Catherine Scott experienced a midweek gourmet break at the Michelin starred hotel a stone's throw from the Yorkshire border
Northcote is famed for its Michelin-starred restaurant, headed up by Lisa Goodwin-Allen - her of the plan speaking, spiky white hair and multiple winner of the BBC's Great British Menu.
But there is far more to this place than just the gourmet dining experience.
Nestled on the edge of Lancashire’s picturesque Ribble Valley, surrounded by miles of unspoilt countryside and pretty villages, Northcote affords views of the moors, fells and the Forest of Bowland and is a great base to explore this often unsung part of Northern England
What surprised me was its proximity to Yorkshire. It took us little over an hour travelling through stunning scenery from our home near Harrogate to reach Northcote.
J.R.R. Tolkien spent a lot of his time at nearby Stonyhurst, working on his novel, The Lord of the Rings, during the Second World War
Northcote has 26 individually designed guest rooms split between two main buildings. There are 18 traditional 'country-chic' rooms in the main Manor House, which was originally built in the 1800s and was a private home before becoming a hotel and restaurant. In 1983 John Westonholme bought it and brought Craig Bancroft and chef Nigel Howarth on board to create his dream of Northcote becoming one of the finest restaurants and country house hotel in the UK. There is no doubt he has achieved his ambition.
Howarth might have moved on but Bancroft is still Managing Director and Northcote is now part of the Stafford group of hotels.
As well as the rooms in the manor house there are eight contemporary suites, including a Master Suite, in the adjacent Garden Lodge, where we were staying. Each Junior Suite has either a terrace or balcony – some like ours with a living flame fire – overlooking Northcote’s gardens and the Ribble Valley countryside.
Every suite has own highly individual character, combining rich fabrics, highly distinctive furniture and soft, sophisticated lighting. The en-suite bathrooms comprise deep bathtubs, double showers and double sinks, plus Temple Spa toiletries and bathrobes.
Northcote is full booked well into 2022, but they do get cancellations so it is always worth checking their website.
We had a pre dinner drink and canapes on the garden terrace, where you can take lunch and, when available afternoon tea - although this has had to be suspended due to the pandemic.
We were then ushered into the stylish dining room where the attentive service hit just the right balance between friendly and informative but not over-bearing,
We were then treated to Lisa Goodwin-Allen's five course gourmet menu with wine pairing.
Lisa has been Executive Chef at Northcote since October 2017. However, she has worked there for 20 years, joining when she was 20, becoming Chef de Partie within a year, and junior Sous Chef the following year. She was named Head Chef at the age of just 23, one of the youngest chefs to take on the role in a Michelin-starred kitchen at the time. Since then she has helped to maintain the restaurant’s Michelin star, which it has held for more than 20 years in total.
Born in Lancashire, Lisa became interested in cookery at school. Her culinary career began at Lancaster and Morecambe College. After graduating, she worked in several prestigious restaurants, including the two Michelin starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Gloucester, before returning to her roots and arriving at Northcote.
Lisa’s impressive culinary skills have landed her a number of TV opportunities such as serving her dish of rabbit and leek turnover to HRH Prince Charles at a banquet celebrating the National Trust as part of BBC Two’s Great British Menu, which she won in 2010 and was a finalist in 2011. She returned to the show as a guest judge in 2016. She was also a chef mentor on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2015 and a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and Celebrity Masterchef in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Lisa was named Hotel Chef of the Year at the Catey Awards, and was shortlisted for the AA Chef ’s Chef of the Year's table
Through the pandemic Lisa and her team created boxes for Northcote at Home which proved a massive success
We were lucky enough to be shown around the impressive kitchens and also see the Northcote Cookery School which is one of the UK’s leading culinary schools, led by Head Tutor Bruno Birkbeck. The cookery school is also transformed into the Chef's Table where 16 guests can eat while watching Lisa and her brigade in action.
Challenges caused by the pandemic have meant Lisa and the Northcote team have had to adapt their normal offering, but I defy anyone to notice it.