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Northcote Manor

Gordo is doubtful about whether Northcote Manor warrants a Michelin star

Written by . Published on June 7th 2007.

Northcote Manor

Northcote Manor is a large manor house nestling in the Ribble Valley about nine mile east of junction 31 on the M6. Fifty minutes or so from Manchester city centre, it’s so far into the country that there are large signs guiding you to a ‘payphone’. Very quaint.

Clearly, this manor house is also a restaurant of some repute. Nigel Haworth (grub) and Craig Bancroft (fawning and booze) have been here since 1983 and the boys are grafters, winning, amongst a shed load of other stuff, a coveted Michelin star in 1996. A subject that Gordo is not unfamiliar with. There are seven (or so) Michelin starred restaurants within an hour’s drive of Manchester. They also have rooms which have won many awards. Blimey, as the editor hates Gordo saying (that’s because you say it every five minutes, you’re in a constant state of surprise, Ed).

A very precise bloke sat Gordo down. There was an exchange, civil, precise, delivered in the manner of a double glazing salesman who has been at it too long.

Arriving on a Saturday evening at half past eight with Kim Sumner as a guide, Gordo walks into the place and is ushered into the lounge. It’s very clubby with comfy leather chairs and settees that seem to have been there since they opened. The carpets managed to clash with everything else in the room, including Gordo’s shirt. The boys no doubt will want to stab Gordo for saying this, but he found it a bit oppressive.

A very precise bloke sat Gordo down. There was an exchange, civil, precise, delivered in the manner of a double glazing salesman who has been at it too long. Like any good Coldshield salesman he was wearing the Northcote tie. A bit like Gleneagles, but naffer. Two gin and tonics were delivered in a flash. This, at twenty minutes to nine. Gordo had finished his at five minutes to nine and Kim, at nine. Twenty minutes later and still no one had offered a second. It clearly wasn’t in the script. Gordo grabbed a young man who was pretending to be a waiter. “Excuse me, we’re ready to go to our table”. You would have thought Gordo had just asked him to shoot the four frosties in the far corner. He scuttled off. Three or four minutes later he came back. “Your table will be ready five minutes sir, I will come and get you”. Kim was looking at Gordo, “I thought you had pull, you balding fat idiot”, was going through her mind. “No problem” was what came out of her mouth, along with a strained sweet smile. Of course, we weren’t offered that second drink.

Gordo by this time is brewing up, but kept quiet as he was ushered into a claustrophobic dining room. We were sat down at the worst table, a small thing in the middle where the bloke next door must have thought that he and Gordo were going to be handcuffed together for the duration. Kim called a waitress over, asking to be moved to a nice juicy table in the corner. This was when things changed. The young lady, probably a re-incarnation of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake, said, “no problem Madame”, and within thirty seconds had changed the table cloth and glided us to the this little piece of Northcote Nirvana.

From that point the service settled down into understated, classy professionalism. More later.

Food. A tasting menu of ten courses was a massive £85. This is moving into two star Parisian territory. Gordo didn’t have it, deciding on à la carte. Kicking off with a salad of foie gras and lobster (£16.50), which was put together with the precision of a master craftsman’s assistant. Everything came together beautifully. One of the hallmarks of Nigel Haworth’s cooking comes to light here, it’s the freshness of the herbs, the beautifully handled ingredients of the highest calibre. But, and there is one, the portion was mean. Frankly, this appears to be another, not so welcome hallmark. Two medallions of lobster meat cut in half and foie gras shaved like chocolate doesn’t cut it at this price. The signature dish of black pudding and trout (£8.50) looked great. Gordo nicked some. It was the best black pudding Gordo has had. A massive dish, with or without the trout.

Main course of organic lamb (£26.50) for Gordo, fillet of aged Bowland beef, red wine sauce, local vegetables, spuds (£26.95) for Kim. It was going to be seasonal fish, but the young lady whispered to Kim that the chef hadn’t liked the look of it, so would she like something different? Gordo was wondering why this wasn’t pointed out somewhat earlier, but, hey, merde happens.

The lamb. This restaurant was one of the pioneers years ago of the move to local ingredients and the lamb was one of them. Looking around the menu, it is clear that Nigel chooses his ingredients carefully. But this dish of three different cuts of lamb along with sweetbreads missed the mark. A massive mistake with the rump, it was as tough as old boots and worse, sat on sliced, undercooked new potatoes.

But the shoulder was a revelation, nearly confit with so much flavour: but mean in dimensions once more. Two by one by one inch. Boo. Nigel, stop fannying about, sit the lamb on a cake of thinly sliced waxy potatoes, dotted with butter and sprinkled with fresh thyme from your garden, sea salt and black pepper. Finished in a banging hot oven until crisp but not quite burnt and you'd have a three star, truly Lancastrian dish from the (nearly) cheapest cut of lamb. Ooh yes, add some sharp pickled cabbage. A dish we would talk about for three months after eating it.

