Given the current vogue for ‘eating out’, mini breaks and an increasing emphasis on food generally, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to find restaurants that have already earned a worthy and enviable reputation in the dark arts of cuisine also expanding into the realms of the accommodation provision: wine, dine, cognac, sleep it off in lush comfort, and wake up in the morning wondering how much wine you had to drink.
It’s the new zeitgeist, an extravagance, an indulgence; one that creates an elaborate, if evanescent, illusion of freedom from the mundane, of time cocooned in a different world.
That’s exactly how it felt when my wife and I returned to Northcote – our regular birthdays, anniversaries and ‘any other plausible excuse’ cocoon – intent for the first time on spending a night in the extended vision of chef-patron Nigel Haworth’s Michelin restaurant, set not far from the charming town of Whalley in Lancashire’s beautiful but hugely under-appreciated Ribble valley.
Within minutes we were whisked to the sumptuous embrace of a Garden Lodge Deluxe room, designed exclusively for Northcote by Jill Holst co-founding director of Ward Robinson from Newcastle upon Tyne.
I had the chance to view other rooms, too, and all exude a highly distinctive appeal that combines luxury and plush furnishings with sophisticated lighting, and all the amenities you would expect of a quality hotel including access to a complimentary DVD library – no doubt for those who arrive on a Saturday, when there’s little of interest on television.
Our balcony has a great view of Longridge Fell, the casual armchairs and the sofa are actually comfortable rather than decorative, the air conditioning does what it’s told, while the bathroom with its double shower, twin washbasins and huge bath is a world of luxury of its own, you could bubble and squeak in there for hours, if you have a mind to.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that two elderly sisters from just an hour’s drive away, annually stay here for more than two weeks, enjoying everything Northcote has to offer, and dining well each evening. And while local patronage is the well of good fortune for Northcote, word is spreading far and wide to bring discerning winers and diners to the green folds of Lancashire.
Originally built in 1880 as a private dwelling, Northcote became a modest 4-bedroom hotel with 50-seat restaurant in 1979. Now, after a manic period of development and re-building there are 26 individually styled rooms shared between the original manor house and the new garden lodge with just 8 rooms, including a sumptuous master suite.
The Victorian red brick manor house from a distance has a hint of Germanic autocracy about it. In the lounge three guests, relaxing after lunch or diving into afternoon tea, looked remarkably content and chilled; another group gathered with wine on the terrace soaking up the vitamin D and indulging in the sort of idle chat that everyday life tends to preclude.
We had not travelled far, but should you need refreshing after a long drive, then there can be nothing better than the lush view of the Ribble valley pastures, and a seemingly contented group of gardeners pottering in the restaurant’s potager, a young chef in pristine whites is out in it gathering herbs. It’s like another world, one in which everything is in harmony, and the evils of the world are a million miles away.
Attention to detail is the key at Northcote, from the Temple Spa ‘condiments’ in the bathroom to the welcoming sound of Chill Jazz on the RuarkAudio sound system at the side of the bed. Then there’s Wi-Fi that works, when many top hotels still fall short in that department; the umbrella in the wardrobe; the plug adapter; the night light in the bathroom; the mini torch on the key fob, and the Scrabble and backgammon/chess/dominoes set tucked away in one of the drawers; now if that’s not attention to detail, I don’t know what is!
We were booked in for a Northcote Gourmet Break, the dining element of which comprises a 5-course gourmet menu, and a half bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier champagne to kick the evening off. At least here we were on familiar ground, and, as ever, we were not disappointed; this is Michelin-starred dining after all.
But one thing was certain, after dinner with the paired wines selection, and a little Calvados as a digestif, Scrabble was the last thing on my mind as we zigzagged contentedly back to our room.
As for breakfast…well, there was no scrum fighting over the remnants of a slowly dying buffet selection so frequently offered by many hotels. Instead, a friendly and efficient table service faced us with an extensive choice from ‘refreshers’ of orange or cranberry juice, to the full English…any or all of Home-cured Back and Streaky Local Bacon, Thin Link Cumberland Sausages, Fried Mushrooms and Grilled Tomato, White Bread Fried in Bacon Fat, Black Pudding and Bowland Free Range Eggs.
As an alternative, the choice includes Lancaster Smokehouse Juniper and Beech Smoked Salmon thinly carved with free-range scrambled eggs; naturally smoked Finnan Haddock and poached egg, or Mrs Kirkham’s Melting Lancashire Cheese Soufflé served with a grilled tomato.
With home-made breads and jams, and a pot of tea, you really can’t go wrong…even the bread soldiers served with the boiled eggs were cut with military precision. Sure, in the scale of things, it’s no big deal if your bread’s a bit wonky, but it all goes to highlight that attention to detail that hallmarks everything at Northcote, and sends you on your way in a happy frame of mind.