Settings don’t get much more picturesque than the grand grounds of Slaley Hall.
Even the drive to this hotel, a few miles from Hexham, is pretty spectacular as the winding roads meander their way through otherwise unspoilt landscape.
Turn off into the Slaley estate, and 1,000 acres of rolling Northumberland moorland and forest hug this Edwardian mansion which has been built upon to create a large, 142-bed hotel that can cater for everything from golf events to wedding events.
The new arm in which we stayed, with its classic-style rooms, some overlooking the site’s two famed golf courses, blend in well with the period building in this former hunting estate.
But it’s in the original building, built in the opulent Scottish baronial style, where the venue really comes into its own.
An imposing corridor of rich mahogany panels, from which there are entrances to grand reception rooms that once must have hosted lavish shooting parties of yore, leads you to Hadrian’s Brasserie where we dined for the evening.
One of three on-site restaurants, it’s designed in the classic bistro style with leather booths to sink into and a menu of comfort foods to match.
On our visit we could take our pick of winter warmers from the mains, which start from £15, such as roast rump of lamb served with haggis and bashed neeps with creamed potatoes (perhaps a nod to the Scottish executive chef at the helm of the kitchen); pan seared breast of guinea fowl with bubble and squeak, blackberry and kale and pan fried hake with parsnip puree and wild mushroom.
I chose the slow cooked pork belly, which struck just the right balance with a crisp skin atop juicy layers of meat. It was served with an apple and sage compote, which added some tang to the proceedings, along with a satisfying swirl of golden mash.
I’m not usually a pudding person, but Slaley Hall prides itself on its puds. So much so, it created a towering giant gingerbread house at Christmas which proved a popular talking point with guests, who are also welcomed to their rooms with cake pops.
After some serious competition from an impressive-sounding Earl grey panna cotta with apricot compote, ginger bread crisp, it was the pistachio crème brulee with pistachio ice cream which won.
After the richness of the belly pork, it was a perfect palate-cleanser featuring a pot of silky crème brulee with a splodge of delicately nutty ice cream.
After dinner, we retired (along with the remainder of our dinner wine) to the whisky snug which we managed to have all to ourselves.
We felt quite the ladies of the manor as we reclined on the room’s studded velvet sofas in front of a roaring open fire, which our barman kept stoked with logs from those picture postcard grounds.
Chef appointment as Slaley Hall aims to stamp itself on the culinary map
From Bermuda to South Africa, Graham Riley’s crafted dishes across the globe.
Now he’s brought his 30 years of experience in the field to as executive chef at Slaley Hall.
His appointment is part of a £1million investment in the site, as it aims to re-stamp itself on the resort hotel map.
Heading up the vast kitchen at the site is no mean feat for Graham who oversees the dishes served at the three on-site restaurants: The Dukes, offering a fine dining experience, Hadrian’s Brasserie, serving seasonal dishes with fresh local produce, and classic British cuisine in the hotel’s Claret Jug clubhouse.
At peak period, the team of 27 kitchen staff could be preparing meals for up to 200 covers a night in the brasserie, with another 30 in Duke’s, which opens seasonally from April, and another 150 in the Claret Jug.
As well as the hotel’s guests, there’s also 33 lodges on the expansive estate, who also use the restaurants at the hotel, which has been taken over by QHotels.
Graham says his most recent role as executive chef at two MacDonald Hotels in Scotland: Aviemore Resort and Spey Valley Golf & Country Club, comes in handy for all the plate spinning.
“One of the reasons they brought me here is because of the flexible approach we had to dining at the Aviemore resort,” he explained. “For example, you could you be doing fine dining food one night and the next accommodating a Harley Davison convention for 5,500 bikers and then back to normal the next night.
“They like that I have that experience of catering for a wide variety of situations.”
As well as re-establishing the fine dining element of the business, Graham plans to broaden the site’s food offering with al fresco dining in the summer thanks to a wood-burning pizza oven and Big Green Egg BBQs.
The kitchen already makes its own daily bread and chocolates, but there’s also plans in the pipeline for a dedicated chocolate room to improve on its popular sweet tooth offering.
We’ve teamed up with Slaley Hall to give away a mini break to the hotel.
Worth £254, the prize includes:
•One night’s stay at Slaley Hall for two people sharing
•Dinner, bed and breakfast included, with an upgrade to a VIQ room
•Bottle of prosecco & chocolates in the room
•Late checkout – 12 noon
To be in with a chance of winning this prize, answer this question: in which English county is Slaley Hall?
Fill in your answer and details on the coupon and return it to Slaley Hall Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton, DH4 5RA.
Alternatively, email your answer to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: March 20.