Dean Bailey escapes to the country with a visit to Walwick Hall, Northumberland
When it comes to grand settings, Walwick Hall has it all. Just along the road from Chesters Roman fort, this Grade II-listed mansion sits high above the Tyne north of Hexham, its handsome gardens falling away from the dining room windows to the valley beyond.
While the view is breathtaking, there is also beauty in the attention to detail here. The kitchen garden is laid out in precise rows, its precision lines more art installation than veg plot. Herbs flourish in one bed while clumps of chard and arrow-straight lines of carrots stand to attention in another, as if primed for their journey to the kitchen.
The grandeur continues inside where, the antithesis of stuffy, old-fashioned country hotel, Walwick is bright, modern and classically beautiful. The service is superb yet at the same time relaxed, chatty and casual. Every staff member we meet seems to love being here.
As for the food, head chef Steven Murray’s contemporary fine dining style suits the hotel perfectly, his innovative twists and occasional culinary curiosities marking an accomplished, confident offering.
Sublime Isle of Mull scallops are treated to an impeccable partner of smoked butter hollandaise, while chicken liver paté is a pot of silky contentment accompanied by home-baked bread and glorious bone marrow butter.
The menu is dedicated to the produce of the hotel’s garden, the farms and game shoots on its doorstep. We have pork exquisitely presented three ways – roast fillet, crispy belly and glazed cheek – attended by an elegant cauliflower purée and refreshingly zippy apple and port sauces.
Meanwhile, honey-glazed duck breast with orange, carrots, leeks, piquant pickled grapes and a much-savoured breaded foie gras is a masterclass in flavour, texture and serendipitous combinations; the pink duck a succulent contrast to the crunch of the foie gras’ breadcrumbed coating, the lightly pickled grapes cutting through the richness of the dish.
Mojito sorbet with fresh mint refreshes the palate between courses, and we move to a rainbow of colour presented by sweetly smoky charred peach alongside verdant lemon verbena sponge and divine streusel crumb. On the other side of the table, a vibrant pink tower of strawberry choux is filled with vanilla bavarois and accompanied by another excellent sorbet, this time melding strawberry and a Szechuan pepper which makes the berries sing.
Three courses plus drinks comes to just over £90, which is ridiculously good value for food at this level, expertly served in lovely surroundings. There can be few finer places to escape daily life than this – a triumph in modern country escapism.
Walwick hall, Humshaugh, Hexham, NE46 4BJ, tel 01434 620 156, www.walwickhall.com