Northcote review: the original Lancashire gastro powerhouse
This luxury hotel and restaurant is still going strong 15 years since winning its Michelin star
The North sometimes gets a bad culinary rap. “Too parochial, too unfashionable,” howl the naysayers. They’re wrong, of course. In fact, the region is quickly becoming a rich ferment of ingenuity and progressiveness; a place where stellar local ingredients are meeting bold, inventive ideas.
There are lots of new faces and new spaces cropping up, but Northcote, in the beautiful Ribble Valley Hills in Lancashire, is one of the original wave-makers – first winning its Michelin star in 1996 and holding onto it ever since.
The 26-bedroom retreat is much more than a “restaurant with rooms” though: it’s home to a cracking cooking school, a rather special chef’s table experience and is at the heart of a burgeoning local food scene driven by artisan producers.
Why come here
Northcote isn’t the type of country retreat with plaid chaise longue and dusty stags heads. It’s much more low-key, even if the dress code calls for smart casual. About 40 minutes from Preston railway station (transfers can be arranged), it isn’t hidden in a fielded wilderness either. For those driving, it’s a tidy 15 minutes from the M6, making it a convenient stopover for those bound for Scotland.
But the lack of pomp is arguably to Northcote’s advantage. The guestrooms are spacious and unfussy – modern in décor with generally terrific views across the surrounding landscape; the bar snug and kick-your-shoes-off inviting; and the restaurant, world class, but without any needlessly gilded stiffness.
There are plans afoot to evolve the offer, with construction on an experimental dining space soon to begin, along with the addition of more rooms. But with all of that very much in the “pipeline”, the current iteration of Northcote remains nothing to be sniffed at, particularly under the gastronomic captainship of executive chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen.
She’s not the only personality that makes Northcote a compelling place to visit, though. Managing director Craig Bancroft, or Mr B to those familiar, is a regular roving presence – dapper in a checked suit, cracking jokes and generally embodying the kind of warm, welcoming, familiar hospitality that for a while fell out of style.
It all makes for a convincing recipe: that of a place that does great work but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Eating and drinking
Yet everyone else takes Northcote’s food and drink very seriously indeed. Beyond that Michelin star, its inventory of accolades is almost as long as the wine list – everything from Hotel of the Year to a spot on the Top 1000 Restaurants in the World. Certainly, the contemporary success is down to Goodwin-Allen – who took over the kitchen as executive chef in 2015 – and her detail-oriented cooking.
“We take a stand for modern British food, where the flavour comes first,” she said. The future of Northcote and its new elevated-dining space, to be unveiled in the years ahead, will involve more theatre, but comfort and ease are currently the bedrock. Allen wants visitors to “relax into the experience, not to feel daunted by it”.
The cooking school allows guests to get hands-on under the tutelage of chef Bruno Birbeck, whose previous gigs include Gleneagles, The Torridon and Hipping Hall. And the same compact training kitchen, overlooking the main, is transformed into a chef’s table for private dining; the ferocious energy of the pass a fantastic backdrop for an orderly five-course seasonal tasting menu with accomplished wine pairing.
The bar features a comprehensive cocktail list, a decent wine section and an impressive line in gins, all of which anyone would expect of a place like Northcote. Yet, again, it’s the emphasis on cordiality that most hits the spot. It’s hard to overstate the power of an affable, knowledgeable, drink-recommendation-toting waiter to really sell a place – particularly when there isn’t a country pub across the street to hoof it to if service is dire.
Out and about
The lion’s share of those heading to Northcote will have more than a passing interest in food and the pocket of Lancashire it calls home is ripe with small-scale producers and independent eating and drinking spots.
We’re not talking rarefied, Michelin dining of course, but charming neighbourhood bakeries, the UK’s best butcher (with a framed certificate to prove it), dairy farm-adjacent ice cream shops, a gin distillery and even an award-winning cheese monger that’s the last to make Lancashire cheese with raw cow’s milk.
It’s all best discovered with Bowland & Bay, a local artisan food tour specialist that has partnered with Northcote in what is a neat example of community-supporting micro-tourism.
How to book
Rooms at Northcote start from £260 on a B&B basis and the cookery school from £225 per person. Prices start from £1,840 for a Chef’s Table for 16 or, for less than eight people, a minimum spend of £1,300 applies for dinner. See more details at northcote.com