I’m going to treat myself to all the Spring Gourmet Menu dishes pictured above and below. To celebrate an eight year anniversary of mine, coming up in June. OK, my day in their new Cookery School doesn’t even count as a footnote in the garlanded history of Northcote. The stalwart country house hotel had already held a Michelin star for 18 years when I donned their monogrammed apron and did it less than proud.
In a 2014 piece for Manchester Confidential I charted the shame of my soggy lamb wellington. I’ve still got the apron; Northcote, at Langho outside Blackburn, retains the star… and perhaps deserves a second.
Much else has changed. Nigel Haworth, whose cooking earned the star, moved on after over 30 years’ at the stove. Good to see his new venture, bringing back to life his own former gastropub, The Three Fishes, has swiftly gained him 2022 Michelin Guide recognition. Now part of the Stafford Collection and handsomely refurbished, Northcote continues Nigel’s Obsession Festival, hosting the cream of the world’s chefs every January.
The greatest legacy of all, though, is Lisa Goodwin-Allen, still just 40, who was barely out of her teens when she started there and rose to be head chef by the age of 23. These days her profile has never been higher. Only recently she was on telly again as a Great British Menu judge. Alongside overseeing Northcote, she spends a couple of days a month as consultant down in London for the Stafford. Holding the fort for hid exec head chef is 27-year-old head chef Danny Young, 2017 National Young Chef of the Year.
The pair have that Spring Gourmet Menu on the way and March (before it snowed) seemed a good time to revisit to road test their Chef’s Table in the same 16-capacity room that’s still home to the Cookery School. Its large glass doors look out onto the kitchen with a kitchen cam for salivating close-ups.
No wellington flashbacks for me thankfully as we tasted four seasonal courses. Slightly early days for vernal abundance to determine the menu entirely but ample evidence of a kitchen as good as, maybe better, than ever. Remarkable technical skills on show but not for show, the whole focus on enhancing the intense flavours of the raw materials.
It’s an important balancing act to strive beyond country house food expectations without alienating the well-heeled, middle aged and beyond demographic. Though I do believe veteran MD Craig Bancroft when he outlines the importance paid to making first-timers feel at home, especially if daunted by an encyclopaedic wine list. I have no such qualms, on the day of the lunch recognising Craig’s nous in selecting a canny quartet of matching wines.
Our lunch consisted of Orkney scallop, ‘green curry’, cultured yoghurt, lemon (with the bonus of an extra, tempura scallop); quail, frozen liver parfait, apple verjus, bacon, sweet turnip; aged Lake District beef, allium, hen of the woods mushroom, black garlic; warm Bramley ‘Apple Pie’, nuts, maple, caramelised milk.
I loved that deconstructed apple pie (Lisa’s a technical whizz with puds) but the stand-out dish was the quail, served delicately with the bird’s liver in tiny frozen dice, melting into the gamey breast.
Invention is in a constant flurry of renewal in Michelin-starred kitchen. When we were there that new gourmet menu was on the brink of being approved. It sounds irresistible, hence I’m searching for a booking slot. And saving up. Priced at £115 per person, the menu can be paired with course-selected wine by the glass (£71.15) as well as the addition of The Northcote Cheeseboard (£15 or £20), comprising a selection of either five or seven cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy, served with Peter’s Yard Crackers and Homemade Bread. Available Wednesday to Sunday from 12pm to 2pm. So what do you get for your money?
Chargrilled Wye Valley asparagus, sheep’s curd, sorrel; roasted veal sweetbread, white mushroom, wild garlic, caper; wild turbot, clam, bacon, smoked potato, roe; Yorkshire duck, heirloom beetroot, aged balsamic, bee pollen; and that ‘apple pie’ (main image).
Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. For information on a variety of gourmet breaks visit the website.