A stellar new signing has taken his place at The Northumberland Arms, in Felton.
Indeed, when the historic coaching inn sealed the deal for MasterChef The Professionals finalist, Matei Baran, to become its new executive head chef, the venue was only too keen to shout about its latest acquisition.
And quite right,too! Having a talented chef – who starred on the renowned BBC show in 2016 – recently take on the top role is some coup.
But with a big reputation comes big responsibility; pressure to perform and produce the goods.
Thankfully, this talented cook can stand the heat in the kitchen, and he is already living up to those high expectations.
The wife and I were invited to the venue two weeks ago to sample his new menu.
Yes, it was a freebie, but that had no bearing on this positive review. Our restaurant reviews are usually done unnannounced, without invitation, and all food is paid-for.
Just like Messrs Wallace and Torode, we were here to judge. And in our eyes, he passed the test.
And if our experience is anything to go by, exciting times are ahead for The Northumberland Arms, and its clients, with Matei at the helm. The food was delicious and well presented.
First off, it’s fair to say that The Northumberland Arms is a cracking venue.
Built in the 1820s by Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland, as a coaching inn, it has now been fully renovated to a high standard.
The bar is comfortable, homely and traditional – particularly inviting during the cold winter months – while the dining area is smart, with a relaxed and stylish shabby-chic feel.
The contemporary room was a fitting setting for the first-class meal which was to come.
Numerous dishes on the menu caught our eye, including the steaks and local favourites, such as the handmade beef burger or the hand-raised pie of the day.
In keeping with the theme of the night, I was tempted to go for the MasterChef Special – king scallops and air-dried duck breast for starter; house-smoked pork loin for main; and fruit crumble for dessert.
However, other options won the day, with Mrs W going for the smoked haddock Scotch egg starter, followed by the poached sea trout, while I opted for the grilled sardines to begin with and venison loin for the main course.
Importantly, and pleasingly, the menu made a nod to The Northumberland Arms’ keep it local mantra.
It stated that the venue sources as many local ingredients as possible, while the cheeseboard was a festival of Northumbrian cheeses, including Redesdale, Elsdon and Blagdon blues.
We would come to the desserts, but not before polishing off our starters and mains.
And it has to be said that the smoked haddock Scotch egg starter was a show-stopper, possibly even the star of the whole meal.
The egg yolk oozed as the fork cut into the large ball.
The haddock was flavoursome and the bread crumbs were light and fluffy.
While I looked on enviously as the other half delved into her delicious starter, my opening course was still a fine way to start the meal – although perhaps I would have liked a few more sardines on the plate.
For the main, the venison loin was very well cooked – reddish in colour, tender and rich – while the wife enjoyed her poached sea trout.
For me, the best was still to come – my dark chocolate delice, with rum and raisin ice-cream, for dessert.
It was outstanding. Moreish, but not too heavy or sickly.
From watching the show, I know that MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace loves a pudding – and I’m sure he would have approved of this slice of chocolate heaven.
On the other side of the table, the classic sticky-toffee pudding with salted caramel and vanilla ice-cream was devoured.
We actually also got to try the apple crumble panna cotta, with apple sorbet and custard emulsion. It looked inventive and was a delicious conclusion to the meal.
It’s incredible to think that Matei only started cooking in 2009. And on this evidence, he appears to be a fine fit for The Northumberland Arms.
‘I’M INSPIRED BY THIS BUILDING’
Romanian-born Matei Baran, is delighted to have taken on the executive head chef role at The Northumberland Arms. As part of his remit, he is looking to introduce some exciting menu changes, while respecting and building on guest favourites. He will bring his modern British food with a defined twist using premium, locally-sourced seasonal ingredients. He said: “I have been aware of The Northumberland Arms for some time. I’m inspired by the aesthetics of this historic building and I’m sure we can create a great partnership in this stunning venue.”
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Freshly-made soup (v); Beetroot and goat’s cheese mousse (v); Scottish mussels
Celebration of beef; Tomato and basil risotto (v); Pan-fried halibut
Chicken nacho burger; Brown Ale beer-battered fish; Chicken tikka masala
Cauliflower cheese with a hint of truffle (v); Heritage potatoes and veg (v); Honey-glazed roasted carrots (v)
Northumbria cheeseboard; Warm pistachio and polenta cake with raspberry ice-cream
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......8
Value for money......8
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: MasterChef finalist delivers the goods.
Contact: 01670 787370 or www.northumberlandarms-felton.co.uk