The north sometimes gets a bad culinary reputation. “Too narrow-minded, too unfashionable,” howl the naysayers. You are of course wrong. In fact, the region is fast becoming a rich ferment of ingenuity and progressiveness; a place where outstanding local ingredients meet bold, inventive ideas.
Lots of new faces and new spaces appearing, but Northcote in Lancashire’s beautiful Ribble Valley Hills is one of the original breakwaters – it first won its Michelin star in 1996 and has held it ever since.
The 26-room retreat is much more than a “restaurant with rooms,” though: it’s home to a top-notch culinary school, a very special chef’s table experience, and is at the heart of a burgeoning local food scene fueled by artisanal producers.
Why come here
Northcote isn’t the kind of country retreat with plaid chaise longue and dusty deer heads. It’s much more understated, even if the dress code dictates smart casual. It’s about 40 minutes from Preston train station (transfers can be arranged) and isn’t tucked away in a wooded wilderness either. For those driving, it is only 15 minutes from the M6, making it a convenient stopover for those traveling to Scotland.
But the lack of pomp is probably too NorthcoteAdvantage. Guest rooms are spacious and unfussy – modern in decor with generally magnificent views over the surrounding countryside; the bar is cozy and invites you to take off your shoes; and the restaurant, world-class but without unnecessarily gilded stiffness.
There are plans to further develop the offering, with construction of an experimental dining room to begin soon, along with the addition of more rooms. But with all that in the “pipeline,” Northcote’s current iteration remains nothing to sniff at, especially under the gastronomic captaincy of Executive Chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen.
However, she’s not the only personality that makes Northcote an irresistible destination. Managing director Craig Bancroft, or Mr. B. to those familiar with it, is a regular roving presence – dapper in a plaid suit, cracking jokes and generally embodying the kind of warm, welcoming, intimate hospitality that went out of style for a while .
It all adds up to a compelling recipe: that of a place that does great work but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
to eat and drink
But everyone else takes Northcote food and drink very seriously. Aside from that Michelin star, its inventory of accolades is almost as long as its wine list – everything from Hotel of the Year to a place in the top 1000 restaurants in the world. Today’s success is certainly due to Goodwin-Allen, who took over as Executive Chef in 2015, and her detail-oriented kitchen.
“We stand for modern British food that puts taste first,” she said. The future of Northcote and its new elevated dining room, due to be unveiled in the coming years, will involve more theatre, but comfort and ease are currently the bedrock. Allen wants visitors to “relax into the experience and not feel intimidated by it.”
The cooking school allows guests to lend a hand under the direction of Executive Chef Bruno Birbeck, who has previously performed at venues including Gleneagles, The Torridon and Hipping Hall. And the same compact training kitchen overlooking the main area is transformed into a chef’s table for private dining; the wild energy of the pass provides a fantastic backdrop for an orderly seasonal five-course tasting menu with a perfect wine pairing.
The bar has an extensive cocktail menu, a decent wine department and an impressive selection of gins that anyone would expect from a place like Northcote. But again, it’s the emphasis on cordiality that hits the mark the most. It’s hard to overestimate the power of an affable, knowledgeable waiter laden with drink recommendations to really sell a seat — especially when there’s no country pub across the street to go to when service is poor.
The lion’s share of those traveling to Northcote will have more than a passing interest in food, and the corner of Lancashire they call home is teeming with small-scale producers and independent eat and drink establishments.
We’re not talking refined Michelin restaurants, of course, but charming neighborhood bakeries, Britain’s best butcher (with a framed certificate to prove it), ice cream parlors near dairies, a gin distillery and even an award-winning cheesemonger, that’s who last to make Lancashire cheese from raw cow’s milk.
With is the best way to discover everything Bowland & Baya local artisanal food tour specialist who has teamed up with Northcote to create a gracious example of community-enhancing micro-tourism.
how to book
Rooms at the Northcote start from £260 on a B&B basis and the cooking school from £225 per person. Prices start from £1,840 for a chef’s table for 16 or for less than eight people there is a £1,300 minimum for dinner. For more details see northcote.com
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/food-drink/956700/northcote-hotel-restaurant-review-lancashire Rating: Luxury hotel and Michelin star restaurant in Northcote, Lancashire