September 4, 2019
Few places in Northumberland can attract the volume of tourists as the Alnwick Castle and Gardens, which is particularly impressive considering the calibre of historical and natural assets the county has to offer.
Part of that is due to the site’s unique history in being the official residence of the Duke of Northumberland since the 11th century. Another factor is that the castle was used for the filming of Harry Potter.
Beyond that, what keeps tourists coming back in their droves (800,000 per annum the last time it was measured) is how the business keeps adding to its offering, extending the gardens, renovating the castle and diversifying its attractions.
The most impressive example is the Treehouse – a combination of wooden walkways, suspension bridges and a unique restaurant. Integrated into the treeline as if it had always been there, the Treehouse was built with cedar, redwood and pine from Canada, Scandinavia and the UK.
It’s a different kind of setting for a business lunch, one that brings imagination and creativity to the fore. The restaurant recently launched a new menu, devised by catering firm Searcy’s, which has opened a number of new food and drink facilities across the estate.
It’s clearly been designed with families and tourists in mind with a menu of British classics to provide much-needed sustenance to the site’s many visitors.
At the table, we were offered fresh bread made just next door with butter from Embleton Hall Dairies. Complimentary breads don’t normally make it onto the review but here it was simply too good not to mention.
We started with seasonal carrot and coriander soup (£6), the Treehouse prawn cocktail (£9) and the ham hock and pea terrine (£8). The terrine was garnished with pork scratchings and the prawn cocktail was mixed with chopped green apple, making for a crunchy first course overall.
Feeling at one with nature in a cosy corner of the Treehouse, surrounded by exposed beams, handcrafted furniture and a log fire, we ordered three very substantial mains.
Breaded chicken escalope with a salsa of heritage tomatoes (£15), the wood shed burger with smoked bacon, aged cheddar and chilli mayonnaise (£14.50) and the 10oz aged sirloin steak with all the usual trimmings (£24).
The escalope was delicately bread-crumbed to give a thin layer and the tomato salsa accompanied the dish well.
The wood shed burger was seriously stacked with a generous helping of smoked bacon and a whole layer dedicated to red onion. It was as a burger should be – too big to be able to eat without cutting in half.
Those looking for a decent feed should look no further than the sirloin steak. The huge, tender
cut of beef dwarfed the thrice-cooked chips, flat mushroom and grilled tomato. Cooked to medium rare, my colleague had his work cut out for him to finish the delicious dish.
Having overloaded on the homemade bread and generous portions, we decided to opt for a walk through the idyllic gardens instead of dessert. Walking through the water-feature laden maze of green enclosures, it’s easy to see how The Alnwick Garden won top large visitor attraction at the North East Tourism Awards last year.
The grand cascading waterfalls that cut right through the middle of the garden get more impressive the longer you sit and watch them. With a labyrinth of botanical treasures to get lost in, it’s sure to be on everyone’s list for a family day out.