Jane Pikett consigns a bad week to history with dinner at Vallum Restaurant & Chef’s Room.
There are times, dear reader, when only a cocktail will do. Mind, I hardly ever have them. I recently spent a week in New York and didn’t have one, opting to make it a week of craft beer instead and not regretting the absence of a Manhattan in Manhattan once, which proves I can resist their brightly coloured temptations.
It’s been ages since I had something lurid in a glass adorned with a tiny parasol and a glacé cherry, until, that is, a recent Friday night after a particularly fraught week, when I was persuaded by Daren Philips, front of house man at Vallum Restaurant & Chef’s Room, to explore his Northumbrian Mist (if you will excuse the expression) – a blend of Jack Cain Gin, Passoã and Syrup with a shot of prosecco.
Daren, it transpires, is quite the mixologist, and very persuasive in the cocktail department (‘Oh, go on, it’ll do you good’. And it did…).
I soon learned that times have changed and mini parasols and glacé cherries are passé, replaced in this case by a Martini glass filled with crushed ice and a pretty pink drink accompanied by a prosecco chaser. And, do you know, I loved it! It was so good I had a second. And a third. By which time I had cheered up considerably.
Daren’s revolving cocktail menu is a quirky partner for the seasonal menus at Vallum, which sits on land once trod by Roman auxiliaries in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall. There’s a fantastic Patisserie & Deli here on the family farm, in addition to the Restaurant & Chef’s Room, which you can hire, the Paddock Marquee wedding and events venue, the Tea Room and outdoor play paddock.
At the Restaurant & Chef’s Room, the food is rustic, the flavours big, the produce grown here, raised here, foraged here. I love the bright, airy restaurant and the cosy Chef’s Room, and the fact that most of what you’re served has travelled yards rather than miles to reach your plate.
The pickled mackerel, I guess, comes a wee bit further, but the smoked beetroot is grown here, and gorgeous with hazelnuts and horseradish snow – an amazing, zingy, multi-textured delight, and pretty into the bargain.
The smoke-cured duck breast, baby gem, Cumberland Jelly, crispy Vallum egg yolk was historic, particularly the egg yolk, a golden-crusted testicle (sorry, but it was that sort of size) with a soft centre. The Maldon salt hake was staggeringly good, and its cauliflower (I love cauliflower!) was beautiful. My friend also had an amazing seared loin of venison, which came with fabulously earthy mushrooms. Again, it looked beautiful, and tasted sublime.
We finished with some fantastic cheeses and quite a lot of a very big red wine which Daren chose for us. By the end of it all, I was quite, erm, relaxed, so we took to the sofa in front of the fire in the Chef’s Room for coffee and brandy. Working week successfully consigned to history.
Vallum Restaurant & Chef’s Room, Vallum, Military Road East Wallhouses, Newcastle NE18 0LL, tel 01434 674 406 www.vallumfarm.co.uk