In the first week of December we ventured to Northumberland for our much-anticipated Winter Wonderland experience in the beautiful gardens of Alnwick Castle. B and myself have a humongous soft spot for this area, therefore expectations were soaring high.
Over the course of the day of festive fun we met The Elf Himself, a jolly elf with a rather inflated ego who kept the kids amused with songs and a rather interesting game of pinning the ears on the elf.
The wonderful Jack Frost was inspired and magical. He was to be found sat in a tree wearing a fantastical Tim Burtonesque costume. He delighted his audience with tales of a naughty elf called Piper and made the youngsters (and dads) giggle with talk of an elf called Poo.
Mrs Claus disturbed me slightly by going off message with her initial chat of Christmas shopping – Santa delivers all gifts on his Sleigh you silly old woman. Well I guess she is around 200 years old so some level of senility is acceptable. She redeemed herself with a bit of audience participation and handing out ‘magic reindeer dust’ to the children.
Finally the man himself – Santa! The children hunkered down in the incredibly atmospheric grotto in front of the dozing Mr Claus and dutifully sang jingle bells in order to wake the Auld yin up. It was sold to us as an intimate experience with around ten children at a time but in fact there were about 30 kids making the mood more chaotic than intimate. It was all going so well until Santa forgot to call out our poppet’s name from his big book. Disaster was narrowly averted but a stern complaint to the management about Santa’s conduct was filed.
Oh this is a food blog isn’t it? I better get round to the absolute gluttony that took place over our 36 hours in Northumberland. I guess it all started with lunch at the Treehouse. The stunningly unusual Alnwick Treehouse is located on the edge of the grounds of Alnwick Castle and Gardens and it as magical inside as it appears on the outside.
Alnwick Castle is well-known for its connections with the famous wizard Harry Potter, and this restaurant always has me humming ‘Hedwigs Theme’ as soon as I step inside. It is a labyrinth of rustic furniture, twinkling fairy lights and a big old fire pit. You expect to be served wine in a goblet rather than a glass.
Both B and I chose the prawn cocktail to start. the retro style cocktail pretty much did what it said on the tin but the inclusion of lovely meaty crayfish made it a little bit more special.
Next up was pork belly for me and turkey with trimmings for B. I love pork belly and this pork belly was nice if not outstanding. The crackling was great, as crackling always is but to be honest I was a teeny tiny bit disappointed in the star of my main course. This was served with fondant potato and a silky cider gravy. The potato in question was beautifully browned and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the interior. I am to cook fondant potato for the first time in a few weeks for a dinner party so I am a little bit in awe of good fondant potatoes at the moment.
No time for dessert but we were to make up for that later!
After our fabulous day soaking up Christmas at Alnwick Gardens we headed to the Hogs Head Inn for dinner and a well-earned sleep. The Hog’s Head. located on the edge of Alnwick is a shiny new building which only started trading in July of this year.
On first impression I thought that The Hog’s Head looked akin to a Premier Inn set up. However as soon as you walk through the door you are hit by such a lovely warm atmosphere that any negative preconceptions drift away.
We had dinner in The Hog’s Head’s lovely open plan bar/restaurant area. I kicked off with tempura prawns which were enormous and pretty good, although the star of the starters show was B’s Deep Fried Potato skins with both a BBQ sauce and a garlic mayonnaise. Unlike most potato wedges these did not drag half the potato along with them. They were deliciously thin and crispy and best of all plentiful.
As soon as I could shove my prawns down the hatch I was shovelling up these lovelies with lashings of BBQ sauce.
My main course was a sizzling Teryaki Skillet with Chicken served with rice. Unlike most of the main courses this seemed to be a portion for a normal person. Bs chicken burger extravaganza was clearly meant for a giant!! The Teryaki chicken was lovely though could have been a little more flavoursome.
Main schmain – heaven on a plate was about to descend. For some ‘now regrettable’ reason we decided to share a dessert. The delight in question was a Warm Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart with Winter Berries capped with a White Chocolate Ice Cream. How many of you are drooling now eh! This dessert was bloody marvellous.
The only potential fly in the ointment was the ice cream, as I am not a fan of ice cream appearing anywhere outside of a cone BUT this ice cream was dubious (in a fantastic way). It was more like a big lovely ball of white chocolate flavoured clotted cream. My arteries were screaming for mercy – I ignored them and dug in, eager not to be short-changed in this sharing frenzy.
The pastry was beautiful and light, the filling was sweet and oozingly perfect and the ‘ice cream’ was strangely wonderful.
By the way the rooms in the Hog’s Head were fabulous. Our family room was the size of a small country – warm, beautifully furnished and had everything we needed – great place to stay for a short break.
The next day we waddled to the car following a hearty Northumberland breakfast and headed to Lindisfarne for a bracing walk to the castle (well worth a visit). We did think that we could never eat again, but strangely after a bit of exercise my tummy was telling me otherwise – it might even have been grumbling! So a late lunch was in order at the Lindisfarne Inn in Beal where we received a lovely Northumbrian welcome complete with crayons to keep young GT happy.
This was the pinnacle of my weekend of gluttony and it was possibly the best meal of the whole weekend. I ordered from the Light Bites menu, although the term Light Bites makes me giggle – it was enormous. I opted for the Bacon, Mushroom & Blacksticks Blue Cheese Baguette which was absolutely marvellous. The fantastically full flavoured cheese was superbly tasty and made great friends of salty bacon and lovely soft mushrooms. Well done on that combo Mr Chef!
By the way, Blacksticks Cheese is produced by Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses in Lancashire and is described thus “Soft and squishy with a wonderfully smooth creamy taste and a delicate blue tang and instantly recognised by its striking amber hue” . It was indeed a wonderful, wonderful blue cheese which I plan to source sometime soon for my own cheese-board.
B opted for a baguette filled with roast beef and gravy on the side. It looked impressive and the noises coming from him were entirely positive. To be honest I was lost in Blacksticks heaven so barely registered his existence for at least 20 minutes.
Next up dessert …. oh no we didn’t … oh yes we did! Who could resist Warm Hot Chocolate Fudge Cake with cream on the side? Certainly not me. Well it was divine, as one would expect from a great big slab of chocolate heaven.
B chose apple crumble which was rather odd in that the apple part was perfect but the topping was powdery rather than toasty and crunchy. He seemed happy after dousing it with a liberal amounts of custard however. My favourite thing about a crumble is the toasty crunchiness so I was very glad I opted for my particular sweet obscenity.
So now we are home and I have been eating mainly fruit and soup (sort of) in a rather vain attempt to fit in to … well anything for the Christmas party season. It’s not going well and I find myself pondering – was it worth it?
The answer is always the same