Looking for restaurants, hotels or places to stay in Lancashire? Want to know where to eat in Lancashire? Read our expert restaurant review of the Northcote hotel…
Northcote in a nutshell: Home to the world-famous gastronomic festival, Obsession, Lancashire’s classy Northcote is worth visiting year round for its inclusive, sophisticated and seasonal celebration of its surrounds.
Lisa Allen, who’ll be a familiar face for fans of Great British Menu and MasterChef: The Professionals, has been at Northcote since 2001. Starting as chef de partie, Lisa quickly worked her way up the ranks to be named executive chef, and took over the reins from top dog Nigel Haworth in 2017.
What’s the vibe?
Set on the edge of the Ribble Valley, the 19th-century former manor house has had a thoroughly modern makeover for its discerning, foodie guests. Plush fabrics – including a leopard-print armchair in the bar, no less – dramatically dark walls in the dining room and crisp white tablecloths provide the backdrop for dinner. Classic training exudes from the menus and is matched by old-school service.
What’s the food like?
In full view of the dining room there’s a comprehensive kitchen garden, as well as a small orchard, providing some 90 varieties of fruit and veg for the chefs to play with. Seasonal menus change every six to eight weeks, and there’s a choice between a four- and six-course tasting menu, and a plant-based counterpart. We opt for both.
The first to arrive, after some small but mighty canapés, are tartares – aged, hand-cut beef for the omnivore, and diced, roasted celeriac for the plant-based. Both are draped in a disc of more buttery celeriac and are served with a finger of toast, smoked marrowbone on one, smoked butter on the other. Same same but different. We like.
Next a round of heritage potatoes arrives, to mimic the scallop on the opposite side of table. While the potato’s chowder is lifted with lemon and chervil, the soft, golden-crusted scallop comes with an intense clam chowder with bacon. It’s hard to beat, as is the bright, white Cottanera, from Etna, that it’s served with.
The plates continue apace, with some interesting drink pairings – a surprise Dry Sack amontillado sherry to match the nutty sweetness of jerusalem artichokes and wafers of earthy truffle – but it’s the main proper that wins it for us. Red-leged partridge, a supreme served alongside a leg ‘bolognese’; and hen of the woods mushroom, on the plant-based menu, delicately battered and fried until crisp and gnarled on the outside, and juicy and meaty on the inside, with mushroom ‘bolognese’. Both are majestic, so satisfying in their savouriness. A deconstructed eccles cake – with muscat grapes, caramelised pastry and tea – draws a close to this ode to the north.
And the drinks?
Beware of the dangerously delicious wine list, that will easily get you merry should you opt for the tasting flight. Selected by Northcote’s highly decorated MD, Craig Bancroft MI (who has also been at the hotel since 1983), along with five sommeliers who work at the hotel, every glass works as hard as the food.
How about the rooms?
There are 26 rooms across the main house and slightly quieter Garden Lodge, which comes with its own pantry kitchen, boot and drying rooms, which are welcome after a long hike up nearby Pendle Hill. Each are individually decorated, often with bold splashes of colour and obligatory sink-into baths.
And what about breakfast?
White-clothed table service continues through to breakfast. You can choose from the likes of freshly blitzed smoothies and traditionally made organic oatmeal porridge with wildflower honey and hot, frothy milk, to a full English with all the usual suspects – sourced locally, cooked exceptionally – with homemade sourdough fried in bacon fat, and soft and spicy black pudding. Not to be ignored though, is a surprise contender – Mrs Kirkham’s melting lancashire cheese soufflé, soft and wobbly, full of flavour, and cut through with sharp and sweet grilled local tomatoes.
olive tip: If you’re as big a food geek as us, ask for a tour around the impressive kitchen – it’s one of the biggest we’ve ever seen, and run with military precision by the super-cool Lisa. (The cookery school is actually set within the kitchen, too – so perfect for chef watching, if you’ve time for a class.) And be sure to leave room for the cheeseboard – a sterling collection, served just ripe and at the perfect, oozing temperature, by the jolly staff.
Northcote, Northcote Road, Lango, Blackburn BB6 8BE
Words by Laura Rowe