A return to Northcote Manor (reprise – part 2)
One of the coolest things about Northcote Manor is that its walls are covered with menus from other restaurants. You’ll find them in the lobby, in the lounge, in the corridors connecting the bedrooms – they’re everywhere.
Walking down the stairs from my room before a meal there last Sunday, I spent several minutes perched on a step ogling the dishes of the legendary Paris restaurant La Tour d’Argent. As I moved on through the reception area, I was able to take a good look at the cover of a menu for the similarly mythical La Pyramide. In the lounge, while I waited for the champagne and canapés to turn up, I gawped at a tasting menu from Jamin, which was titled “A meal of a lifetime”.*
It’s a helluva way to get you in the mood for a great evening of food.
For the five of us, said evening kicked off with a third of a bottle of Laurent Perrier and a couple of canapés each. There was a very ordinary bite of cheese, which had been breaded and deep-fried, and a vastly superior nibble of treacle-smoked salmon. Neither was particularly memorable.**
Things improved significantly on the food front when we moved to the dining room*** and had an amuse-bouche of lettuce mousse with bacon****. It was a novel dish (to me anyway); stunningly presented and beautifully balanced with a light texture and clean flavours. It was as good an amuse-bouche as I’ve had.
Unfortunately for my allergic wife, it had cream in it so she ended up with a small pot of beetroot and onions instead. Yeah… that was about as good as it sounds.
After that, the meal (full menu detailed here) began properly.
I was extremely impressed by how consistent the first three courses (chicken liver, lobster, and tomato consommé) were in terms of quality. The liver was a little too rich for me and the lobster a touch chewy, but it was still all very high-end cooking with little to fault.
The pre-mains on my first visit consisted of a spectacular piece of seabass, but also a salmon starter and a consommé that didn’t seem to be of Michelin-star standard. There were no such qualms this time – all were easily good enough.
I was really looking forward to the main course as I’ve never had grouse before. The fillet of pink breast meat they placed before me looked like a giant’s uvula, but tasted bloody lovely. It went brilliantly with the little bread sauce balls that were served with it; perhaps not quite so well with the rest of the half-dozen or so accompaniments.
It thought this was a bit of a shame. With some paring down, it could’ve been the best course of the day, but there was too much going on for my liking.*****
The gold medal for best dish ended up going to the raspberry dessert, which was flawless; just the perfect way to end a meal. My wife’s alternative (below) was very nice as well, but I think I came out on top in the pudding stakes this time around.
(My exclamation of “ha – suck on that one!” wasn’t particularly well received…)
Poached Garden Plums, Soup, Orange and Basil Sorbet, Nut Shard
Moscatel de Setúbal, Bacalhôa, Peninsula de Setúbal, Portugal, 2004
I think this latest trip compared very favourably with the first; a worthy sequel to a classic. There were no mind-blowing dishes or standout wines, and the service didn’t wow me.****** But there were no real disappointments either. There was a consistency to the food and the wine-pairing that the first visit couldn’t match. It was just all really, really good.
Yet again, I’ll urge anybody living in Manchester or Lancashire to travel over to Langho and give this restaurant a spin. If you’ve never eaten at a Michelin-starred place before, it’s a perfect introduction and I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic experience.
I didn’t leave this meal as eager to go back as I did last time. There are hundreds of other great restaurants out there and I’d like to move on now and try something new.
That said, there aren’t many places of this quality so close to where I live. I don’t think I’d go on a gourmet break again, but if I’ve not been back to eat lunch off the a la carte within the next two years, I’ll be very surprised.
Dining Room: 4/5
Overall score: 74/100 (Brilliant – worth a special trip)
*A few words on why these menus stood out above the rest:
La Tour d’Argent is another restaurant on my wishlist. It’s apparently an overpriced tourist trap and standards have dropped a lot in the last 20 years (it used to have 3 Michelin stars, it now has 1), but it still looks absolutely awesome. All the reasons I want to visit are outlined in these reviews here and here – well worth reading if you’ve got a couple of minutes.
La Pyramide was supposedly the best restaurant in the world in the early and middle parts of the 20th century. In Kitchen Confidential (which I’d recommend to anyone), Anthony Bourdain cited a trip there as a child as one of the biggest influences on his future love of food – his parents went in to eat while he was forced to stay outside in the car.
Jamin, by most accounts, was the best restaurant in the world during the late 1980s and early 90s. Chef Joël Robuchon was named Gault Millau’s ‘Chef of the Century’ just a few years before it closed. The menu at Northcote was from 1993. I wish my French was better so I could’ve understood everything on there.
**I’ve already forgotten the cheese and everything that went with the salmon. I want to say there was ginger, but I’m not 100% sure.
*** The most common criticism you used to see of Northcote was that its dining room was designed by someone who thought old people’s homes were chic. Seriously, you could almost smell the urine. Thankfully, this has been remedied and it’s now a very smart place in which to eat.
****There was other stuff in it too, but I can’t remember that either. Now I know why food critics take notes…
***** The version my wife had was much better. She couldn’t have the bread sauce or the game mousse that had been served on the side, so she got some perfectly cooked baby turnips and other veg instead. Much simpler and thus, much improved.
******I actually got the impression they’d made some cutbacks in this area. The staff-to-table ratio seemed to be lower and wine was served by a waiter holding a bottle rather than a sommelier wielding a carafe – a relatively small difference, but presumably one that saves money. It still worked very well for the most part, but it wasn’t error-free. Serving coffee with the cheese and forgetting the petits fours was pretty sloppy.