A taste of Northumberland: review of Doxford Hall Hotel & Spa
Crunching along the gravel path towards the stone entrance flanked by Georgian pillars and festooned with trailing ivy, you can’t help but get swept up in the grandeur of Doxford Hall Hotel.
Originally built in 1818, with sympathetic additions over the years, it retains the kind of manor house opulence you just don’t get anymore with its high ceilings, chandeliers, marble fireplaces, wood-panelled reception hall, oak staircase and 36 bedrooms with acres of space – features which have helped it become the only hotel in the county to hold AA's coveted four red stars.
It all evokes the sense of a getaway at a remote country pile, despite the fact you’re only a few minutes drive off the A1 and around 15 minutes north of Alnwick.
Like all great houses it’s had a colourful past over the decades before it became a hotel in more recent years and its walls, I’m sure, would have plenty of stories to a tell, but the sense of history all adds to the experience.
Rooms too doff their cap to the area’s rich heritage with names like George Stephenson, Capability Brown and Grace Darling. Ours was named John Dobson, in honour of the notable 19th century Northern architect who designed the grand Newcastle Railway Station, as well as the very hotel in which we were standing.
Master joiner George Runciman, who spent 13 years crafting the woodwork at the site, lends his name to the restaurant. It’s a handsome room with heavy mahogany panels and a deep red colour scheme which gives it an air of formality. It’s definitely more of a room for candlelit romance and occasion dining, than informal catch ups.
While the room is traditional in style, however, the menu is a modern affair which thinks more outside of the box.
The menu, by head chef David Quinn, is a well thought-out selection of dishes that change to reflect the season and locally-sourced produce available from suppliers such as Swallows of Seahouses and Doddingtons Dairy.
Starters are a real ode to the wilds of Northumberland, with options such as Northumbrian lamb consommé, pan roasted breast of wood pigeon and potted Eyemouth crab.
After a round of canapés, which were a great touch, I chose another British dish to start, which also had a touch of Indian inspiration: pan seared king scallops, the priciest option at £15.95. The silky scallops and their light nuance worked well with the denser texture of the black pudding bhaji, the latter’s heavy flavour complemented with cauliflower and a zing of mango chutney and coriander.
Local flavours flow through the mains too with choices such as Pave of North Sea turbot and slow cooked cheek of aged Northumbrian beef. My dish’s journey from field to plate was as short as it could get: seared loin of local estate venison (£27.95).
It’s pricey, but it’s one that reflects the surroundings and quality of food. The two slabs of venison were served buttery pink with just the right amount of moisture, its rich earthy taste made all the more autumnal with red cabbage, textures of parsnip, salsify and even more venison in the form of a chunky venison sausage. It was given even more personality with a chocolate jus which helped to make it the fine-dining version of a comfort dish.
There was real imagination and seasonality in the pudding too. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but the savoury-esque baked spiced pumpkin cheesecake (£8.95) is the kind of dessert I’ve needed in my life. The velvety cheescake was perfectly executed, its smooth texture punctuated with the crunch of maples and pecans. Shards of crispy pancetta, meanwhile, were an unusual addition, but worked brilliantly to make this a dish one we were still talking about next morning.
The next day there’s plenty of reception rooms to explore at the sprawling hotel, as well as a spa. The latter isn’t spectacular enough to warrant a visit to the site on its own, but it’s a nice addition to the hotel’s facilities and offers a relaxing way to while away the morning before you leave this tranquil corner of Northumberland.