Matfen Hall (The Library and Print Room)
Newcastle upon Tyne
Compared to Rockliffe Hall, Matfen Hall is a grander pile. It has a golf course, but no celebrity chef. Instead it has Steve.
Apparently Steve worked at Jesmond Dene with Terry Laybourne, but none of the staff knew his surname (it’s Cosgrove). He was definitely cooking that night. We looked forward to what Matfen’s website proudly calls ”one of the finest dining experiences in Northumberland”.
If Rockliffe’s décor is Marriott, Matfen’s is Trust House Forte: loud tartans collide with swirly carpets in an old-fashioned car crash. The menu suggests it doesn’t like diners: it’s designed for hotel guests, with stern warnings of what it costs to stray from the table d’hote. At £40 for a three-course dinner, they really ought to invest in proper menus. And maybe some trained staff.
“This is Chevron,” said a girl with a strong Hungarian accent, plonking down a coffee cup containing something pink and something green.
A friend of ours nearly married a girl called Chevron: she was conceived in a petrol station. A more senior Hungarian came to the rescue.
“Shalman mousse with Chevron jelly,” she elaborated.
I poked at the dark green translucent rubber and finally twigged: “Chervil!”
She smiled blankly. We tried a little pink and, with difficulty, gouged out some green. Mrs D and I looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed: “Disgusting!” It was like one of Letitia Cropley’s “chocolate mixed with cod roe” concoctions for the Vicar of Dibley: not remotely amusing for any bouche.
|A phallic tower of lamb arrived...
Mrs Diner’s main course made us laugh. A phallic tower of lamb arrived on a scrotum of wet butternut squash. The tower collapsed into dry, flavourless meat shavings. I had “sweet and spicy cod”: it wasn’t. The only piquancy on the plate was a splattering of sweet chilli sauce – I swear we have the same brand in a jar at home.
Wary of ordering desserts, we played safe with rice pudding. But here Chef Cosgrove achieved the impossible: he severely undercooked the rice. As I paid the bill our teeth were, quite literally, gritted.