We’re on Northcote’s mailing list which means we get first bagsy on any offers. In this case, it was an overnighter, including breakfast and the five course “gourmet” dinner. We had dinner there in August but didn’t pick up on any of the staff gossip. Head chef Lisa Allen has been away on maternity leave and has recently returned and been promoted to Executive Head Chef. In her place, is Aled Williams. I suppose that, like Lisa and her boss, Nigel Haworth, he’s a “celeb chef” – if that’s defined as someone who has been on telly. He appeared on Great British Menu in 2010, representing Wales. We’d eaten his food before when he was head chef at the shortlived Cennin in Beaumaris. He was good there and he’s good here.
Now, you don’t go to Northcote expecting all manner of cheffy tricks. What you do expect is that the kitchen will take good ingredients and cook them well. They’ve never let us down and they didn’t on this visit. There’s not a foot put wrong - although there’s not really any big “WOW” factor with any of the dishes.
There’s canapes in the lounge. A beetroot macaroon and goats cheese mousse thingy. Both good to my mind, if not to that of my companion in life, who has a bit of a thing against anything goaty.
First up in the restaurant, a langoustine tail and some shredded baby leeks, dressed with a little leek infused oil. Nice light and fresh starter. That’s followed by globe and Jerusalem artichokes – perhaps surprisingly served cold. There’s fab crispy artichoke skin – a great contrast to the soft cooked veg. And a dab or two of ricotta and a shaving or two of truffle.
There’s then what I think was the favourite dish for both of us – a “very runny” butternut squash risotto. In fact, not very runny at all – but like the sort of wettish risotto you’d get in Italy, not the almost boiled dry claggy version you so often get in British restaurants. This is lovely and sweet but it’s the counterpoints that make this work – a few shreds of house cured ham for salty savouriness; a few toasted seeds for crunch. It really is an absolute belter of a plate.
The final savoury course is a small piece of sirloin, together with a spoonful of tartare (which, in truth, didn’t really add anything to the plate). There a lovely caramelised shallot and a little dauphinoise potato. And what the menu described as “duck liver crumb” – you certainly get the crunchy crumb even if you can’t make out a liver flavour.
Dessert is based on chocolate. A couple of different mousses, one bitter, the other quite sweet. And they’re contrasted with damsons – in the form of a damson jelly and a sorbet (which might have been a bit overly sharp).
And there’s good petit fours back in the lounge with coffee.
Next morning, they do a pretty good “Full English” – sausage, bacon, eggs, black pudding, mushrooms, tomato and fried bread. As the late Hovis Presley had it “It’s a meal in itself really”.