent, we have collectively contributed to poor standards in the local pub and restaurant trade through our blithe acceptance of the middling and our unimaginative choice of dishes.

It’s a fair point well made.

But in our considered defence I would say this. All of us, when faced with choosing a place to review and then what to eat from the menu, are commonly challenged by a certain sameness.

Country pubs tend to offer a rather predictable range of steaks, pies, roasts, burgers, fish and chips, sea bass, and perhaps a curry.

In town we are swamped with identikit Italian joints and Indian restaurants where again the offer is depressingly similar.

We could, of course, seek out the limited number of fine dining establishments round here to review but there are problems with that. There aren’t that many and we know a good number of our readers tend not to patronise them on grounds of cost. And we also have to consider the disposition of the Chief Accountant at the D&S Times, who tends to get a bit green around the gills when we bang in an expenses claim topping, well, any more than a fiver.

So, dear correspondent we hope we have done a bit better this week with our choice of venue, a contemporary café in Helmsley, and what we chose to eat.

Mannion & Co has been established in the tourist honey-pot town’s Castlegate (handily opposite the entrance to the Castle and a stone’s throw from the market place) for five years. It’s an off-shoot of a successful Mannion & Co in York and replicates the bistro-café, deli cum bakery concept that’s worked in the city.

The man behind it is Andrew Burton, a chef who has been doing good things in kitchens around North Yorkshire, including the Black Swan in Helmsley and the famed Star at Harome, for a long time.

So if that sounds a bit "cheffy" fear not. You can pop into Mannion & Co for a coffee and scone or a full-blown meal and while everything is a cut above your average café, you will not feel intimidated by the service or the prices.

Mannion & Co in Castlegate, Helmsley

Mannion & Co in Castlegate, Helmsley

We arrived at lunchtime when the breakfast/brunch/lunch menu was offered plus a large number of blackboard specials. So, we could have had, for example, a full English, Parma ham Benedict, a cheese savoury sandwich or French onion soup. There are also sharing boards

In the interests of not choosing anything that might be thought of as too obvious, I opted for haggis with carrot and swede mash, buttered kale, a fried duck egg and HP (as in sauce) gravy (£14.95).

I can’t say I’m a haggis expert. Occasional exposure to this Scottish staple (actually I think calling it a staple is probably incorrect – does the average Scottish family eat a lot of haggis?) at Burns Night Suppers doesn’t qualify I reckon.

But I do know this dish worked really well for me. The slightly spicy haggis, the creamy, earthy swede mash, the richness of the duck egg, the glistening, fresh kale and the saucy sharpness of the gravy were just right for a wintry day.

Somehow I couldn’t persuade Sylvia to choose the pomodoro-glazed baby aubergines, confit shallot and basil polenta with pan-roasted oyster mushrooms and parmesan, parsley and caper gremolata (£14). She wanted the minute steak (£15.50). How dull, you and the D&S letter-writer might say.

Actually, it’s a very good test of the kitchen. A thin piece of beef flank is dead easy to screw-up by overcooking. A few seconds too long in the pan and it really does turn to shoe leather.

Mannion & Co in Castlegate, Helmsley

Mannion & Co in Castlegate, Helmsley

That certainly wasn’t the case in this instance. Sliced thinly and topped with a herby, slightly spicy Cafe de Paris butter, the steak had the charring necessary for great flavour but was still pink and perfectly tender inside.

The thin chips were good and Sylvia raved about the frissee salad – colourful and with a tangy dressing.

We needed nothing else on a bitterly cold but bright winter’s day when the sun picked out the honey-coloured stone buildings which can make Helmsley sometimes look like it’s been transplanted from the Cotswolds or somewhere even more exotic.

Apart, that is, from two Aperol Spritz cocktails (£8.50 a pop) – made with just the right proportion of Aperol, Prosecco and soda. For a blissful if fleeting (very fleeting really) moment it wasn’t the ruins of Helmsley castle we could see silhouetted by a crystal blue sky but the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore across Venice’s lagoon.

In case you think we were hallucinating we did just have one cocktail each and the bill was £47.45.

Service was jolly and caring – our waitress providing a top tip (a cold tea bag) for treating Sylvia’s extravagantly blood-shot eye was a nice touch but we could probably have done without the instant diagnosis of high blood pressure.

Mannion & Co Kitchen

5 Castlegate, Helmsley Y062 5AB

Tel: 01439 770044 Web: www.mannionandco.co.uk

Open: Thursday-Monday 10am-4pm (last food orders 3.30pm) Tuesday and Wednesday closed.

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