This was our tenth visit to Northcote and the first since Nigel Haworth relinquished his role of “chef patron”, leaving the kitchen completely in the hands of Lisa Allen. There have been minor changes, not necessarily improvements. For example, the previous seven course tasting menu is now six courses. And the stand alone fixed five course gourmet menu (which we’ve always ordered in the past) is now a cut down four course version of the main tasting menu. The new gourmet just didn’t seem such a good bet anymore so it was a choice between the full tasting menu and the a la carte menu. We went for the tasting, although I suspect the carte will be our choice on future visits.
It was a lovely sunny evening so we had drinks and canapes on the terrace before going in to the very well air conditioned dining room (cold enough to be an American restaurant – I wish I’d brought a jumper). Then we found that (shock horror) they’ve changed the bread. Gone is the delicious Lancashire cheese roll, replaced by a Lancashire cheese mini-loaf which just wasn’t as cheesy and, therefore, just not as good. I’ll stop moaning now, as everything we were about to eat was pretty much faultless.
First up, cherry tomatoes softened so the flavour was intensified, topped with an onion (?) foam and, served separately, a crisp “cigar” filled with long cooked onion and St James cheese – a powerful sheeps milk cheese from Cumbria. This may have been our favourite dish of the evening - certainly it was one that was hard to better. Then there was their version of a chicken Caesar. A “sausage” of leg meat, wrapped in its skin, topped with perfect rounds of very crisp rounds of lettuce, a dusting of anchovy powder and a mild creamy sauce.
A vegetable dish next – “Moroccan” cauliflower. Char grilled cauli which was nice enough but there was no real evidence of the vibrant spices you might expect from North Africa, nor could we detect any evidence of the advertised capers. There was a buttermilk sauce which worked well. But the dominant flavour was of lemon and that divided us – my partner enjoyed the sharpness while I thought it overpowered the rest of the dish.
The next dish was simply called “Scarlet Prawn”. I think it’s the shell that’s naturally bright red. I’ve had these in Spain and they are enormous things, easily finger thickness. Here they’ve been lightly cooked so they retain some texture, shelled and cut into three. There’s a butter sauce which had flecks of something red – maybe very finely diced red pepper. And it’s topped with a parsley and garlic crisp. We liked this – everything worked well together.
The final savoury course was a slice of Yorkshire lamb loin (?), perfectly cooked to pink. It sat in a sauce described as “white curry” but there was hardly a hint of spicing except for a dominance of pepper. Our server explained this was an adaptation of an old recipe presumably dating back to times when food in India would get its heat from pepper rather than the chilli later imported by the Portuguese. There was a scattering of peas along with the aniseed flavour of sweet cicely. This was another dish where there was quite a lot of lemon.
Dessert was a “textures of strawberry” affair Perfect seasonality which brought a cylinder of strawberry jelly, ice cream, sliced strawberries, a cylinder of white chocolate and a dab of a shortbread cream. Really good.
We had coffee and petit fours in the lounge, where we were able to thaw out a bit. One of the things that hasn’t changed about Northcote is the service – everyone seems to manage that trick of combining absolute professionalism with friendliness towards customers. I suppose that’s the essence of hospitality. It had been a lovely evening.