Nick heads to Northcote to eat at the first night of Obsession 16, sixteen nights of remarkable guest chefs from all over the world.
I love a country hotel breakfast; the chance to indulge in bacon, black pudding, eggs, toast and all the rest (but please hold the chavvy baked beans) with no washing up – brilliant. Especially up north where they take these things seriously and have the produce to deliver the goods
So imagine my dismay waking up at Northcote and looking at the clock to find it was 10 am and breakfast service had just finished. Despair barely describes it; it had been the best night’s sleep for ages but was this payback karma? We reckoned without the wonderful people at Northcote.
Staggering downstairs at 10:15 and hoping maybe for a coffee at least, we explained our problem to sympathetic ears and we’re immediately offered the option of some coffee and toast in the lounge by the fire Ã¢â‚¬ËœPerhaps a bacon sandwich too?’ well, what a tempting offer and soon we were happily eating again.
I say again because the previous night we had eaten like superstars at the opening night of Northcote’s annual event, Obsession. This is the sixteenth year that Chef Patron Nigel Haworth and’Mr B’, Managing Director Craig Bancroft, have put on this culinary extravaganza of a different guest chef each night and opening night was showtime for Jean-Luc Rocha the 2 Michelin star chef from ChÃƒÂ¢teau Cordeillan-BagesPauillac, France.
It was a superb evening of food, especially when you consider that Jean -Luc was, like all the other guest chefs to come, cooking out of his comfort zone away from his usual, familiar, kitchen and staff and doing 100 + covers at once.
Matched with marvellous wine choices from sommelier Craig Bancroft and his wine team it was the antithesis of trendy food; nothing smoked, BBQd or pulled, no monaural flavours and it needed cutlery to eat it. Oh and it looked beautiful on the plate, as grown-up food should.
Great food is not unusual at Northcote; Nigel has held a Michelin star here since 1996 using his beloved Lancastrian produce to create mesmerising plates of food. The restaurant won UK’s Best Restaurant outside London at the Food & Travel Reader Awards last year too.
From small beginnings, it was once merely a large house, the hotel now has 26 bedrooms varying in size but all enjoying large modern bathrooms, and, I was pleased to discover, real milk in the fridges, Little things like that mean a lot,they mean the dead hand of corporate bean-counting is not present and instead humans are in charge.
If you can tear yourself away from real wood fires, the surrounding countryside of the Ribble Valley is wonderful and the hotel has booklets of suggested walks to make the most of it.
By the time we had packed there was no time to walk so we went instead to another property owned by the group that owns Northcote, a tidied up pub called The Three Fishes in Mitton.
This has a kitchen under the overall direction of Nigel and a wide menu to choose from with plenty of local produce and beers, none of them thankfully’craft’ (which usually means some hipster has overloaded his home brew with hops) but proper beers that are enjoyable and unshowy. We ate a massive fish pie and wandered off to see the local Grade 1 Listed medieval church of All Hallows with its dead Lords and Ladies.
The area around was somewhere Tolkien lived and wrote and where he picked up ideas, Hobbit fanciers can find Shire Lane, the Twin Towers and many other influences on his works. The pub has maps of the Tolkien Trail to follow if you’re so inclined. Even if you’re not a fan of Tolkien it’s always good to walk with some kind of purpose.
Wishing we had a car to go cheese and black pudding shopping, instead we got a cab back to Preston Station, £25 seemed fair because we’d got brilliantly cheap Virgin train tickets. Just £15 each single to London, bought in advance, as opposed to £87 each on the day. Quite a saving.
One more beer at the historic station and then a fast and flawless 2 hour train to Euston. A trip oop north is affordable and well worth making when you make Northcote your base.