Friday, 16 March 2012

The Treehouse Restaurant at The Alnwick Garden - Review

Alnwick Castle from the approach to the Restaurant
However you approach The Treehouse Restaurant at The Alnwick Garden, you cannot fail to be impressed by what meets you. From the main town car park you walk by a beautiful view of Alnwick Castle which at this time of year is carpeted with spring bulbs and you get a sneak peak of the grand cascade of the garden. Even from the Garden’s main car park you have the imposing view of the Treehouse itself and its stylish decked entrance. If you weren’t excited about your meal when you set off you certainly will be when you arrive, it’s hard to imagine a more impressive and unique venue.

The Treehouse Restaurant
Once inside the Treehouse itself the sense of wonder continues, it’s a living landscape and offers a dining experience like no other anywhere in the world. The building was built around the trees, some of which now appear to grow through the floor and everywhere you look there is twisted bow and twig forming the walls. It’s hard to see where the building stops and the trees start, it’s such an elegant and natural setting with a roaring scented fire in the middle of the room and thousands of subtle lights intermingled within the branches. There’s a lot to take in and you may find yourself stopping and staring in wonder when you walk through the door, until a member of staff politely gets your attention!

We had a table for four booked for a Sunday lunch, our coats were taken and we were shown to our table by the fire in the centre of the room. I slid along the bench to sit with my back to the fire and it was an unfortunate coincidence that both myself and my father who were seated here both suffer from bad backs. Within in a couple of minutes I became uncomfortably warm with the fire being no more than 2 feet away and the concrete lip of the fireplace was in my lower back with no support above it. We quickly realised that we wouldn’t be able to comfortably enjoy a long, relaxed meal at this table and made the awkward decision to ask to be moved. We were one of the first groups to arrive and the staff were incredibly accommodating so it wasn’t an issue at all despite our waiter’s joke ‘yes we can move you to a table just outside the door’. He really deserved praise for how he interacted with us and the tables around us, he had just the right balance of friendliness and cheeky humour without ever overstepping the mark. The service we received throughout the meal was almost faultless.

Inside the Treehouse Restaurant
At our new table we relaxed and perused the menu which was cram packed with local and seasonal produce, which was excellent to see. Local produce included Brinkburn Goats Cheese, Swallow's Smoked Haddock, Doddington Dairy Ice Cream, Northumbrian Cheeses and sustainably sourced fish.

I found myself distracted by the beauty of the room and had to keep drawing myself back to the task in hand – choosing from the extensive Sunday Lunch menu. We all commented that it was nice to see menu where we were tempted by so many dishes, it was genuinely a difficult decision to make for each course. Around the table we had the Goats Cheese and the Treehouse Terrine for starters. The generous portion of Terrine was pork and duck wrapped in bacon and served with salad, a sauce and toasted brioche. The goats cheese was equally generous in size and served with salad, beetroot chutney and a basil and balsamic dressing. The quality of ingredients, particularly in the terrine shone through with an excellent depth of flavour and simple, clean presentation.

On to the main courses, being Sunday most of our party opted for the roast dinner (beef and pork) and we also had one chicken. I’ll get the one downside of the meal straight out of the way, the topside of beef was extremely tasty but by no stretch of the imagination could it be described as tender. The pork however was a delight, so tender it barely managed to hold its form and served with a delicious honey crunch mustard and apple sauce. Each plate was cleanly presented with the meat of choice, several roast potatoes, mashed potato, a huge homemade Yorkshire pudding and in the case of the beef a good serving of extremely tasty, rich gravy. Vegetables for the table of four came in a small cast iron pot and consisted of mange tout, French beans, broccoli, carrots and courgette. When they arrived I was concerned that there might not be enough for four, but as it turned out it was just the right amount. The trend recently with many restaurants is to provide an obscene amount of food in an attempt to give the appearance of value for money, a wasteful bandwagon I'm pleased to say the Treehouse hasn't jumped on.

Roast Topside of Beef and homemade Yorkshire Pudding
The divine Sticky Toffee and Ginger Pudding
We were all extremely pleased with our main courses, the Roasted Supreme of Chicken came with a leek and herb crust, confit potato and a blue cheese sauce, a difficult dish to present well. It would have been rude not to have sampled a dessert, so after a short break we had a look at the menu. What choice! Classic dishes with a modern twist included Sticky Toffee and Ginger Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream, Treehouse Lemon Posset, Homemade Cheesecake, Dark Chocolate and Orange Tart and a Trio of Northumbrian Cheeses. I tend to rate a restaurant's desserts by the standard of their Sticky Toffee Pudding so the decision, for me at least, was straighforward.

As it turned out it was the highlight of the meal, the light pudding had a good warm hit of ginger which was balanced by the butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream perfectly. The addition of the ginger to the pudding was a new (to me) combination of flavours which made the taste buds sing and I will certainly be taking this idea away with me. The Cheesecake and Lemon Posset were also throroughly enjoyed with the posset having a consistency and smoothness close to a panna cotta. After all this wonderful cuisine we couldn't even manage to fit in a coffee to round off the meal, we were perfectly content.

It came time for us to head home and we could barely bring ourselves to leave the table, a sure sign of a great meal. We will be returning!

Highlight: The Treehouse itself, the food could be michelin standard and still easily be overshadowed by the pure genius of the venue.
Lowlight: It's being very nitpicky as we enjoyed the meal so much, but the tenderness of the roast topside of beef could be improved.

The Treehouse Restaurant’s Scores
Venue: 5 out of 5
Ambience: 4 ½ out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Presentation: 3 ½ out of 5
Taste: 4 out of 5
Value for Money: 3 ½ out of 5

Overall Score: Sunday Lunch at The Treehouse cost £22.75 for three courses or £18.50 for two courses. In my view this prices the restaurant into the ‘special occasion’ category, regular dining here might be somewhat extravagant and beyond the means of a lot of people especially in these hard times. That’s not to say I wouldn’t consider it to be reasonable value for money, the special venue certainly justifies (in my mind) a large part of the premium you’re paying. It’s the kind of dining experience that you’ll remember for a long time, the stuff great memories are made of and in my mind you can’t put a price tag on that. 4 ½ out of 5

My scoring system explained:
5 = Outstanding
4 = Excellent
3 = Good
2 = Average
1 = Poor

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