A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a week off. They’re pretty unheard of things these days.
In an attempt to curb my usual habits of just sitting at home on my holidays, I decided that I needed to get away for a few days. I didn’t want to go away too far so I opted for a weekend in the west of the county at Slaley Hall.
I’m not usually one to go for spa weekends and pampering myself but I felt like it was needed. We opted to say at one of the venue’s QLodges which did come complete with its own kitchen but we wanted to eat out on our first night.
At heart, the hotel itself is an Edwardian mansion, but over time, it has become much more than that. It now has many modern additions to the building, up-to-date facilities and even its own activity centre with 4x4 off-roading.
For dinner, the venue offers a choice of three restaurants which are all open to the public. Hadrian’s Brasserie (where we dined) is an informal setting where guests can sit back and enjoy the views of the golf course. It prides itself on locally-sourced food.
At Duke’s Grill, the steaks are the highlight of the menu (the editor can vouch for that), and for guests wanting a more classic meal there is the Claret Jug.
Being a Northumbrian boy, I wanted to try out some of the local food that was on offer at the luxury venue.
I think it’s fair to say the menu is fairly minimalist, a choice of six starters and the same for the main courses. I think the mantra may be quality over quantity.
Quite surprising for me, but I decided not to have a starter and wanted to tuck into a larger main course.
I’d opted for probably the most expensive dish on the menu and went for a rib-eye steak (£24) while other members of my party chose a rosemary and honey-glazed chicken breast (£13), white wine and lemon poached fillet of Scottish salmon (£14.50), smoked chicken Caesar wedge salad (£7) and two of the party opted for a smaller starter of pancetta bacon and soft-boiled-egg salad (£5.50).
Normally, when I have steak, I have it well done but was persuaded by the waiter, Peter, to try it medium-rare. That was a decision I would not regret.
While we waited for our food we were waited on hand and foot. I think these days we’ve become very au fait with the idea of going out for a meal and there being an almost self-service attitude.
I’m so used to going to places where you have to go up to the bar and order or get your drinks yourself and I’m fine with that, but it was an absolute luxury to have a lovely server who was actually interested in holding a conversation with the diners and was happy to wait on us.
Peter was an absolute joy and would even come and pour us more water so we didn’t have to do it ourselves.
Our main courses were taking a little while to come so Peter brought a selection of breads to the table for free and they came with cute little jars of butter – I’m a stickler for detail and thought they were a lovely addition.
Once the food had arrived, for me, it was well worth the wait.
My earlier change of plan to have a medium-rare steak had paid off. The menu described the cut of meat as prime and succulent and it sure was. It was complemented by the lovely peppercorn sauce and, of course, some home-made chunky chips.
The rest of the party also enjoyed their meals, although my friend said the chicken breast was quite dry despite it being honey-glazed.
Another member of the party had asked if the Caesar salad came without fish and was told there wasn’t any but when the meals arrived there were anchovies in the dish.
Luckily for us, it wasn’t the end of the world but this could have been an issue for someone with allergies.
All that aside, the main courses were filling and enjoyable.
After about a good 10 minutes’ debating whether to get a dessert, I went for apple crumble (£5.50) – another decision I would be extremely pleased with. A friend went for New York-style baked cheesecake (£5.50).
When the dish arrived, it looked different to the apple crumble I was used to from my mother’s cooking.
It was a small dish but not to be laughed at.
When I took a bite, I was in heaven. You know when people say ‘melt in your mouth’, the crumble was so good that once it touched my taste buds, the inside of my mouth was having a party. It was truly epic and one of the best I’ve ever had – sorry mum.
NOT JUST FOR HOLIDAYMAKERS
Any member of the public can book a table at this fine dining establishment – it is not exclusive to hotel guests.
Although it may be slightly out the way for diners from the north of the county, it is certainly worth the trek down to the south Northumberland venue.
There was a great vibe in the restaurant and the waiters were attentive, friendly and welcoming.
It’s been a long time since I was treated so well in a restaurant.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Crispy pancetta bacon and soft boiled egg........£5.50
Crab and cod fish cake........£7.50
Smoked Caesar salad........£7
Soup of the day........£5.50
Roast of choice........£16
Rump of lamb........£16.50
White wine and lemon poached fillet of salmon........£14.50
Giant couscous salad........£10.50
Grilled fillet of sea bass........£15
Vanilla rice pudding........£5.50
STAR RATINGS (out of ten)
Quality of food........9
Use of local food........8
Toilet for disabled........Yes
Verdict: The high quality of food was a welcome treat – my taste buds had a party at this luxury dining experience – and the great service caught us by surprise.
Open: 6.30pm – 9.30pm (times vary)
Contact: 01434 673350; website www.qhotels.co.uk/our-locations/slaley-hall
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Char Mausum Indian Restaurant, off the A1, at Stannington, and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.