The pudding was melting ginger pudding, Simpson’s iced double cream (£8.25) with caramel custard, probably egg-less, the sponge was not to our taste. The soufflé was a sizeable wait, so we skipped that. The cheese board included Mrs Kirkham’s, Leagram organic, Butlers Blacksticks Blue and Sandham’s smoked. (£6.50). This was in perfect nick, that Sandham’s smoked was new to Gordo and bloody gorgeous.

Well reader, what did Gordo make of all this in the end? It was in parts the top of the tree, in others the bottom of the bushes currently withering on Gordo’s balcony. There is a whole story to tell about a remarkable wine list garnered over the years by Craig, as well as the Lady of the Lake. So, Gordo decided that a second visit was needed. Have Nigel and Craig let standards slip? Is it worth a star? Has the Lady of the Lake saved the day? Well, dear reader, you will have to await the second part of Gordo’s review, next week on ManchesterConfidential.com for the full ratings.

Northcote Manor
Northcote Road
01254 240555

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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GordoJune 7th 2007.

I love that foie gras. It's a countryside thing and as usual the green townies have it out of context. I have spent a couple of days on farms in South West france, the ducks love it. So does Gordo. Where do you lot think your food comes from, a sodding test tube?

johnJune 7th 2007.

Do us a favour, youre not exactly Jack Bauer are you? Poor diddums having to wait for a second G&T....blimey indeed.

RichardJune 7th 2007.

Three Fishes is good, better location good walk by the Ribble down the hill. Food and atmosphere a bit more pubby. No table booking so can be a bunfight.

AnonymousJune 7th 2007.

I am neither green nor a townie - I split my week between manchester & my family gaff about 15mins from the Three Fishes, where I sit in the garden & watch the lambs (which I'm sure didn't come from a test tube) in the next field - fully aware that they are going to end up on someone's plate and earn the farmer a pittance. Where do you think your food originates from Gordo - the supermarket?

BoomerJune 7th 2007.

I agree, Gordo is very much like an articulated lorry. Oh, you said articulate?!

GordoJune 7th 2007.

ok ok, it's been a long twenty four hours....

RichardJune 7th 2007.

In my experience the food is a bit hit and miss and unless it's a special meal I prefer the Three Fishes environment. Had an argument with Northcote last time, when they brought a newer vintage wine than stated on the wine list and they insisted I drink it because it had been opened! Eventually they took it back, but not without a big scene!

AnonymousJune 7th 2007.

Anyone who could eat foie gras with all the discomfort and cruelty that went into its production deserves to endure a bit of discomfort at their table(Foie gras is the enlarged liver of a goose. The name, which literally means "fat liver" refers to a liver from a goose that has been fattened by force feeding so that it becomes particularly large-the liver can weigh up to four pounds) Stick to the lamb which at least may have had a resonable life.

Richard BJune 7th 2007.

I loved the review of Northcote Manor . Gordo is lucid and articulate . When in a mood such as this his writing is a pleasure . Definitely a two star michelin review ... shame about the meal !!!!!!

BoJune 7th 2007.

encore un foie gras indeed, Gordo

GordoJune 7th 2007.

As it happens, Kim says that the Three Fishes is good. is it worth the journey?

GordoJune 7th 2007.

Who's Jack Bauer and how come he doesn't have to wait for his G&T ?

JamesJune 7th 2007.

That'll be classy not classes

traceyJune 7th 2007.

I find it hard to believe that any animal enjoys being confined to tiny living quarters and force fed so much food their liver swells to multiple times it's natural size. Check out this site: http://www.nofoiegras.org/. Is that not the case?

BertieJune 7th 2007.

Just to be contrary, the Three Fishes is way over-rated. Its not particulalrly good pub food, not in the same league as the Inn at Whitewell, Angel at Hetton, etc.

GordoJune 7th 2007.

Tracey, the vast majority of foie gras produced in South West France comes from small holdings where the ducks, in this case, are free range and receive the chop well before the nasty things that are listed on the American propoganda site take place. This simply because if they do happen, the liver quality drops. They are attended to by the farmers wives, who traditionally hold onto the profits from this side of the farm for their 'spends'. If you believe that it is wrong, all well and good, don't have the stuff but don't force your particular brand of morality down others throats. As for the gambolling lambs, test tubes and supermarkets, one half of Gordo's family are Welsh Hill farmers, the other Butchers of Irish decent. Gordo did his time in both areas, as well as a Slaughter Man at Manchester Market to earn his place in the family business. Add to that working part time as a Kitchen Porter to earn fag money from age 14, Gordo believes he qualifies for a place at the debating table whilst at the same time apologising for the test tube jive which was silly of him. This is an important debate, so keep your eyes peeled, Gordo is going to set up a full debate after some research to make sure things haven't altered since his trip around Gascony twelve years ago. What's everyone's opinion on farmed salmon held in pens all their lives, btw?

BertieJune 7th 2007.

Had the wedding there last year. Superb food, superb service. Can't say a bad word about the place.

JamesJune 7th 2007.

Agreed on the foie gras point, I find it disgusting that in this day and age it's still included on menus of supposedly classes restaurants.

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