Restaurant open for afternoon tea and dinner
Wynyard Hall is a pompous pile. A tribute to Victorian ostentation, it’s a very stately home, set in 150 acres of parkland and built for the Marquess of Londonderry, who reckoned that a proper Lord needed somewhere big to show off. Over the years, it has hosted royalty, politicians, aristocracy, generals, and now a secret diner.
A few years back, local entrepreneur Sir John Hall spent millions restoring it, then helped his daughter turn it into an impressive country house hotel. The Duke of Wellington had been a regular guest, so the restaurant has taken his title.
It’s very red, whereas the lounge bar, called the Library, is very green. It’s all so palatial, you might think it would be hard to create an ambience. You’d be right.
It reminded me of a silent, stuffy London club. Except that, instead of crusty archbishops and politicians, most of the clientele appeared to be middle-aged golfers.
Mrs Diner and I went for dinner, two of just 13 covers booked into the enormous red dining room.
Poor Alan O’Kane: this is a tough venue for a creative chef. Ostentation hangs over the room like a dead weight. There are no fresh flowers on the tables, and old portraits eye the reproduction furniture with disdain. Any food would have to shine to relax diners sitting here, their voices hushed by the opulence of the setting.
Somehow O’Kane has managed to attract 3 AA rosettes in the two years since he inherited Wynyard’s formerly appalling culinary reputation. I don’t want to belittle this achievement, and he is a very creative chef and probably deserves the accolade, but any guide inspector that gives only one rosette to Bistro 21, Café 21 and Marco Pierre White’s, whilst awarding two to Close House and three to Rockliffe Hall, is either easily seduced by stately homes or severely lacking in the palate department, and should probably stick to mending cars.
To make such an imperious atmosphere customer-friendly would require amazing front of house service. Sadly, there was none.
We arrived in an empty hall and had to seek directions from a disinterested receptionist, then wandered lost through three vast rooms before encountering a manager who asked, “Is there anything you need?”
To which I nearly replied, “A member of staff to greet your customers.”
She didn’t offer to take our coats, but led us to a table at the edge of the room near a closed piano. I'm sure they didn't treat the Duke of Wellington like this.
Canapés scarcely lifted the tone. Chicken skins with chicken liver parfait and fennel pollen, some whitebait in need of devilling and cold cheese puffs lacking the warmth of a sharp cheesy core, or warming.
But the menu was certainly interesting, the wine list varied, and the service, when it arrived, was friendly, if rather naïve (like wine glasses placed on the left, and some confusion about which side to set the fork).
So to the food.
|Mosaic or brickwork?|
I started with a mosaic of duck, foie gras and Morteau sausage.
It wasn’t the most elegant construction –
bricks laid on edge rather than fine marquetry (compare Gordon Ramsay's version of the same dish on the right) – but the duck and goose were good, and the smoky, aromatic sausage was a treat.
Alongside, tangy little cubes of chamomile and sauternes jelly stood to attention, topped with bean and the thinnest shavings of radish and truffle.
|Gordon Ramsay's foie gras and peking duck|
Mrs Diner had fresh mackerel, which needed a touch more scorching, but was nicely set off by beetroot, watercress and spicy horseradish.
|Turbot, oxtail and king oyster mushrooms|
My main course was very good too. Turbot, oyster mushrooms and oxtail always make great partners, and batons of salsify added oystery sweetness to the mix, though the presentation was rather cramped by a small white plate.
On a room of this scale, O’Kane should experiment with finer crockery to distract from the relentlessly red décor: he only used small heavy plates, some green and black – that’s no way to show off his talent.
|Belly pork on black plate, with pineapple|
Mrs Diner was rather disappointed by her belly pork, braised in master stock, though it was accompanied by an excellent salt-baked pineapple, some spicy shredded kimchi, and a really smoky scorched prawn.
Master stock, infused with star anise, soy, citrus, and only the Chinese know what else, should have given the meat an oriental fragrance, but instead it tasted just of pork.
Desserts were less successful. I had a lemon mush of drizzle cake, little meringues and lemon sorbet, whilst Mrs Diner had a gloopy rice pudding purée overshadowed by an overspiced pear.
The presentation, on the same chunky green plates, was messy.
Now you’ll notice I’ve awarded this place 4 stars. That’s because, despite all the hurdles, Alan O’Kane is ambitious and highly competent, and there was much to enjoy. He deserves more than 13 covers – and some better crockery. I would come again for the food - but only with a big party to cheer up the ambience.
Expect to pay around £50 a head, excluding wine, though there is also a 3-course menu for £31.50.
I've just received this email from Grace, from Billingham:ReplyDelete
Dear Secret Diner,
I’ve just read your review on Wynyard Hall and whole heartily agree with your comments.
I persevered with Wynyard Hall for several months in the hope that it would get its act together and start offering the type of service required for business lunches and dinners.
Alas, after one particularly frustrating experience, when despite ordering ahead, a business lunch took over 2 hrs and 25 minutes to serve three courses, I gave up and took our business elsewhere.
With its close proximity to Teesside and grand surroundings I really wanted Wynyard Hall to work but the owners need to engage some professional help to assist with instilling some genuine customer service, particularly within the dining room.
Dear Secret Diner,ReplyDelete
Is your review an egotistical attempt at self promotion or a genuine food review?
