When a restaurant is as remote as Holystone, you really want it to be something special – to make the journey worthwhile.
The new venue is relatively local to the likes of Thropton or Rothbury but a fair old trek from Alnwick or the coast.
But, living in one of the most rural spots in the country, if there’s one thing we’re used to, it’s distance. And you don’t mind making the effort if you know you’re guaranteed a good meal at the other end.
Holystone Lodge is cradled in the idyllic Coquet Valley, which I know from experience looks spectacular but on a dark, mid-winter’s night, a good imagination was useful.
Inside the main restaurant, a lot of work had been done to create a warm, cosy environment in a room that was cavernous, high-ceilinged and uncharacteristically minimalist for such a grand building. A bright bar, serving Guinness, John Smith’s bitter and Foster’s lager on tap, looked well stocked, complementing a deep, varied wine list.
I envied those who were staying there for the weekend. The rooms are as stunning as the surroundings, if the images on their website are anything to go by.
It doesn’t usually take me long to decide whether a restaurant is up to scratch. Here it took less time than usual, as we studied the menu and specials board and received two glasses with ice and lemon and a carafe of spring water – such attention to detail was as refreshing as the water.
The menu was vibrant, imaginative, heavily influenced by Mediterranean dishes and flavours and seemed to cater for all tastes.
Steaks (10oz rib-eye, £15; 10oz rump, £13.50; 8oz fillet steak, £17.50) rubbed culinary, not anatomical, shoulders with lamb cutlets (trio of, in a red onion, red currant, thyme gravy and served with creamed, mashed potatoes, £13.50), duck breast (in plum ginger and Shiraz sauce, served with caramelised red onion, pak choi, stir-fry vegetables and potato straws, £13.50) and baked supreme of salmon (in herb and lime crust served in a cream shrimp sauce and Lyonnaise potatoes, £13.50).
Vegetarians, in particular, will have a field day – four main-course options plus a dish-of-the-day on the specials board.
There was such a wealth and range of dishes that we both had a difficult job choosing. In the end, we both went for vegetarian options for starters – I had the roasted field mushrooms, with melted spinach topped with crumbled goat’s cheese, served with honey and sunflower bread (£5.75). It was accompanied by a fresh, crunchy salad of peppers (red and yellow), red onion, lettuce and tomatoes with a super dressing.
If I’d left then, I wouldn’t have been disappointed – I’d had a splendidly tasty starter, a fusion of some of my favourite flavours – mushrooms, spinach and cheese.
My wife felt the same – her carrot and coriander soup (£4) was sweet, creamy and extremely filling. Her bread was warm, fresh and delicious. If only the butter had not been in a plastic pat, it would have been perfect! Both starters were beautifully presented with an entertaining dusting of paprika.
The vegetarian theme, by chance, continued into Mrs L’s main course. She opted for homemade Mediterranean roasted vegetable lasagne served with garlic bread and salad garnish (£9.50). Regular readers of this column will know that she has a penchant for lasagne and has become somewhat of an authority on the subject!
She tucked into it with gusto and such was the very generous portion that it kept her quiet for a good few minutes (no bad thing!). I sneaked a quick taster and we agreed it was up there with the best lasagnes around.
I plumped for one of the Aga slow-roasted meals – lamb kapama (tender lamb in mildly spiced, red wine, tomatoes and herb sauce with aromatic herb rice and lemon potatoes, £13.50). This, too, could have fed two people. The lamb couldn’t have been more tender and the sauce took me back to Mediterranean holidays of yore. The rice arrived in a separate bowl and the lemon potatoes in a tiny frying pan – a delightfully quaint arrangement yet a powerful meal.
We moved on to desserts, only in the interests of a complete review. My sticky toffee pudding was quite stodgy but lightened by the ice-cream and sauce, while my wife’s Champagne sorbet did exactly what it said on the tin.
A SWEET WAY TO ROUND OFF A SPECIAL MEAL
The desserts emerging from the glass-fronted kitchen looked particularly tempting. They are all priced £4.95 and include duo of pecan pie and treacle tart, a taste of Greece (pistachio baklava), warm chocolate brownie, warm clementine and pistachio sponge cake, Eton mess, lemon, lime and stem ginger cheesecake and crème brûlée. It is also worth logging on to the restaurant’s website to see the lunchtime and Sunday lunch menus. Children have their own menu and can enjoy half-portions from the main menu.
For us, it had been worth making that long journey for a most pleasurable meal.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Black & white pudding £5.15
Scallops & prawn filo pastry nest £6.20
Craster kipper pate £5.75
Salmon gravalax £5.85
Greek salad (v) £5.20
Fresh white crab meat £5.95
10oz rib-eye steak £15
Trio of lamb cutlets £13.50
Slow roasted lamb shoulder £14
Beef in red wine £13.50
Moroccan chicken sizzler £12
Butterfly pan-fried chicken £12
Breast of Barbary duck £13.95
Pan-fried fillet of black bream £13.95
Monkfish and king prawn kebab £14.95
Grilled sea bass fillets £13.95
Scampi Athenian £14.95
Asparagus & roasted mushroom (v) £9.50
Vegetable moussaka (v) £9.95
Wild rice & spinach (v) £9.95
star ratings (out of 10)
Quality of food 9
Vegetarian choice 9
Value for money 8½
Local food 8
Children catered for 8
Access for disabled (ramp but slight lip on the door) 8
Toilet for disabled (one toilet for all) Yes
Overall rating 9
Verdict: First-class service, particularly fine food, well-presented and not breaking the bank given the quality. Also, a spectacular location. Highly recommended.
Contact: 01669 640140. Sample menus are on the website www.holystonelodge.co.uk.