Dean Bailey visits the new-look Knights Restaurant at Lumley Castle
Every Englishman’s home is his castle, but when you dine in a proper stronghold – one with a new-look restaurant and an acclaimed new chef in post – it can emphasise the subtle differences between your three-bed semi and the real thing.
If you like your mid-week dinner settings grand, there are few places more imposing than Lumley Castle. Towering above Chester-le-Street, this famous 14th Century fortress hotel has signed up chef Craig Sherrington, who secured two AA rosettes at Virginia House in Ulverston, to head the kitchen.
Former chef-turned-AA inspector-turned hospitality pro Gordon Cartwright, veteran of such illustrious establishments as the five-star Isle of Eriska Hotel and Spa in Argyll, and Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in the Lake District, is the new general manager.
Under his accomplished management, the Knights Restaurant manages to be both grand in style and intimate in atmosphere.
The service is worthy of special mention – friendly, attentive and passionate about the food, which begins with rich whipped butter and warm mini loaves which will stay long in the memory. Also memorable is the chilled tomato water – an unusual aperitif with an amazing ability to make the mouth water near-uncontrollably before the starters appear.
Sherrington’s first menu since arriving in County Durham is a celebration of the regional produce he’s spent the four months since he arrived familiarising himself with.
Sublime local venison is exquisitely matched with an expert selection of textures provided by potato galette, celeriac and faggot. The haggis served alongside the pink salt marsh lamb is superb, its robust, earthy flavours captured within a pastry shell while a rich jus brings the whole together.
A starter of home-smoked salt-aged duck served with a cloud of wood smoke, slivers of pink Yorkshire rhubarb and crispy kale is a theatrical treat. Potato arancini filled with truffled brie and surrounded by a deep green leek sauce offers a sublime partnership of flavours and textures.
Meanwhile, a vivid green apple sorbet served beside an exquisite apple soufflé is worthy of its own page. Tart, smooth and near-luminous in colour, they should trademark it. Rich dollops of Belgian chocolate mousse bring a wonderful close to a highly indulgent evening.
A three-course dinner for two, including a drink each, is around £75, and you get to pretend to be king and queen of the castle.
Lumley Castle, Ropery Lane, Chester-le-Street, DH3 4NX, tel 0191 389 1111, www.lumleycastle.com