Qual­ity is ob­ses­sion at a coun­try re­treat

A com­mit­ment to the very best has pushed North­cote to even greater heights, writes PAUL OG­DEN

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

TO be the very best des­ti­na­tion for a coun­try break, you need your unique selling point to be spot on – and this is es­pe­cially true of food.

If you have a golf course or spa that brings the guests in, be­ing in the heart of the coun­try­side is ob­vi­ously the place to be – all those rolling green fields and tran­quil­lity.

But huge num­bers of peo­ple are now trav­el­ling to cities across Bri­tain for week­end breaks to sam­ple the na­tion’s boom­ing culi­nary scene.

Take Manch­ester. The large in­crease in ho­tel con­struc­tion and the un­par­al­leled amount of res­tau­rant and bar open­ings are go­ing hand-in-hand, fu­elled, in part, by tourism.

So, the tra­di­tional coun­try house-with­restau­rant ho­tel is hav­ing to work much harder to stay ahead of the pack – some­thing that North­cote has al­ways done and has now con­sol­i­dated with a re­cent me­gabucks re­fur­bish­ment.

A few years ago, it dropped the ‘Manor’ from its orig­i­nal name. A good move. North­cote was never fusty. High class, yes; ex­pen­sive, re­as­sur­ingly so; snob­bish, no. But the orig­i­nal name brought con­no­ta­tions.

Chef Nigel Ha­worth and hos­pi­tal­ity and wine ex­pert Craig Ban­croft have run the place for al­most 30 years now, 20 of that with a Miche­lin star, but their down-to-earth ap­proach­a­bil­ity has meant North­cote has never been a place where you feel in­tim­i­dated.

And de­spite the re­de­vel­op­ment, ex­pan­sion to 28 bed­rooms and busi­ness side­lines, North­cote has food and drink at its very core.

In my es­ti­ma­tion, the north west is home to the most high-qual­ity and var­ied food pro­duc­ers in Bri­tain and (sorry Cheshire!) Lan­cashire is the very best part of our re­gion for in­gre­di­ents.

It is a world-class larder for meat, fish, some seafood and veg – and is near the top, too, for dairy and game.

North­cote has al­ways had an en­vi­able re­la­tion­ship with these food sup­pli­ers. Be­fore it was trendy for restau­rants to name-check ev­ery pro­ducer, North­cote, and later its spin-off pub chain, Rib­ble Val­ley Inns, printed biogs and pho­to­graphs of them on the menus.

Ha­worth is one of the chefs you can thank for putting that north­ern cui­sine on the map. So the good news is that he is back in the North­cote kitchen. He has al­ways been in­volved, ob­vi­ously, and has been a well­known face on TV cook­ery pro­grammes – but the busi­ness re­cently kept him from his apron.

How­ever, head chef Lisa Allen has been on ma­ter­nity leave and Ha­worth has been bed­ding in North­cote’s new and jaw-drop­ping £400,000 kitchen, a vast stain­less steel work­shop of fine din­ing with a 12-seat chef’s ta­ble din­ers can book that dou­bles as a cook­ery school.

It is part of a £7m re­vamp that in­cludes the con­struc­tion of the Gar­den Lodge, an eight-bed­room build­ing in the manor house gar­dens that fits in per­fectly with the orig­i­nal late-Vic­to­rian pile, built in 1883 as an in­dus­tri­al­ist’s hide­away.

We were in one of its Su­pe­rior Rooms, with a gor­geous bed, lovely tex­tures in the fur­nish­ings coloured in mocha and creams, a huge rain shower wet room and free stand­ing bath. There are even bet­ter Deluxe Rooms and a sump­tu­ous Master Suite, which go some way to ex­plain why North­cote is now a mem­ber of the Re­lais & Chateaux as­so­ci­a­tion.

The Lodge has lit­tle hos­pitable touches, too, like the guest rain­coats at the en­trance if you want a stroll to take in the Rib­ble Val­ley views on a driz­zly af­ter­noon.

We were at North­cote on a Gourmet Break, which in­cludes a five­course menu from the Miche­lin-starred kitchen, half a bot­tle of its house cham­pagne, Louis Roed­erer, and a tra­di­tional break­fast. We had the cham­pers with canapes in the re­vamped bar, as op­u­lent as the Louis Roed­erer it­self with its sexy, shim­mer­ing New York feel.

North­cote hosts an an­nual culi­nary fes­ti­val of food, called Ob­ses­sion, which at­tracts chefs from all over the world to cook along­side Ha­worth. This year’s lasted 15 days and in­cluded Ken Hom, Vivek Singh and An­gela Hart­nett.

As we were stay­ing just af­ter Ob­ses­sion so Ha­worth was still of­fer­ing his own tast­ing menu from the fes­ti­val – and he was cook­ing it him­self!

It was a tour de force of sublime Lan­cashire pro­duce mar­ried with ge­nius ex­e­cu­tion.

It would be churl­ish to eat at North­cote with­out hav­ing your cour­ses matched with wines from its famed and award­win­ning cel­lar by the ho­tel’s ex­perts. It’s head som­me­lier is Adam Powlowski, who has just qual­i­fied as a Master Som­me­lier.

So we ate smoked eel and More­cambe Bay shrimp cae­sar paired with a Re­serve Cha­monix, from South Africa’s Cape Cha­monix, be­fore a per­fectly ex­e­cuted tem­pura scal­lop with salmon belly, laver­bread and sea veg­eta­bles. That came with a suc­cu­lent, fruity, creamy Al­barino O Rosal, from Bode­gas Ter­ras Gauda.

The Scotch broth with puff pas­try wrapped salt marsh lamb was a liq­uid roast din­ner – stun­ningly con­structed and in­tense of flavour. That was mar­ried with Don Nuno Oloroso sherry – an un­usual but bril­liant choice – that stood up to the rich­ness of the dish.

Then there was guinea fowl breast with ba­con, damsons and leg meat casse­role with a classy Per­nand-Verge­lesses premier cru Bur­gundy.

A beau­ti­fully bal­anced dessert wine, Mount Hor­rocks Cordon Cut Ries­ling, han­dled the rhubarb and cus­tard, white cho­co­late, ginger and jelly with ease.

The staff are young, but el­e­gant, knowl­edge­able and af­fa­ble in a way that breeds con­fi­dence in their rec­om­men­da­tions.

It would be a pity if all this in­dul­gence dulled your ap­petite in the morn­ing, be­cause there is a lux­u­ri­ous break­fast, with more premier sup­pli­ers giv­ing up their goods.

I went for the Lan­caster Smoke House ju­niper and beech smoked salmon with free range scram­bled eggs, which just edged the Mrs Kirkham’s melt­ing Lan­cashire cheese souffle op­po­site. But only just.

Af­ter a re­lax­ing flick through the pa­pers in the lounge, I made sure I kept hold of not only the tast­ing menu, but the break­fast one too.

Both proof, if needed, of North­cote’s USP of top-notch qual­ity.

●● North­cote’s Gar­den Lodge and, right, one of its lux­u­ri­ous rooms

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