The five-star Rockliffe Hall golf and spa hotel does it in style. Tucked away in the village of Hurworth, near Darlington, the country retreat is always a treat to visit.
I’ve been lucky enough to pop in and out a few times over the years. Pamper days in the fabulous award-winning spa, now with outdoor Spa Garden, and dinners in the critically-acclaimed 3AA rosette Orangery restaurant, set in the beautiful red-brick 18th century Old Hall, have all made for memorable experiences.
The only thing I haven’t done is stay over – so that’s on the wishlist, especially after the latest visit with my daughter for dinner.
The hotel offers a range of dining options, including the smart fine-dining Orangery, The Brasserie, and The Clubhouse for golfers. It’s been a few years since I last dined in The Brasserie, set on the floor above the spa, overlooking the 18-hole championship golf course and the tranquil Spa Garden.
The restaurant has big picture windows so a window seat was a must for us to take in those views. These made all the sweeter with a glass of fresh, citrussy Spy Valley sauvignon blanc to hand (£43 a bottle). We did actually order a bottle of Chardonnay, but no matter… this tipple with those accompanying views tasted just as good, if not better. The adjoining outdoor terrace dining area is the place to be when the sun hits the spot! It was lovely too to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors after dinner (with the heaters on) and just savour the serene setting.
The décor in The Brasserie is modern and contemporary, with stripy carpet and dark wooden tables, and whisper it, even the odd footie player dining… We spotted a newly-signed player on loan from Chelsea to Middlesbrough (where the club has its training ground and academy on the adjoining site).
Footie talk aside, the á la carte menu offered so many tempting dishes, seasonal specials using locally-sourced produce, that it took a while for us to decide.
The Brasserie, which caters for spa guests as well as other diners through the day, turns more formal in the evening, with no robes allowed after 5pm. It started off fairly quiet at 6.30pm and became very buzzy as the night went on.
Starters on offer included the likes of local smoked fish platter, £12, black pudding Scotch egg, £10, and linguini of langoustines, £12.
I opted for ham and pea terrine, £10, with intensely flavoured pool of cucumber gel, pickled vegetables and piccalilli dressing. It was attractively presented and looked so appetising; the meaty terrine, studded with peas, was super tasty.
My daughter chose the starter I had been eyeing up, camembert, fig and onion tart, £9, with herb salad. A thin pastry base and sweet slices of roasted fig, topped with caramelised onions and warm, melting camembert, it was deemed utterly delicious.
Mains were equally as tempting, with dishes such as roast Moroccan spring lamb with smoked aubergine puree, yoghurt and couscous, £26, and roasted cod loin, with Parma ham, minted peas, gin and vinegar scraps and triple cooked chips, £21.
My choice of pan-fried seabass dish, £26, was an excellent one. The delicately-cooked sweet flavoursome fish came with three generously-sized crab tortellini pasta parcels, intensely flavoured fennel puree, and moat of white wine sauce.
My daughter doesn’t often fancy a steak but this was one such occasion… An excellent choice, it turned out, as the 10oz sirloin steak from the grill menu, £31, was full of flavour, juicy and tender. It came with large roasted tomato, triple-cooked chips served in metal frier (so moreish and perfectly crisp), giant onion rings and mound of rocket salad. She poured creamy peppercorn sauce, £4, all over the perfectly cooked steak.
We shared a bowl of mixed seasonal veg, £4, of broccoli (slightly overcooked), green beans, baby carrots, and cabbage.
Every member of staff we came into contact with, both in the restaurant and throughout the hotel, were without exception, polite, smiley and attentive. Top marks for training.
On to desserts, and both our choices were imaginative with spoonfuls of wow factor. Chocolate mousse with giant blackberries, £8, with pistachio granola and blackberry textures, was a sight to behold. A dish with flair and imagination, the contrasting rich chocolatey and fruity textures worked well together. While Eton Mess, £8, with seasonal berry soup, meringue morsels, creamy panna cotta surprise and raspberry sorbet, was a creative take on the summery favourite.
Three courses takes its toll so we enjoyed coffees and lingered outside on the terrace with a glass of wine.
It was so peaceful and calm – and rounded off what was a stellar dining experience in keeping with this starry hotel.