I’m deviating from my usual baking blog post this week to rave about Northcote, a hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant in one of the most beautiful parts of Lancashire. I whisked my boyfriend away to this lovely establishment earlier in the week as part of his 30th birthday celebrations for a seven-course meal and afternoon tea the next day (so there is some baking to discuss!), and we had such a great time that I want to tell you all about it and urge you to go!
Firstly, a little bit about Northcote itself: the hotel is fairly small, with 18 rooms, but it’s beautifully decorated and furnished, and boasts some amazing views of the surrounding Ribble Valley and Forest of Bowland. It has its own gardens in which a wide variety of produce is grown, and this focus on local ingredients is one that definitely comes through in the restaurant’s menus.
Northcote is run by Nigel Haworth, with head chef Lisa Allen in charge of creating the restaurant’s dishes. I first came across both of them while watching Great British Menu a few years ago, and was impressed by their cooking even then. A colleague of mine recommended Northcote to me a while ago when we were talking about gourmet breaks in general (read his review here), and I made the decision to go for it back in March.
Neither of us eat meat, so I booked us in for a vegetarian tasting break. I thought we may as well try as many different things as possible, as it’s unlikely we’ll get to eat at many Michelin-starred restaurants during our lifetimes! We were told to make sure we went down for dinner half an hour before our booking to enjoy some Louis Roederer champagne and canapés, as well as to browse the menu that was especially designed for us mushroom-hating vegetarians:
The menu looked absolutely perfect from the outset. My boyfriend opted for the wine package (where he had the recommended wine with each course), while I sensibly just had a glass of wine every other course to avoid not remembering a thing about this lovely meal the next day!
We were then taken into the dining room, where we were seated near the French windows offering spectacular views of the nearby hills. To our surprise, we were offered a ‘pre-starter’ that wasn’t on the menu – an eggshell filled with a creamy cow’s milk curd custard, which surrounded a ball of sorrel granita and was topped with a salt and pepper yolk. There was also a delicate cheese and rosemary breadstick to go with it. I now refer to this course as the poshest egg and soldiers EVER. It was absolutely delicious and I scraped my eggshell clean!
The first proper course was just as lovely. Neither of us are huge fans of blue cheese, but there was just the right amount in the sauce to add flavour but not overpower the artichokes. Similarly, my boyfriend doesn’t really like avocado, but he loved the second course. I was particularly intrigued by the samphire, having never had it before but seen it on countless episodes of Masterchef and Great British Menu. It was indeed delicious.
We were particularly looking forward to the third course, being huge fans of beetroot. It didn’t disappoint. The presentation was very summery and I really liked the horseradish with the beetroot.
The next course was pretty unique – I don’t think I’ve ever had anything remotely like it before. The ‘curry flavours’ were delivered in what I think was a yogurt-based coating on the wood-burnt onion, and were very delicate. I was quite excited about the next course, as I’ve never had gooseberries before. Their tartness went perfectly with the kiev and sorrel elements, and I’m happy to say I am now a firm gooseberry fan. I should say that this course was accidentally delivered to us with a mushroom sauce, but the staff were very efficient in quickly swapping it for what we were supposed to have, so we have no complaints on that front!
Then came what were my two favourite courses of the night. We were both in raptures over the heirloom tomatoes, which we agreed were the most tomato-y tomatoes we’ve ever had. I assume this is partly down to the tomato itself, but I think they were also cooked in such a way to deliver maximum flavour. Absolutely gorgeous!
I was, of course, especially looking forward to the dessert. I love strawberries and was expecting a lovely little pile of them with blobs of minted cream. To my delighted surprise, we got this instead:
The centrepiece was a sphere of milk chocolate filled with cream and an absolutely divine strawberry coulis. Around it was some milk chocolate soil and fresh strawberries on a bed of cream with fresh mint. I was most definitely in dessert heaven and could have eaten three more of this course! At this point, we retired to the bar for a post-meal whisky (my boyfriend) and an extremely alcoholic espresso martini (me).
I have to say that the sommelier for our meal, Adam, was absolutely brilliant in explaining the flavours for the wine chosen for each course, and how they complemented the food. Every wine was perfectly selected and we could definitely see how each one matched the food on our plates. I should also praise the waiting staff who explained the components of each dish so we could fully appreciate them. All in all the service was absolutely top notch.
We did come away pleasantly full and extremely happy with the meal. If you’re concerned that a tasting menu might leave you feeling hungry due to the small portions, I would say this is not a problem if you go to Northcote! I would imagine the meat-based menu to be even more satisfactory in this regard.
The next day, we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast in the restaurant (Lancashire cheese omelette) and then spent the day exploring the area. We attempted a country walk but got lost fairly quickly (this is normal for us), so we drove to Clitheroe instead. I’d never been before but I would go again – it’s a pretty market town with lots of independent shops and the ruins of the smallest Norman castle in England. We bought some cheese (Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and, rather intriguingly, Lancashire goats cheese) and then spent some time in a beer garden in Waddington before heading back to Northcote for afternoon tea on the terrace.
I’d like to think of myself as a bit of an afternoon tea connoisseur by now, so I was really looking forward to seeing what would be served up after the wonderful meal the previous night. We weren’t disappointed:
We had a nice selection of mostly vegetarian sandwiches (I tried a smoked salmon sandwich, which was lovely – and I don’t particularly like smoked salmon!) which we polished off pretty quickly, having not eaten since breakfast. We then moved on to the middle tier – a plain and fruit scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam, which is my favourite combination for a cream tea, so I was particularly pleased with that! The scones were lovely – nice and light and a great carrier for the rich cream and sweet jam.
Then it was on to the top tier – shortbread, lemon meringue tarts, mini Victoria sponges and Valrhona chocolate cakes. The shortbread was the lightest shortbread I’ve ever had, but no less delicious for it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The curd in the lemon tarts was absolutely delightful and the pastry perfectly baked.
I LOVED the Victoria sponges. I’m a firm believer in a Victoria sponge being the centrepiece of any afternoon tea, and the ones we had at Northcote were beautiful, with a light sponge dotted with fresh strawberries and a topping of freshly whipped cream and strawberry jam. We both finished with the chocolate cakes, which were topped with salted caramel hazelnuts. They were very chocolatey thanks to the choice of chocolate (read my thoughts on Valrhona cocoa here!) and were the perfect way to end our afternoon.
The tea that accompanied our feast was very nice as well – it’s always good to see large fragments of tea leaves in the pot instead of the fine ground stuff you usually get. We lingered on the terrace for a while to enjoy the sunshine and views before finally driving home.
All in all, our time at Northcote was a wonderful experience that we’ll never forget. We both agreed that the meal was the best we’ve ever had in a restaurant, with both the food and service coming together to create the perfect evening, while the afternoon was the cherry on the cake, so to speak! If you’re looking for ideas for a luxurious gourmet getaway in beautiful surroundings, I honestly can’t recommend Northcote enough. We will definitely go back.