For our Christmas, my Mum and I had kindly been given some vouchers for Rockliffe Hall near Darlington, a fantastic and easily accessible accommodation option for those living in Yorkshire and the North East.
Our vouchers covered the cost of our stay over a Saturday night and also the large majority of a gorgeous dinner in the stunning Orangery restaurant.
We had booked dinner for 7.30 and spent some time after returning from the hotel spa putting our glad rags on!
We headed downstairs and, before being shown into the main restaurant, we sat and enjoyed a drink in one of the cosy lounge areas. I kept things simple with a glass of lemonade but I did see that there were a number of tempting non alcoholic cocktails on the menu, which is always nice for us pregnant folk to see! My Mum had a nice glass of prosecco and we nibbled away at the complimentary bowl of nuts.
We spent quite some time perusing the menu. I should point out that the dishes are described in a very minimal way, which meant that we had plenty of questions for the waiter when he came over to take our order!
Thankfully the waiter was more than understanding of my need to be fussy over ingredients like shellfish – he told us he had a one year old at home so remembers well the minefield of eating out during pregnancy! – and was really very helpful in pointing out the best options for me as well as things to avoid.
Moving into the main restaurant area, our meal began with warm bread served in a cute little cloth bag with a cone of soft butter. The black pudding rolls (which seem to be quite fashionable at the moment in the foodie world) were very nice, offering an interesting depth of flavour.
Not long after, our amuse bouche arrived. Wild garlic risotto served in a ceramic sea shell plate, it was full of amazing garlicky flavour without being overbearing. I could have scoffed a whole huge bowl of it to be honest but with four courses ahead of me it was just as well that the portion was modest.
For my first course I’d opted for “Onion – textures of onion”, a description that did little to convey the contents of the delicious plate of food about to arrive. There was a delicate but woody spelt risotto topped with mini onion rings, spring onions and tiny little baby onions cooked to perfection. I am a big onion fan and this dish did not let me down.
My Mum had chosen “Lobster – Lobster Caesar – Avacado – Ebene Caviar” and she loved every forkful. Her plate was like a pretty picture that it was almost unkind to break up with a fork!
Moving on to the second course, I had chosen “Turbot – Crab – Saffron – Broccoli – Quinoa – Tapioca” (but without the crab). The slice of turbot was served with quinoa (which I’m not a big fan of texture-wise), some delicate tender stem broccoli, some broccoli puree and saffron foam. It also had some interesting squid ink “prawn crackers” draped over the top. This was the tapioca element which I didn’t really understand but they were delicious so I won’t complain! The fish itself was flaky and perfectly cooked.
My Mum had chosen “Scallops – Spelt – Textures of Onion”. They were melt in the mouth and exactly how you’d want a scallop dish to be if you love your seafood.
Well cooked my fish dish may have been but my turbot soon faded into a distant memory when our pork dishes turned up. We had both opted for “Pork – Belly – Cheek – Langoustine – Chorizo – Honey and Five Spice”. The pork belly was melt in the mouth, the cheek rich and naughty, and the dish tied together beautifully by a chorizo sauce element. The popcorn on top was an unusual addition but it really worked! The pork was a highlight of the evening and I’m so glad I chose it.
To round off the meal I had “Pistachio – Pistachio and olive oil cake – Chocolate – Orange” (but without the orange!). It was served beautifully as you can see and the chocolate elements on the plate satisfied my sweet tooth, offsetting the slightly savoury tones of the moist pistachio cake. What a fine pudding to end the evening! My Mum’s “Strawberry – Gariguette – Cheesecake – Yoghurt – Mint” went down a treat as well.
Overall I was very impressed by the Orangery. The food was stylish and modern without being ridiculous, with the focus remaining on flavour throughout. The chefs are doing interesting things with food but know how to keep the paying customers happy at the same time. My Mum’s pudding was a case in point; we had a little giggle at the description of a “deconstructed cheesecake” but actually it was a fabulous dish that would keep any strawberry or dessert fan happy!
The service was fantastic from start to finish, from the lovely man who explained how to tweak the menu to be pregnancy friendly to the young waiter who talked us through the interesting artwork on the wall next to us. The Orangery itself is a stunning light dining space that offers a demure but not stifling atmosphere to spend an evening in. It is full of quirky touches as well such as the little sculptures of animals on each table (a highland cow sat guarding us as we had our dinner) that really make it stick in the mind for all the right reasons.
My only regret was that I couldn’t indulge in a glass of something alcoholic but I really hope to be able to rectify that in the future with another visit to the Orangery at Rockliffe Hall!
If you’re looking for somewhere very special to eat in the north east I would really recommend the Orangery – you won’t be let down.
Categories: Restaurant reviews