Northcote (formerly Northcote Manor) is a small luxury hotel and restaurant in the pretty countryside of the Ribble Valley. There is an attractive garden terrace looking out over the hills beyond, where you can have a drink before dinner. Northcote can seat 52 guests in the main dining room, as many as 60 in a separate private room, and a dozen more at the chef's table. Up to 24 chefs work in the kitchen at any given service. The garden at the back of the property provides many of the vegetables used in the kitchen. Executive chef is Nigel Haworth, who has led the kitchen since 1984. The head chef is Lisa Allen, who after working for a year at Le Champignon Sauvage joined the team at Northcote in 2001 and worked her way up from a junior position to head chef in 2004. Northcote was awarded a Michelin star in 1996, which it has kept ever since. Starters ranged in price from £11 to £19.50, main courses from £22.50 to £45, desserts £11 to £12.50. There was also a tasting menu available at £85 and a lunch menu at £28.
The wine list had 630 labels, ranging in price from £25.50 up to £500, and having a fairly broad coverage of regions. Example wines were J. Bouchon Chardonnay 2012 at £27 for a wine that you can find in the shops for £7, Chateau Musar 2005 at £65 for a wine that retails at £30, and Josmeyer Riesling Les Pierrets 2009 at £85.50 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £24. At the posh end of the list Cuvee Frederich Emile 2007 was £117 for a wine that costs £41, Chateau Gazin 2005 was £160 compared to a retail price of £82, and Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2008 was a very reasonable £330 given that it will cost you £273 to buy in a shop.
The meal began with a nibble of cow curd from a local cheese served in an eggshell with sorrel granita and a cheese straw. This combination worked surprisingly well, the cheese straw delicate (16/20). Bread was made in the kitchen, a choice of sourdough, seed bread and (best) Lancashire cheese bread that had deep flavour and good texture (16/20 average).
The first course was unusual in several ways. Onion caramel charred hanger steak with Yorkshire blue cheese and pickled artichokes is an uncommon ingredient combination, and all the odder to appear as the initial course in a meal. However the meat was tender and the sharpness of the pickled artichokes cut through the richness of the cheese and beef surprisingly well. I am still not sure this dish was in the right position on the menu, but it was very enjoyable, due mainly to the precise degree of pickling of the artichokes (16/20).
The next dish was a nod to the famous Fat Duck snail porridge dish. This involved local Southport shrimps instead of snails, with heritage tomatoes, spring onions and tarragon pesto. The shrimps were tender and the tarragon flavour came through well, the tomatoes having quite good flavour (15/20).
Wood burnt monkfish with fennel slaw, Bramley apple and curry flavours was the dish of the night. The monkfish had a pleasing smoky flavour note from the charcoal grill, the Asian spices were present but nicely controlled, the fennel of high quality. Monkfish has enough flavour to work well with spices, the apple providing a nice touch of acidity (17/20).
Cauliflower with black pea hummus, smoked onion sauce, cured ham and garden chives was also very good, the cauliflower precisely cooked, the black peas and onions combining well with the main ingredient (from a long established local farm called Ascroft) which had unusually good flavour (16/20).
Wheat-fed guinea fowl was coated in a brioche crumb with seeds, served with Scottish girolles, wild sorrel and gooseberries grown in the Northcote garden. The bird had excellent flavour and its coating provided an interesting extra texture, while the accompaniments worked well together (16/20).
For dessert, English strawberries and cream with garden mint was a simple dish but the fruit had good flavour. It is hard to match the depth of flavour that the best strawberries from France possess, but these were certainly much better than most English strawberries (tricky to ,mark something this simple, but perhaps 14/20). Coffee, a blend of three different beans, was smooth and rich. Service was excellent thought, very attentive with flawless topping up. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill would be around £90 a head. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, the dishes appealing, with the odd modern touch but the cooking grounded in classical technique, using high quality ingredients.
Full disclosure: this meal was on a press trip.