Northcote Manor, Ribble Valley, England

xNorthcote has been on my radar for so many years, especially with a litany of glowing reviews from friends and acquaintances, some of whom are lucky enough to live within Champagne cork-popping distance of this fine, red brick manor house on the edge of the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.

With only 26 rooms and a multi-award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurant it has ‘my sort of place’ written all over it, so in many ways it had a hell of a lot to live up to: reputation and expectation where both sky high. I am delighted to say that Northcote excelled, and now sits comfortably (a very apt word) near the top of the pile of my favourite restaurants with rooms in the UK.

northcoteNorthcote is easy to reach – three and a half hours driving from Glasgow in my case, but five miles from Blackburn, 12 miles from Preston and just 33 miles from Manchester, so surrounded by useful road, rail and air links. The weather was against me on my visit, our waitress at breakfast informing me that our table had “a fantastic view – if you could see anything through the fog,” but certainly the surrounding rural landscape and blurry outline of high hills and forests were noted for my next visit.

The rooms

northcote-roomMy room at Northcote was simply one of the nicest hotel rooms I have ever stayed in. First of all, my room in the newer Garden Lodge was simply enormous, the bathroom alone as big as many standard hotel rooms. But size isn’t everything, and it was the supremely thoughtful attention to detail and superbly comfortable execution of the room design that really impressed. Offering a flawless marriage between hi-tech and classical luxury, my deluxe room also boasting a huge balcony with table, chairs, and uninterrupted view which, for summer visits, must be the icing on the cake.

On a wet November afternoon there was enough to keep me happily indoors, however, with a contemporary living-flame fire, serious Ruark hi-fi station and enough lighting combinations to match any mood. The furnishings are timeless and elegant, with dreamy high-thread count linens and the thickest and most luxurious carpeting. And what about that mega-bathroom? It offered a big free-standing tub, enormous twin walk-in shower and acres of dark marble, cool against the cosy underfloor heating. It’s the dream spa bathroom elevated to new heights. The rack rate for my room was £410 B&B, but double rooms in the main house start from £270 and there are various gourmet and seasonal packages that are worth keeping an eye on.

The restaurant

There’s no rush at Northcote: your table is yours for the evening, and lingering over pre- or post-dinner drinks in one of the elegant lounges is encouraged. We settled in with two glasses of the house Brut Champagne – a wily and excellent choice in the shape of the Champagne Palmer, not often seen but of tremendous quality. With an array of delicate canapés, the menus and wine list appeared. We quickly settled on the gourmet menu, and although the wine list seemed to be remarkably wine-geek friendly, with some great wines in multiple vintages and modest mark-ups for a Relais & Châteaux establishment, I let the sommelier take the strain and opted for the matching wine flights too.

northcote-steak The first small course was a deliciously fresh and appetising tartare of Orkney scallops, with leeks, caviar and a dash of wasabi that heightened, but did not overpower, the sweet flesh of the scallop. It was delightful, and the Muscat-based ‘Koloni’ from Soms-Delta in South Africa was one of the best matches of the night: aromatic, sweetly-fruity, and not too dry, the profile matching the dish perfectly. Red leg partridge was another fabulous dish, showing the kitchen’s ability to really spark-up traditional flavours, adding barbequed orange, chicory and all sorts of bittersweet tang and depth, a glass of Terras Gauda’s Rías Baixas alongside slipped down a treat.

A little veggie intermediate course was another beauty, a raviolo, stuffed with a caramelised celeriac and chestnut mousse, in a broth studded with trompettes. What really elevated this dish was another outstanding wine match, which took me rather wonderfully out of my comfort zone, a small glass of Ikekame’s ‘Turtle Red’ Sake, a strawberry scented, just off-dry sake with terrific acidity. The main course (above, right) delivered another bucketload of flavour: a little tranche of wood-fired, veal hanger steak, with a mead caramel (not too sweet), roasted artichoke and a truffle cream (not too truffly). It was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, a glass of Qupé’s Californian Syrah doing another fine job, picking out the sweetness, meatiness and with just the right tannins to cope with the protein of the dish.

northcote-puddingWe passed on cheese, which may have been just as well, for pudding was another triumphant dish from this kitchen team: a very playfully moulded Brockhall Orchard apple cheesecake, yummy with a snowball-fresh apple cider sorbet and little salad of herbs and edible flowers, a glaze of salted caramel adding another flavour and texture. What a good idea to match this with a glass of Roederer demi-sec, a wonderful marriage to end this tour de force of food and wine.

As we retired to the lounge for fresh mint tea and petit-fours, I reflected on what a superb meal this was. And guess what? 30 yards to bed…

The verdict on Northcote

Breakfast next morning was a calm affair, perhaps because of a few over-indulgent sore heads being nursed, or perhaps just because of the rain and fog, but our cheerful waitress brought steaming pots of coffee, the most delicious compote and then for me, Lancashire cheese soufflé, creamy but light, and the perfect start to the day, though I must say the English breakfast with Cumberland sausage, free range eggs and locally cured bacon looked terrific too.

The gourmet menu costs £70 per person, add another £57.75 per person for the wine flights, and along with the room, a night at Northcote is not going to be cheap. But value it most certainly is, for one of the nicest hotel rooms in the UK, matchless service from beginning to end, and a truly excellent dining experience: thoughtful, creative, stretching the boundaries but never crossing them. The whole experience was marvellous.

Northcote Road,

Blackburn BB6 8BE
Phone: 01254 240 555
Open seven days for lunch and dinner
Lunch from £33.50, dinner from £70
Double rooms from £270