Aromatic flavours, spicy kicks and dreamy combinations snatched from the East, all in a Western feudal setting.
The series of monthly fine-dining nights continued at Alnwick Castle’s Sanctuary Restaurant last week with an East Meets West taster menu.
Locally-sourced ingredients provided the link between the two cultures but the use of spices and cooking techniques would be key to a successful fusion.
The Sanctuary is a smart location. Walking through the impressive medieval courtyard in front of the Guest Hall, you are immediately transported back in time, despite the glass doors and panels dragging it into the 21st century.
We were led to our table up a flight of modern stairs and into a room that oozed history. A dark, wooden floor paved the way and Percy heraldic shields and banners adorned the walls.
The furniture was stunning – solid mahogany tables and chairs with white leather upholstery.
And the tables were beautifully set for evening, with a gold sash, maroon napkins folded into lilies, black, crossed chopsticks, floating candles, scattered rose petals and a carafe of water.
All set for an evening of eastern delight.
We chose a bottle of Chilean Merlot (El Picador, £16.95) from a small selection of wines – three reds, three whites and two rosés, the most expensive being £19.95 – while we perused the food options. It was very palatable and light enough to accompany any dish.
We had six courses to look forward to, with the first four offering a vegetarian option.
First up, a Japanese course. We both chose the fish sashimi as opposed to the vegetarian sushi, which would have been made with traditional vinegared rice. Sashimi is commonly thinly sliced raw fish, in this case, locally caught sea trout, with cucumber and ginger pickle, salmon roe and black sesame.
In common with all the dishes, it was artistically presented – it looked very appetising. Indeed, it was delicious, the subtle flavours all combining to set the scene neatly. The strongest tastes came from the sharp pickle and the rich, nutty sesame dipping oil.
They contrasted with the slivers of raw, fresh sea trout and the gentle burst of fishiness released after biting into the salmon eggs.
A noodle course came next and a taste of China – we both decided on the meat dish – sticky belly-pork, Shanghai noodles with spring onion and chilli.
It arrived in a deep bowl and more luke warm than piping hot. But again, each ingredient was distinct, with the succulent, slow-cooked pork belly melting in the mouth. For me, the chilli strips added a perfect kick.
The vegetarian option was Chinese mushroom and cabbage noodle broth.
On to the fish dish – curry-salted, seared scallops, apple and lime relish and black pudding bhaji for both of us.
Scallops are one of my favourite foods and so I was in raptures with this course. It was an eastern take on a popular starter in the this part of the world – scallops and black pudding. The extra fruity sweetness of the relish added another dimension to the dish.
Vegetarians could have saffron and broad bean risotto and cauliflower pakora.
Mrs L was most nervous about the curry course, not being one for uber hot food.
But she needn’t have worried because the curry was more about spice and flavour than heat. We had gone for one of each of the options – coconut curry braised beef short rib, carrot and coriander purée, macerated onion and peanut salad and jasmine rice – for meat lovers.
I plumped for the vegetarian version, butternut squash and coconut curry, mango and chickpea salad, with jasmine rice. It was a very tasty snapshot of what you can achieve with good quality vegetables and the right spices.
The final two courses were sweet. Mixed berry samosa, with honey and cardamom yoghurt; and coconut and lemongrass panna cotta, green tea sorbet, fruit salad, ginger and black pepper tuile. Both were delightful, rounding off an expert meal in splendid fashion.
RELAXING TIME WITH GOOD FOOD
During the fine-dining extravaganza, we were given plenty of time to chat between courses by the polite and discreet waiting staff. And as there was only one sitting, we were not rushed out of the door.
The steep steps into the restaurant would make it impossible to access for wheelchair users, but staff have set up table in the café area, which is on the ground-floor level.
The fine-dining nights are held monthly and are definitely worth a try – you can’t go wrong for £40 a head for high-quality meals.
THE EAST MEETS WEST MENU (£40 each)
Sushi: Sea trout sashimi, cucumber & ginger pickle, salmon roe ... or... Nori sushi roll, cucumber & wasabi (v)
Noodles Sticky belly-pork, Shanghai noodles, with spring onion and chilli ... or ... Chinese mushroom broth and cabbage noodle broth (v)
Fish: Curry-salted seared scallops ... or ... Saffron and broad bean risotto (v)
Curry: Coconut curry braised beef short rib ... or ... Butternut squash curry (v)
Samosa: Mixed berry samosa, honey and cardamom yoghurt
Panna Cotta: Coconut and lemongrass panna cotta, green tea sorbet
Quality of food......9
Access for the disabled......only to the café area
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: Some amazing flavours in a dramatic setting. Not bad for £40 each.
Contact: 01665 511086 or check out www.alnwickcastle.com/events/dining
Last week’s Gazette Eating Out feature reviewed The Black Bull Inn, Wooler