You don’t need me to tell you that Jesmond Dene House Hotel is the best place to stay in Newcastle — you could just look on TripAdvisor to find that out — but it really is a haven of subtlety and elegance and northern warmth, and it just so happens that it’s also a very special place to me as well. Let me explain.
As Newcastle spreads up the hill from the river, the city falls away very quickly, making way for parks and town moors and grazing land of the kind you’d expect to find miles out of town, rather than on its inner periphery. One of these areas, within walking distance of the city centre — although you could easily be in the middle of the countryside — is Jesmond Dene, a wild, thicketed park running through the steep Ouseburn Valley. At the far end of the park is Jesmond Dene House Hotel where I feasted on my 21st birthday and my graduation. I returned recently for my little brother’s graduation — Newcastle is a family affair for us — and I was dearly hoping the food was as good I remembered.
I spent the morning swanning around campus, pretending I was a student again (but with none of the stress) and getting sniffy during the ceremony.
When the post-graduation canapes and champers just weren’t cutting it any longer, we relocated our rumbling stomachs and high expectations to Jesmond.
I started off with Latimer oak smoked haddock, spelt risotto and poached egg. It was rich and creamy with lovely smoky fishy overtones and a perfectly cooked egg. There are few joys in life that compare to gently piercing a perfect poached egg and watching the yolk ooze out in all its gloopy gloriousness. Sooo satisfying.
After the risotto came pan-fried lemon sole with heritage potatoes, capers and burnt butter, and it too was bang on the money. It was rich and moist and flaky — basically great fish cooked simply but well. This is the kind of thing I’d cook for myself all the time if I could master the art of cooking it to this standard (not likely).
The boys went for belted Galloway flat iron steak and they were very possessive over it. I managed to sneak a taste and discovered why. It was tender and juicy and packed full of flavour, and I think the only thing they would have changed would have been the portion size (not because it was stingy, I might add, but because they are greedy).
We managed to try a decent selection of puddings between us. Including the creme brulee with lemon madeleine, lime cheesecake with lime curd ice cream and white chocolate parfait with roasted peaches and a chocolate financier. I went for the latter and it was gorgeously indulgent, as well as being about the prettiest plate of food I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. I have to say though, that while I would never have chosen the lime cheesecake myself, it was utterly spectacular. I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but it was citrus and dairy performing together at their absolute best and I’d order it next time in a flash.
With lunch we drank 2011 Neil Ellis Chardonnay, which we picked out as we wanted white, but we needed something to go with the steak and the fish. People get very snobby about chardonnay, which is ironic considering it’s an important component of most champagnes and sparkling wines. We finished up with coffee and petits fours out on the terrace and I felt satisfied and happy and relieved to find the food at this joint as good as ever.
I’ve never stayed at Jesmond Dene House, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it for its food, location and the warm welcome you’ll get from the staff. They often do foodie weekends and special tasting events, so if you love your grub, you might want to check those out. Be sure to drop by if you’re in town — this is Newcastle probably not as you know it, and I think you’d be mad not to like it.
For more on Newcastle, check out Secret beaches of the real Geordie Shore.