There’s lots of fantastic restaurants in Newcastle and growing up there, I visited many of them on a regular basis. But one place I never got to try was Jesmond Dene House.
In the old days, I was always under the impression it was a little old fashioned… and I’d also heard it was hugely overpriced. But, while back in the North East a few weeks ago, I was surprised to hear that an old school friend had actually taken over as Jesmond Dene House’s new Head Chef and that the restaurant had been given a new lease of life. so, keen to see what a new team and menu had done for its credibility, I thought it was only fair to book in and find out.
Jesmond Dene House benefits from a stunning location which makes dinner seem special before you even reach the restaurant. It’s hidden in a valley which makes you think you’re out somewhere remote in the countryside rather than just a few miles from the city centre. It has Grade II listed building status too, and is now a boutique hotel and restaurant with a fabulous art collection on loan from Northumbria University – sculptures, photographs and paintings are dotted everywhere. It also has a number of secret tunnels still in tact underground from its time as a civil defence establishment during World War II – now doesn’t that add some character? The dining room itself is split into two with a pretty garden room and summer terrace if you prefer. Yet even with its history, it’s still a contemporary setting, with a lovely atmosphere, while maintaining that air of grandeur that a listed building in the middle of nowhere might have…
Michael Penaluna’s new ethos is to create stunning dishes which are locally sourced – both classic and innovative and always seasonal. Our waiter Christian was absolutely brilliant. Completely clued up and totally passionate about his food, we were lucky he was on hand, because when faced with a dinner menu, tasting menu, house menu and vegetarian menu, the choice was pretty overwhelming to say the least.
From the house menu, I decided on the pea soup for my starter, served with ham hock and croutons, which arrived after a delightful little smoked aubergine and tomato confit amuse bouche. The soup – a stunning vibrant green was poured over the ham for some added theatre while edible purple and yellow flowers dressed up the bowl. A definite recommendation from me – the freshness of the pea against the slight saltiness of the meat was simply divine, so much so that I literally scraped the bowl even though I trying to leave space for my main!
Torn between the chicken, butter bean and chorizo stew and the lamb, I again went on Christian’s recommendation. A small tender organic spring lamb cutlet arrived nestled against a stunning arrangement of broad beans and leaves. The girolles were beautifully cooked with a meaty texture to them and a wonderfully mild, almost sweet flavour. Decorated with crumbs of olive and more beautiful flowers, this dish really was a work of art. And so tasty.
My friend opted for the fish – line caught halibut served with seashore frumenty and lemon buerre blanc. The contrasting textures of the frumenty with the fish and the drizzle of the lemon butter made this dish a really delicious course. ‘Exceptional’ according to my guest! Unable to stop ourselves from ordering dessert, and more-so because we were intrigued to see how they’d look, I went for the dark chocolate and cherry sphere with kirsch ice cream. Again, this didn’t disappoint and is worth ordering for the theatre of the warm sauce being poured over the melting chocolate shell. Just delicious.
The 10 course tasting menu at Jesmond Dene House is a steal at £75 or with matching wines for £115 per person… and the wonderful thing about seasonal menus is that next time I’m up north, I can expect a completely different experience, yet I’m sure, the same absolutely amazing standard.