A PUNTER’S VIEW OF NORTHCOTE’S GOURMET GETAWAY, BY SAVOUR WRITER DAVE MACKAY
You might wonder why some of the world’s best chefs know about the village of Langho in the Ribble Valley.
The answer is simple, Obsession. Held annually at Northcote – a luxury hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant – it is a celebration of world cuisine. Each night during the event, a different chef takes over the kitchen and the list of past guest chefs is a who’s who of Michelin stars. It started back in 2001 with just four chefs, Nigel Haworth, Philip Howard, Nick Nairn and Terry Laybourne and it has continued to grow, so much so that in 2023 there were 24 chefs taking part including Tommy Banks, Anna Haugh, Monica Galetti, John Williams, Spencer Metzger and Northcote’s Executive Chef and Great British Menu champion and judge, Lisa Goodwin-Allen.
Past guests have included Heston Blumenthal, John Torode, Richard Corrigan, Simon Rogan and Ken Hom. Chefs from every single continent (Antarctica excepted) and more than 20 different countries have appeared including Andoni Aduriz (Mugaritz, Spain), Gaggan Anand (Gaggan, Bangkok), Claire Clark (The French Laundry, USA) and Daniel Puskas (Sixpenny, Australia).
Obsession 2024 has just been announced and runs for 17 nights from Friday, January 19 2024. Lisa Goodwin-Allen kicks things off and those that follow have a staggering 23 Michelin stars between them. They include Tom Barnes (L’Enclume), Danielle Lippi (Acqolina, Rome), Gareth Ward (Ynishir) and it ends on Sunday, February 4 with Michel Roux and his daughter, Emily Roux.
Northcote itself is a manor house with 26 imaginative and inspired rooms and the Garden Lodge, set in the grounds has an additional eight rooms including a master suite. The beautifully manicured grounds and the extensive kitchen garden are open for all to wander around and see the fresh produce likely to find its way into that evening’s dishes.
Northcote also has a private dining room and a Chef’s Table option which is ideal for private celebrations and small weddings. There’s a Cookery School which starts with breakfast, a tour of the kitchens and a morning of six courses, four of which you cook yourself and lunch is provided along with a break in the afternoon for coffee and treats. Prices start at £235pp but for the more determined cooks, there are courses which last a full week for £1,300.
We visited Northcote at the start of October as a reward for Mrs Punter putting up with me for 29 years and things got off to a good start when the bright and welcoming exterior was matched, surpassed in fact, by the welcome we got when we came in to “Lovely to see you and happy anniversary”.
We were guided to our room through the mazy hallways and were delighted to have a room with a comfy seating area looking out over the gardens. The room was tastefully decorated and very well appointed with a large TV, fridge and a Bluetooth clock/speaker for us to play our tunes whilst getting ready for dinner.
The bathroom was large with luxurious toiletries, fluffy towels and robes and huge bath and separate shower. The bed was spacious, comfortable and perfect for collapsing into after an evening of wining and dining.
Having unpacked (and sampled the mini bar a bit) we had a saunter around the grounds, identifying herbs and veg and admiring the views of the surrounding countryside from the terrace.
As creatures of habit, we then had to go and visit the cocktail bar and we (well mostly me) were very happy to see a large picture of Michael Caine and Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. That was, actually, prophetic because just like that film, the staff at Northcote are elegant, charming and very, very funny. Their cocktail recommendations were excellent, the Candy Floss and the Vieux Carre were our two favourites and it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the comfy sofa to go and get ready.
We were on the “Gourmet Getaway” deal which starts at £466 for two people and includes accommodation, breakfast and a five-course seasonal menu (there’s also an a al carte menu available).
The restaurant is elegant, as you would expect from a Pride of Britain Hotels group venue, with plenty of table options and a wonderful (and massive) modern chandelier. The restaurant staff were just as charming and welcoming as the reception and bar team – and it is a skill to make every customer feel like they’re getting that extra special bit of attention.
We opted for the wine flight (£71.85pp) with the usual “no reds” challenge for Mrs Punter. My starter was pressed Yorkshire chicken (yes, in Lancashire), with apple and a crispy chicken brioche.
Mrs P’s starter was beetroot three ways with horseradish and tarragon. Next up for both of us was Isle of Wight tomatoes with soft goat’s curd and basil which was, for both us, the dish of the day.
The fish dish was brill(iant) with Cornish brill moules mariniere, lemon and parsley and Mrs P had a cauliflower risotto with whey and an obscene amount of truffle.
The main was slow-cooked lamb belly with grelot, courgette and smoked yoghurt and it was an absolute belter which resulted in a frankly embarrassing amount of plate licking.
Mrs P had the same dish but with miso aubergine instead of lamb. She, however, had far more dignity than me and her plate remained unlicked.
Finally onto the pudding which was blackcurrant with chocolate, liquorice and sour cream. It is fair to say that by this stage, the mini bar, cocktails and wine flight was starting to catch up with us but we weren’t daunted and pushed on through and managed to polish them off. We had to admit defeat and just couldn’t face the optional cheese board or even “one last cocktail before bed”.
It is fair to say that the whole meal showed not only why Northcote has got its deserved Michelin Star but also why Lisa Goodwin-Allen got three dishes through to the final banquet of the Great British Christmas Menu.
Breakfast was cooked to order and there was a good selection to choose from. Somehow we managed to find room for it but I have to admit that my belt was loosened by quite a bit for the drive home. It was totally worth it though as every notch on the belt reminded me what a wonderful time we’d had. Fantastic staff, fantastic food and fantastic surroundings. Did I mention it was fantastic?
To find out more about Northcote’s Gourmet Getaway and other offers, visit www.northcote.com/offers-and-packages/
To find out more about the Cookery School visit www.northcote.com/cookery-school/
For the full lineup for Obsession and booking details, visit www.northcote.com/obsession-24-chef-lineup-announced/