A gourmet weekend in Lancashire
One of John Williams’s dishes at Obsession 17
In the verdant surroundings of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, close to the picturesque village of Whalley and the dramatic moorlands of the Forest of Bowland, stands a 26-bedroom country-house hotel that has become one of northern England’s best-loved gourmet destinations. That hotel is Northcote, and this month marks the 17th consecutive year it has played host to Obsession, an annual event uniting some of the world’s finest chefs.
This year’s line-up reads like a roll-call of the most exciting international talent on the food scene, with everyone from Italy’s Gennaro Esposito and Slovenia’s Ana Ros to Britain’s very own John Williams – recently awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant at the Ritz – and Atul Kochhar, of Benares fame, cooking up a signature tasting menu.
Gareth Ward’s Not French Onion Soup at Obsession 17
Town & Country visited on the second of the festival’s 17 nights, when Gareth Ward was in residence. The head chef at Ynyshir in Wales, Ward holds a Michelin star for his creative, Japanese-inspired cooking, which makes the most of the bountiful Welsh larder. For Obsession, he went well beyond the requirements of a five-course menu to serve ten immaculately presented dishes. We kicked off with a modestly titled “selection of snacks”, a trio of appetisers that included his ingenious Not French Onion Soup, prepared using slow-cooked onions and miso, tofu and dashi. Other highlights of the menu included Ward’s playful take on cauliflower cheese, whose Camembert-like strength (it’s actually made with Tunworth cheese from Hampshire) packed quite a punch, and the memorable Lager & Lime, a palette-cleansing intermediary course balancing lager jelly with lime yoghurt. While the somewhat unexpectedly tangy taste that black-bean sauce brought to a white-chocolate dessert raised the odd eyebrow, everyone was united in their appreciation of the tiramisu, whose deconstructed presentation took nothing away from its classic coffee and Marsala flavours.
Tickets for Obsession 17 sold out within a few days back in the autumn, and will no doubt do so again next year, but Northcote attracts its fair share of gastronomes all year round, thanks to the culinary brilliance of its Michelin-starred chef-patron Nigel Haworth. We only had time to sample Haworth’s breakfast menu (and can, guiltily, confess to having enjoyed the cheese soufflé before the clock had even struck 10), but a return visit is already on the cards, if only for the sake of finding out how a dish listed as “English Onion In Its Own Skin, Ash” might translate to the plate. Lancashire, you’ll be seeing more of T&C…
The exterior of Northcote hotel
Rooms at Northcote start from £260 a night, including breakfast. Virgin Trains operates direct trains from London Euston to Preston, with journey times starting at 2 hours 8 minutes and return fares from £86.70.
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