NON-football fans may be forgiven for thinking football club grub is eating a dodgy pie and greasy chips on a tip-up seat amid a bunch of screaming blokes.

And it is true this used to be the case.

But the average football fan now wants something a bit more upmarket, something with a touch of class.

Red Cafe, at Manchester United's ever-expanding stadium, is proof of this with an offering that puts it in the premier league of football food.

The "cafe" - which is actually closer to a restaurant - is located on the third floor of United's impressive three-tier North Stand and is reached via a series of escalators or via one of two lifts.

Opposite the cafe are the steps to the upper tiers of the stadium and it is hard to resist popping up to see if there is a way in the 55,500 all-seater ground.

But, unfortunately, the shutters are locked on non-match days so we were left, instead, to look at the menu outside the "cool-1990s" style cafe entrance - and it gave us a firm indication of the prices we were expected to pay.

Nevertheless we ventured inside to a plethora of Manchester United memorabilia from pictures of the club's footballers, a set of pendants in a glass cabinet, a few football shirts and many televisions playing some of United's most memorable matches.

We were quickly and politely shown to our table in the spacious eating area, close by to the bar, and handed a menu.

Again, one of the first things to catch our eyes were the prices - "£6.95 for a normal beefburger", exclaimed Phillipa - but this does appear to be the norm for restaurants of this type.

Fortunately there was so much choice. There were 12 starters to choose from, with a third of them suitable for vegetarians.

I plumped for the Potato Skins filled with cheese at £3.95 while Phillipa asked for the soup of the day - fresh mushroom and white wine.

Both of the starters arrived together, the soup looking particularly impressive as it came with four bread rolls (and four little cartons of butter, too).

For £1.60 the soup looked like incredible value and together with the three potato skins, heavily filled with cheese with a bit of salad on the side of the plate for good measure, we began to look forward to the next course.

But by now the red, wooden seats were starting to get a little uncomfortable and the loud pop music banging over the speakers was getting a bit tiresome.

However, it did not take too long for the main courses to arrive, two bright coloured plates delivered by our friendly waitress who always appeared at the right moments and never interfered during the meal as is par for the course in many restaurants.

I had ordered the Cajun Chicken and the Red Cafe's spicy fries - which tasted, strangely, like doughnuts - costing £8.85.

Phillipa put away her initial burger bugbears and ordered the cheeseburger with its melted Montery Jack cheese in a sesame seed bun and the regular Red Cafe fries at £7.35.

The chicken, which was marinated in Cajun spices and charcoal grilled, was delicious with the spices at just the right level although the spicy chips were too much to handle towards the end - you can have too many spices.

The cheeseburger, if a little rare, was also deemed to be a tasty treat, the six ounces of freshly ground grilled beef was deemed to be better than a particular fast food restaurant's offerings.

As the highlights of yet another football match played on the big screen and on the overhead televisions, we decided on a sweet.

Unlike the other sections of the menu, the choice of sweets was so small I can list each of them here without boring you: deep south apple pie, banoffee cream pie, a hot pudding, carrot cake and a raspberry meringue torte, each at £2.95

I asked for the banoffee cream pie, keen to bring back memories of those university days spent in sweet bliss with a banana and toffee extravaganza.

So I was a little disappointed to see a distinct lack of any real bananas and what was more like toffee ice cream than the nice gooey mixture I was more used to.

It was still a great tasting way to end the meal although Phillipa's torte, a light meringue filled with fresh dairy cream and a very sweet selection of raspberries looked - and tasted - better.

But. all in all, it is difficult to fault Manchester United's foray into the restaurant business.

The bill, which came to £29.65, including £2 for two cokes, actually appeared reasonable for a hearty three course meal.

And families will surely find the prices for children, which are lowered on the majority of the dishes, an appetizing way to appease United-mad youngsters.

It was, to coin a phrase, man-u-nifique.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.