It’s great to learn that the good, old British pub is still alive and kicking.
But at Otterburn, it’s a flavour of France that has lit the flames of success. From the ashes of a glorious past has risen the phoenix of a promising future.
The once-popular Percy Arms Hotel went into administration and closed at Christmas 2012 to the shock of villagers. The site has since been bought by Duncan Fisher, whose Apartment Group also owns Newton Hall at Newton by the Sea and As You Like It in Gosforth.
It has been extensively renovated and transformed into a hybrid tradition coaching inn and French crêperie, the William de Percy.
French signs and memorabilia, along with dark, distressed walls, pots of herbs, a stone floor and simple, eclectic furnishing give it a continental feel. With the dim lighting and spotlights on the tables, it was a bit like walking into a Hollister fashion outlet (for those familiar with that chain’s distinctively under-lit style).
Reasonably loud music adds atmosphere and trendiness, an ambience that extends throughout the entire hotel refurbishment and transformation into Le Petit Chateau boutique wedding venue. Duncan has also been a big fan and supporter of Alnwick Food Festival in the past.
His love for local produce and all things quirky shine through in the extraordinary menu – every opportunity to highlight a local ingredient is taken, whether it’s Ingram Valley lamb, Halls of Corbridge black pudding, Elsdon goats’ cheese or Doddington Dairy ice-cream. Even the drinks had a local flavour. With a delightful Alnwick Amber ale and a couple of Hepple Gin and tonics ordered, food selection commenced.
It was a bit of a family affair for us as our two offspring decided to join us on the considerable, meandering journey to Otterburn. A glance at the menu revealed bon viveur cuisine – right up my street – posh nosh with the emphasis on quality and style rather than quantity (we’re not a family of big eaters).
Our starter choices set the tone for the meal – freshly cooked and artistically presented.
All three were out of this world. My black pudding on a bed of gem lettuce, peas and smoky bacon, topped with a deep-fried crispy egg (£6.25) was simply divine. The combination of flavours was mind-blowing and crunching through the light batter to reveal a perfectly cooked runny egg yolk was like discovering gold. Exquisite.
It was a similar story next to me as Mrs L discovered her venison scotch egg (£7.95) was similarly freshly cooked and a treat for her taste buds. The pearl barley dressing was a neat touch.
Opposite, the freshly grilled North Sea mackerel, with horseradish and dill fraiche, cucumber ribbons and beetroot (£6.50) was another work of art that the children demolished with aplomb.
Our waitress was very attentive and patient, bringing us drinks top-ups between courses. For plats principaux (main courses), we went down different routes. I plumped for the lemon and rosemary marinated Ingram Valley lamb, goats’ curd creamed potato, peas, broad beans and rosemary gravy (£16.50). The meat melted in the mouth releasing a rush of delicious and complementary flavours.
A rich mash and gravy meant that the portions suited me down to the ground, although diners with bigger appetites might have cause for complaint, especially on the veg front.
The same could not be said for Mrs L’s choice: The Biggest Fish the Boat Could Safely Land, docked at North Shields and served with proper chips, mushy peas, tartar sauce and, on request, the dinkiest jar of Heinz tomato ketchup (£12.95). It was indeed a monster and ultimately defeated her. The batter was slightly too greasy and fish a bit boney but the hand-cut chips were a joy.
Son took a shine to the confit of pork belly, with spiced apple, apricot and yuzu compote, pak choi and hoi sin gravy (£12.25). He didn’t say much about it, he didn’t have to – his clean plate did all the talking!
Daughter went for the Northumbrian rib-eye steak (£19.95) – she’s always had expensive tastes (takes after her mother!). It was cooked to perfection.
Time for a breather before round three (see below)!
DESSERTS TO DIE FOR AT THE INN
It had been a tough decision – to dessert or to desert! Should we stay for a sweet or admit defeat and call it a day? After much soul-searching, three of us opted to plough on.
I ordered the sticky toffee pudding, with butterscotch sauce and vanilla bean ice-cream (£5.95), which was a dream – a moist, tasty sponge with delicious sauce and lovely ice-cream.
Mrs L’s lime posset with poached blueberries and shortbread (£5.50) his just the right spot – not too sweet, not too sharp – as did son’s passion fruit cheesecake with mango sorbet (£5.50).
Our journey to Otterburn and that small corner of France had been well worth it. Nous avons passé une très agréable soirée.
The bill came to £140, about right for four people, three courses and a couple of rounds of drinks and given the quality of the offering. We are already plotting our next course back.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
The classic Camembert (rosemary and garlic Camembert, rapeseed-oil-brushed crostini and an onion confiture)......£9.95
Baked French onion soup, made with Newcastle Brown Ale and Doddington cheese......£5.25
Elsdon goats’ cheese pannacotta, with tomato jam, parmesan sable and basil oil......£5.25
Tandoori-spiced Scottish salmon, with cucumber, apple, poppadum and fresh mint yoghurt......£6.95
Planche William (a selection of cured meats, pickles, tomato dressing and baby baguette)......£15.95
Our own 100% Northumbrian beef burger, homemade relish, Emmentaal cheese, lettuce, tomato and crispy shallots, in a Geordie Bakers brioche bun and with handcut chips......£11.95
Poele breast of corn-fed chicken, hand-rolled pasta, garden greens and mushroom veloute......£13.50
Seared fillet of stone bass, peperonata, thin dauphinois, samphire and kale......£17.50
Macaroni cheese with roasted cauliflower, garnished with rocket leaves......£12.25
Pork loin steak, sweet bashed apples and Halls of Corbridge black pudding......£17.95
Pithivier (pie) of spiced puy lentils, potatoes and kale......£13.50
Sides (all £3.50)
Cauliflower cheese, chips, French beans, new potatoes
Coconut & Alnwick Rum soufflé, with coconut ice-cream......£6.50
Pistachio and raspberry Bakewell, with apricot Anglaise......£5.50
Selection of Doddington Dairy ice-creams and sorbets......£5.50
Artisan cheeses from the North East: Darling Blue, Doddington; Elsdon, Northumberland Cheese Company; Admiral Collingwood, Doddington; Redesdale, Northumberland Cheese Company......£9.95
RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Use of local food......10
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Access for the disabled......8
Verdict: A cracking, stylish venue, with amazing food and good service.
Contact: 0 1830 570381 or visit http://williamdepercy.com/
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed The Apple Core, Lucker. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.