July 20, 2019
Just off the Military Road, which runs parallel to UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall, is country house hotel and golf course, Matfen Hall.
The estate has been in the Blackett family since the early 19th century, with parts of the building dating back to the 17th. In 1999, it was converted into a hotel and since then has gradually expanded into what is now a 53-bedroom facility with a dedicated spa and a challenging 27-hole golf course.
On the last Wednesday of each month, Matfen’s library restaurant is opened for a special ‘library lunch’ offering a seasonal three-course menu for a competitive £18.50.
The old library room is an impressive setting for a business lunch. Its tall ceilings have a distinctive pattern and are painted in a tasteful mix of royal blue and gold. Leather-bound books of all shapes and sizes crawl up its walls. Vast wooden panelling date the room and serve as a reminder that it’s probably almost 200 years old.
These period features, combined with attentive and formally-dressed waitstaff, give off the kind of grandiosity that you really wouldn’t expect at such a reasonable price point.
Starters were a thoroughly traditional prawn and hot smoked salmon cocktail and a ham hock terrine. Both dishes were imaginatively presented and had subtle but effective flavours. The terrine in particular had mustards seeds running through it, which combined beautifully with the tomato chutney and fried brioche.
Salad garnishes were dressed with a sharp, peppery olive oil dressing, which refreshed our palates in preparation for the main course.
For mains, we ordered roast rump of lamb with colcannon and pan-seared fillet of corn-fed chicken with pancetta and wild mushrooms. The chicken breast was cooked well, on a bed of creamy mash with pancetta drizzled on top in a light gravy.
But the roast rump of lamb was the real stand- out dish of the day. It was perfectly pink, right through to the edges, which had a golden crust. Such a thing could only have been cooked by a chef with excellent technique. It was as tender as fillet steak but with that distinctive lamb taste.
Both dishes were accompanied by crunchy French beans leaving just enough room for dessert. On offer were classics in the shape of hot chocolate pudding, crème brulee or a selection of local cheeses and biscuits with homemade chutney. We opted for the first two.
The chocolate fudge sauce added just the right amount of moisture to the sponge pudding, while the creamy custard base of the crème brulee was both light and delicate. It was a no nonsense ending to a well-executed three courses.
The library restaurant at Matfen Hall provides a markedly opulent setting for a business lunch. Less than 30 minutes from Newcastle, it’s a good option for those wanting to escape the city centre and take in the endlessly scenic Northumbrian countryside.