There is a misconception that you have to venture to the big smoke to find a top-notch dining experience.
While London – or, perhaps more conveniently in our case, Newcastle – is a magnet for the crème de la crème of chefs, if you look hard enough, there are restaurants that cater for discerning diners looking for that extra slice of class.
The George Runciman Restaurant at Doxford Hall, Chathill, certainly slots comfortably into that category. It has just been awarded two AA rosettes in recoginition of its quality.
It is a magificent place to arrive at for dinner, even on a dark winter’s night.
And if the exterior is imposing, within the doors, it is exquisite. The dining room epitomises this – mahogany panelling, smooth mahogany pillars and stone fireplace, all newly installed and not as ornate as you’d expect. But the fancy ceiling roses and glorious chandeliers remind you of the opulence of another world.
Having been shown to our table right in front of a flickering fire, easy-listening music lifting the atmosphere, our first task was to negotiate the wine list – all 17 pages of it. We side-stepped the Dom Perignon 2003 vintage Champagne at a mere £160 a bottle and plumped instead for the more modest Australian red Pitch Fork Shiraz at £23 in the Rich and Concentrated section.
While the tasting notes – gently spiced with hints of vanilla and dark chocolate – aided our choice, it was important that the wine was served at the correct temperature.
The menu was carefully compiled but modest, just seven starters (two of them vegetarian) and seven main courses (one vegetarian) and included a generous selection of game.
Local sourcing is obviously important to the chef, with nearby suppliers listed.
Shortly after ordering our first two courses, we were delivered a delicate couple of slices of bread each, white and papikra and caraway seeds – extremely tasty.
Likewise an appetiser of carrot and caraway soup in a mini-teacup, which arrived a little later. It was an exquisite touch.
My wife went for slow-cooked belly pork, soft poached duck egg, seared crayfish and nantua sauce (£8.50). I had rabbit saddle, black pudding confit, leg ravioli, red wine and shallot reduction (£9.25). Both were absolute works of art – it seemed almost a criminal act breaking into such imaginative presentations.
My rabbit was tender and succulent, the ravioli a real surprise as it split open to reveal more shards of meat. The smear of red wine sauce lent a bitter-sweet tang to proceedings. Across the table, the combination of flavours was even more adventurous.
Who would have thought pork, shellfish and duck egg would blend together, but they did – splendidly – knitted by a circle of French crayfish sauce, which had a bit of a kick to it.
We knew we were in the middle of a special meal and Mrs L had decided to push the boat out with her main course.
She chose seared saddle of venison, curly kale, peppercorn sauce and slow-cooked haunch of venison (£28.00). It was melt-in-the-mouth fare, with flavours to die for.
My roast rack of Low Town Farm lamb, lamb belly, slow cooked shoulder and creamed leeks (£23.95) was equally good.
Neither came with vegetable and side dishes (£2.95 each) had to be ordered. We couldn’t decide between the smoked cheese and chive mash and the Carroll’s Heritage new potatoes, so we had both. They were quite substantial and, with hindsight, we should have had one potato dish alongside either French beans or buttered seasonal vegetables.
The dishes were both like samples of different ways of presenting the meat, each spectacular in its own right and cooked to perfection.
There were five dessert choices, or, to make life easier, a medley of them all (£16.50 to share). The tastings were squashed onto the plate, but even then, presented with such care and attention to detail. Only one word could describe them – scrumptious!
It had been a wonderful experience but one that came at a price – in our case, £125. It’s city-standard food at city prices, but as long as you know that in advance, you’ll be treated well and you’ll enjoy your evening.
Doxford Hall is definitely one for a special occasion.
A CHEAPER WAY TO SIT IN THE LAP OF LUXURY
Eating at Doxford Hall doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. You can do it cheaper than the à la carte evening meal. Lunch, for instance, offers the same level of quality at £25 per person for two courses or £30 for three courses. Starters include duck liver parfait, toasted brioche and prune chutney or hot smoked salmon and potato terrine, with wasabi mayonnaise. Main courses include pan-seared stone bass, pancetta, baby onions and red wine jus or roast rack of lamb, watercress salad and minted puy lentil jus. Desserts include salted caramel brulee with vanilla ice cream.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Pan-seared mackerel, buttermilk crumpet & horseradish cream £8.50
Blagdon Blue cheese, bavarois pear, apple & pine nut salad (v) £8.25
Roast partridge breast, ballotine of leg, pancetta & damson gel £21.95
Pan-seared fillet of Northumbrian beef,ox cheek & horseradish ‘casserole’, parmentier potatoes £28
Butternut squash & roast garlic gnocchi, buttered kale & blue cheese (v) £17.50
Roast fillet of monkfish, chorizo & roast butternut risotto, chorizo beignet £23
Pan-seared fillet of turbot, caper, puy lentil & mussel dressing, tempura fennel £23.50
Lemon & lime delice, lemon custard & candied lemons £8.50
Warm almond & pear tart, clotted cream ice cream & blackberry jam £8.75
Star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food 9
Vegetarian choice 7
Value for money 8
Local food 10
Children catered for 6
Toilet for disabled Yes
Access for disabled 8
Overall rating 9
Verdict: Exquisite, imaginative food, amazing presentation.
Contact: 01665 589700; www.doxfordhall.com