I write this as a regular visitor of Wynyard Hall, Jesmond Dene, Close House and also Rockliffe and I must say that I believe your review is wide of the mark both on a factual basis but also in terms of the realms of criticism as a journalist. Are you qualified to talk about furniture or food? Surely such a proud wealthy family would buy real furniture and not cheap immitation to grace such an amazing room, I apologise if you are in fact an antique dealer!
The service is second to none at all venues mentioned by myself and never have we been welcomed by a dis-interested member of staff at Wynyard, Rockliffe, Jesmond Dene in fact any restaurant in recent memory. The staff at Wynyard know their menus, wine lists and cheeses inside out which is not the case at Cafe 21 where I ate on last week based on your recommendation...! In fact when I asked what the wine by the glass was I got the answer its 'white wine'!!? Is that good service?
By insulting the AA aren't you criticising an internationally acclaimed association who employ a great deal of experience? As an ex hotelier myself I had to pass over 400 seperate service points alone to achieve the score of 85%+ in order to achieve Red Star status, funnily enough your review mentions just 3.
Are you insulting the regular group of diners and our palates by criticising our choice in venues? I ate at one of your recommended venues last week as previously mentioned and this was below average. I don't claim to be the oracle on food I just know what I like.
I follow you on twitter, I also follow Wynyard Hall and Alan Okane and a few of their staff and I must congratulate them on not reacting to your obvious bating by including @wynyardhall and @alanokane in your tweets in what looked a shameful attempt to increase your average following numbers. I did however tweet @wynyardhall and recieved a professional response declining their opportunity to retweet along with many other disgruntled readers of your review. I also noticed you interacting with Kenny Atkinson who suprisingly didnt mention that he is currently working at Wynyard Hall in a part time capacity under Alan Okane?
It seems to me that there is an underlying hatred for the AA and Country style hotels outside of Newcastle. As a regular paying guest Jesmond Dene is in no way 'up there' compared to the Orangery at Rockliffe, Wynyard Hall or even Doxford or Judges!?
There is one point in your review that I would agree with and that is the improvement at Wynyard Hall is noticable both food but also in my opinion service in the past 2-3 years.
This comment in reply is of course my opinion as I respect you also have an opinion just as the Tripadvisor opinions that all these venues excel at. I don't believe you will publish a reply critical of your review which in many ways is unfair on the venues you have openly pulled apart in your review and tweets... such a shame.
I will continue to buy the journal and also continue to read your reviews but I enjoy reading about the food more than the venues themselves.
You are right, I am certainly not an antique dealer. But I have been a private collector for more than 20 years, particularly of Georgian and early Victorian furniture. I never write about what I don't understand.ReplyDelete
I also know quite a bit about service. This was very poor indeed (and, judging by the tweets, emails and posts I've received, not an isolated incident - the comment posted above is from a director of a substantial international company who has recently switched her entertainment of major clients from Wynyard to Rockliffe).
I always reflect my postbag fairly in the Journal (other than Anonymous posts). Curiously, yours is the first positive comment about Wynyard Hall since my review, which has surprised both me and my editor. If you care to identify yourself, I shall certainly include your views in a future edition. I can keep your name anonymous in the newspaper, but you need to identify yourself to my team to ensure we aren't dealing with the restaurant's press office.
What a scornful, bitter little imp you are Sir!ReplyDelete
I couldn't actually believe it when I read this review! Clearly a political angle at play here...
I always found the staff to be very friendly and extremely well trained, and even if I did notice a wine glass was not on the correct side I would just put it down to a harmless human error and not be so much of a fastidious git as to make it a factor in my review - nor would act badly done to that I was seated near a 'closed piano'; you're acting like they led you to the gents and sat you straight on the loo! Actually, maybe they should have as you're clearly full of you know what...
"Well said " I agree 100% .Delete
I live in a modest home Wynyard Village and have done since the development was created so I am keen to support any services in the area.ReplyDelete
Last week I was invited to join a birthday party for an American visitor to our neighbourhood.I accepted despite my limited budget and reservations regarding the cost f £30 plus drinks for a Tuesday evening.
When we arrived as a party of ten at 7.40 p.m , staff were fussing and confused with no clear responses and there was only one more party of four dining in the austere,cold stuffy Wellington Restaurant.By 9.10p.m we still had no drinks,not even tap water.Eventually the wine waiter arrived only to inform us that the wine requested was not in stock ,however we could have a slightly more expensive alternative at the price of our original order.At 9.15 p.m. our first course arrived.Interesting,creative ,la de da ,perhaps,nevertheless dissatisfying.........long wait...freezing...then the main course arrived ditto.The extra vegetables did not arrive.The ready to be opened wine stood on the radiator!
I am 64 years of age and have eaten in many beautiful restaurants in locations as far as Penang..I felt embarasesd for my neighbour who simply wanted to show her American guest a good example of a Stately English home with at the least competent service.O dear a memorable evening for all the wrong reasons.
To sum up'Fur coat no knickers,talking the talk ,but not walking the walk!'
Please train your staff Wynyard hall .There is no excuse for this .what's the use of a good knowledgeable chef without well trained adequate staff who can deliver the goods.
At this moment I should be knitting my Grandson a sweater ,but I am so anxious that Wynyard suceeds I have taken time to write this tedious ,totally warrented complaint.