Jesmond Dene House is a very special place. Particularly special to me as it feels part of my heritage. It’s a country house, gorgeously refurbished and set in the grounds of Jesmond Dene, just opposite my old school. So you get instant nostalgia. All those terrible times I had to walk to the biology lab with my shoes and tights confiscated because they were too high and the wrong colour come flooding back to me. I’m so pleased it’s no longer a cruel and hopeless Convent School. It’s a place of beauty and impact.
Chic boutique hotel and Newcastle was a contradiction of terms until Jesmond Dene House pioneered the concept. The restaurant at Jesmond Dene is exquisite and I’d been there many times for celebratory meals over the years, but this time I got to stay in their lovely rooms on a mini break with my mum. Everything about the room is thoughtful, cosy and a little bit gorgeous and we both were really excited to go to dinner in the restaurant.
It’s a menu that’s both edgy and cosy and there are lots of things you want but we settled for white crab with apple and brown crab mayonnaise. The crab was ridiculously fresh, sweet even. The apple and brown mayonnaise piquant yet welcoming. And we had it with some of their own fresh baked bread. My mother’s was a warm, white fluffy thing and mine was a tomato basil amazingness. You get a choice of three butters, salted, unsalted and seaweed. Seaweed butter! It tastes of days out by the beach as a child. It tastes of summer and salty ocean. It’s an amazing thing.
Northumberland features a lot in the main dishes. Executive head chef Michael Penaluna is devoted to using local and seasonal foods. He was born and bred in the north east of England and started cooking at fifteen. He was Terry Laybourne’s sous chef at the Jesmond Dene House and was then promoted in 2011. Super creative and very passionate, you can taste it in his work.
Northumberland is where the venison saddle comes from and the halibut comes from the North Sea. All of this loveliness is the opening act for the star attraction. The desserts. The desserts, I just don’t know where to begin. These desserts are world class. In particular, the dark chocolate sphere with salted caramel, peanuts and caramel ice cream. This is such a dramatic dessert. The chocolate sphere arrives and hot chocolate beautiful sauce is poured. The sphere breaks into the ice cream. There are so many flavours of sweet and salt and nut dancing on the tongue. My mother’s crème brulee was also a showstopper. We both toyed with the vanilla parfait with ginger cake, St Mary’s honey and lemon ice cream. If I were to go again I might have to have all the desserts in a row, one after the other. The desserts are the creation of pastry chef Kristian Branch. I thought he would be knighted in the New Year’s honours list for services to sugar but for now forget the Sir, let’s just call him Prince Kristian of Chocolate Land. If I were to think of all the desserts I’d ever had, think Beverly Hills Hotel, The Ivy, Sheekeys, that time when Gordon Ramsay made me an ice cream truffle just to see me have a ‘chocogasm’. If I think of all of them, Kristian Branch is the hands down winner. When I posted the chocolate sphere on Instagram it got more likes than my date with Streetcat Bob. It got more likes than my picture with Hillary Clinton so I think you can see where I’m coming from here.
Upstairs in our cosy room we thought about going down for breakfast but then we thought what’s the point of staying in a hotel if you can’t have room service? We watched a movie, fell asleep and then in the morning my mother had a huge plate of fluffy scrambled eggs delivered and I had a bircher muesli with berries. I took a bath and discovered the beautiful bath products from the White Company. They are called the Noir Set. Amber, Mandarin, Sandalwood. The bath was the perfect size – an oval with pretty green tiles and the smell was heaven. Afterwards I used a whole pot of the body lotion. I love its musky sweetness and I love the way it crept into my skin. Just enough time for a nice walk for me in my old stomping ground.
Outside the hotel is a little cat house which is the home of the cat in residence, Riley as in he has the life of. Although he’s a very friendly tabby, not officially allowed in the hotel but clearly he’s been to lunch a few times. There was evidence of Whiskas pouches in his bowl but I think he moved in to take care of the fish delivery to the kitchen. Riley who was previously called something else and owned by a local, decided that Jesmond Dene House was way more fun, as well he might.
There’s always an art exhibition going on. This time it included a local sculptor and his wire dogs. Afternoon tea is a big deal at the hotel and with Prince Kristian in charge I’m sure it’s wonderful. They have a quirky but good cocktail menu and although their French Martini is not on the menu, its pretty pinkness seemed to be what everyone was drinking. And they come in very large glasses. I’ll be going back there soon.
Jesmond Dene House http://jesmonddenehouse.co.uk/
Rooms are £89 up.
There are some value dining.
Lunch – 2 COURSES £19.50 | 3 COURSES £22.00
Early evening dinner 2 COURSES £20.50 | 3 COURSES £24.50 – just make sure one course is a dessert.
By Chrissy Iley