HERE'S a fascinating fact. There's only one pub in England called the Hack and Spade. It's near Richmond, in the hamlet of Whashton, as off the beaten track as it is possible to be.

With no passing trade, reputation is all and in recent years that reputation has been, well let's be a kind, somewhat variable.

Placed on the map as an excellent food pub by Gill and Adrian Barratt, now of the incomparable Overton House Café, Reeth, it fell on harder times in recent times as the last owners tried to turn it into a drinking pub.

We've not met the folk who tried to do this but, frankly, it was a mad idea. Nobody makes money these days out of selling beer in country pubs, and certainly not in isolated spots like Whashton. Not suprisingly, their tenure was short.

So now the Hack and Spade has new owners, Jane and Andy Ratcliffe, who have set about re-establishing the hostelry's reputation as a pub providing great food.

They've started by putting back much of the look and feel of the old Hack and Spade, including many of the features such as the settle seating taken out by the past owners. It now looks a treat. The simple cream colour scheme works well with the stone floor, tongue-and-groove woodwork and massive stone fireplace. The ambience is authentically rustic without being twee.

Food is prepared by Jane Ratcliffe, who picked up her skills, in the main, in other people's kitchens, including the Shoulder of Mutton at nearby Kirby Hill and with Jeremy Jagger and Joanna Millar when they were at the Hack and Spade.

The menu is refreshingly straightforward.

On the Saturday night we called there were five starters (£4- 6) and seven main courses (£10.95-18.95) and everything is cooked or prepared to order.

Sylvia kicked off with very good, well-seasoned, tomato and basil soup (£4). Hot without being scaldingly so, it came with a warm roll and butter.

My North Uist peat-smoked salmon (£6) was superb, helped greatly by not being served chilled, the tangy sweetness of the cure generating fond memories of sea lochs, hills and whisky stills. Truly a taste of Scotland. it was accompanied by a small, well-dressed, mixed salad.

The slow-cooked Moroccan spiced lamb (£12.95) had Sylvia scurrying for the cookery books when she got home to see if she could replicate it. Tender-sweet and spicy pieces of lamb were bathed in a colourful sauce which included black olives and chick peas. It might not have conjured images of the kasbah in some North African city (mainly because Sylvia's never been to a kasbah - in North Africa or anywhere else) but it was exotic and at the same time comfortingly more-ish.

My chicken breast stuffed with spinach and ricotta and wrapped in Parma ham (£12.95) was a plump, flavour-packed little parcel. It might have been more moist at the two extremities if the filling had been more evenly spaced but really that is carping about a culinary technicality.

Vegetables (broccoli, carrots and new potatoes) were plainly but perfectly cooked.

Sylvia abstained from dessert but I couldn't resist a creamy peach Eton Mess (£4.50). A little more meringue might have improved it further but that again sounds like carping. Overall, it was a excellent meal, notable for its simplicity, low cost (£40) and the care with which it was prepared.

Service was charmingly informal but efficient, led by Andy, who spends most his working week as a pilot flying those mysterious small blue military jets out of Durham Tees Valley Airport.

He was going to tell me exactly what they did but added, smilingly, that he would have to kill me if he did, so it seemed best to leave it at that. Given that he had only just got back from a top-secret assignment in Reykjavik (that bit clearly wasn't secret), and was assisted by just one waiter, he was very calm and friendly as the pub filled up.

A small but committed team, they seem capable of restoring the Hack and Spade's culinary reputation.