Short break - Middlethorpe Hall and Spa, York
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 May 2017
We head for York to stay in Middlethorpe Hall, an historic house some guests have likened to stepping into Downton Abbey, writes Louise Allen-Taylor.
Reclining on our four-poster bed, we can look out through two immense windows, across rolling parkland. There are embroidery samplers and paintings of squires and ladies on the walls, well-polished period furniture in which to hang our clothes and a general air not so much of a hotel as a stately home into which we have been kindly invited.
Welcome to Middlethorpe Hall and Spa, a National Trust property in a quiet idyll close to York. It was built in 1699 for Thomas Barlow a master cutler from Sheffield who fancied reinventing himself as a country gentleman. But the rather more interesting former resident of the hall was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a lady of letters and proto-feminist in the first half of the 18th century, who also far-sightedly agitated for the introduction of smallpox inoculation, having witnessed its use in Turkey while there as wife of the British ambassador.
Having gone through various incarnations – girls’ boarding school, night club – Middlethorpe Hall was, more than 30 years ago, returned to something like the grand condition in which Lady Mary no doubt enjoyed it, and is a venue for weddings, destination dining and spa breaks.
It is in an imposing yet intimate room resplendent with floor to ceiling wood panelling and marble fireplace that we sample that fine dining. We opt for the £69-a-head tasting menu, though we cite a couple of allergy and taste-related quibbles which the kitchen accommodates without demur.
First we enjoy a white onion soup masquerading as a cup of cappuccino, the foam topped with sherry caramel in place of chocolate, the Amaretti biscuit replaced with a rich cheese-oozing profiterole. It’s a visual joke, but the punchline works because the dish delivers so wonderfully on taste.
A duck terrine comes next, packing some intense flavours and, with dabs of orange, a lip-smacking combination of salt and sweet.
A luscious portion of halibut is our third course, with samphire and a foamy topping which evokes a real taste of the sea. Superb!
The palate-cleansing sorbet can so often be a take-it-or-leave-it affair, but here comes a corker of a sorbet: a gin and tonic flavoured foam beneath which nestles a green ice just bursting with cucumber.
Next comes the tenderest of pork medallions sitting on sweet red cabbage with a pulled pork croquette and a delicious puffed-up piece of pork rind.
Two desserts follow; ‘blood orange’, a dark chocolate mousse with chocolate orange ice cream, and Yorkshire rhubarb – which proves to be perhaps the star of the whole meal – with a white chocolate mousse wrapped up in razor-thin rhubarb, with little meringues and a pistachio ice cream. It’s a treat for the eyes and the tongue.
Middlethorpe Hall and Spa, Bishopthorpe Road, York, YO23 2GB, 01904 641241, www.middlethorpe.com