FOOD REVIEW: Northcote Manor
HAT do I love about Northcote Manor? Firstly its impressive winding drive lined with lofty trees – an indication that you are on the way to somewhere slightly grand, a little special. The perilous drop to your left is even more exciting – especially if you meet something coming the other way.
Of course, there's the house itself: its pretty stone walls draped with ivy and wisteria. And I adore the studded oak door. A gorgeously rustic welcome to this 18th century country home.
I use the word "home" because, as someone who has a propensity to pine for the fantasy of romantic old England, there is something rather relaxed and homely about the manor's high ceilinged but informal rooms, dignified by the occasional antique. Those like me, who are easily seduced by the prospect of sipping wine in front of the drawing room fire, will find themselves in a parallel universe, perhaps even toying with the idea of moving in.
Lovely staff help to cultivate this relaxed vibe by being both friendly and unobtrusive – a delicate balance.
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In the dining room it's the madcap murals by Barrington Barber that bring a wry smile – unusual visual conundrums which, medieval in feel, challenge your sense of both perspective and history. Point your gaze in the other direction though and windows showcasing a manicured lawn and gardens hint at some 20 acres of woodland and greenery.
What then of the food? It's to be noted that Henry VIII once owned the original Northcote Manor and voluptuous eating was one of his top pastimes.
Perhaps one of the most admirable things about the place is its passion for lovely local things. If it's venison you fancy, you can be confident it will be red deer from our local moors or if you hanker after succulent Red Ruby beef, it's a good bet it will have been reared near to Kings Nympton. Both these juicy options can be vouched for from previous visits.
Fruits and veggies are from locals soils too – that's if they can't be dug up in season in the manor grounds. All good when the bon vivant you're dining with loves superb food yet prefers not to eat any animal produce.
It's another commendable side to dining at Northcote that it offers a separate menu, especially for veggies, which can be adapted for vegans. For starters a light soup, offsetting the sweetness of peas with a creamy richness, gets the thumbs up from our bon viveur. My goat's cheese tartlet, meanwhile, boasts a crisp light pastry and gets the meal started with a summery vibe.
Now when it comes to creating marvellous meatless mains one has to avoid the cardinal sin of serving up a one-note meal. An open ravioli of wild mushrooms, baby vine tomatoes and spinach certainly makes a good effort to truly marry tastes and textures. While a pearl barley and parsnip casserole, I'm told, provides satisfactory sustenance but lacks that final oomph.
Portions, attractively presented, are not enormous. This might have been bad news but actually turns out to be quite good. Plenty of room for dessert.
Now it just happens to be my contention that a rich, smooth cream that oozes under your spoon is a thrill to be savoured. The manor's panna cotta offset with the sharp citrus of oranges and pineapple is nothing short of velvety decadence on a fork. Meanwhile, the icy brittleness of a tangy fruit sorbet makes a fresh finale to the meal.
What's to like about Northcote Manor? Well throw in an award-wining three course lunch time meal deal for half the price – £22.50 – and I'd say pretty much everything.
Where: Northcote Manor, Burrington, Umberleigh, EX37 9LZ.
Bookings: 01769 560501.
Cost: The above meal with drinks and coffee came to £61.