Dinner fit for a duke

Dinner fit for a duke

Dean Bailey heads to Wynyard Hall for a Monday night treat

I hate Asda on Mondays. Actually, I think I hate Asda every day, it’s just Mondays are the worst of them all. So despite traffic chaos caused by winds stronger than the day Dorothy left Kansas, I need minimal encouragement to venture out on the first school night of the week.

“We haven’t done anywhere fancy for ages,” declares our esteemed editor over Monday morning’s first vat of tar-black coffee. “Pick somewhere smart for once. And put on some decent clothes.”

With “fancy”, “smart” and the requirement for appropriate dress the only brief forthcoming, I look up the menu at Wynyard Hall – the 1820s mansion owned by the Marquesses of Londonderry before being bought and turned into a hotel by Sir John Hall – and book a table before the boss has chance to change her mind.

And my, this is, for want of a better word, “fancy”, complete with six-columned portico towering over the front door and a gothic welcome provided by magnificent stone dogs.

For added atmosphere, the wind – encouraged by a distant hurricane called Ophelia – beats at the branches on the trees and whips the door closed behind us as we step into a stately octagonal entrance hall which seems to lead off in all directions, its marble columns, commanding paintings and noble chandelier all distracting from the task in hand.

The Duke of Wellington, after whom the dining room is named, stayed here, as did Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The restaurant is dominated by a huge portrait of Wellington, and he looks down on us as we ponder the exquisite gold detailing on the ceiling, the chandeliers, the towering paintings, and wonder why we don’t eat in such lavish surroundings every evening.

For the chefs, Wynyard provides not just a fine setting for the food, but a walled garden, restored by Sir John, which is home to many of the vegetables and herbs which star on the menu, providing a rich harvest yards from the kitchen door.

Cumbrian lamb served with peas, cabbage and bacon steals attention from the surroundings, the deep pink of its seared loin standing out among a tangle of greens and pea purée, while its slow-cooked shoulder packs a flavour punch.

Ribeye steak revels in its 30-day dry aging and in its partner for the evening – a big-flavoured smoked garlic mash which receives our immediate and lasting attention. The bread is noteworthy – malty with a thick crunchy crust and served with olive oil and tart balsamic – while heritage beetroot fresh from Wynyard’s soil is a fine partner for smoked Scottish salmon. Home-grown peas, meanwhile, lend the Cumbrian ham and pea soup a marvellous hue and  cherish the delicate pease pudding ravioli which floats atop it.

English strawberries with shortbread and vanilla mascarpone and lavender ice cream are a suitably elegant partner for the surroundings, while a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and pain d-epice ice cream hints at a more rustic nature in the kitchen.

The grand setting doesn’t come with too grand a price tag. Three courses for two comes in at just under £80, and you get to imagine spending all your time here for free.

Wynyard Hall, Wynyard, Stockton-on-Tees, Billingham, TS22 5NF, tel 01740 644 811, www.wynyardhall.co.uk

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