Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth on Tees, Darlington DL2 2DU
The grand glass ceiling of The Orangery at Rockliffe Hall isn’t the only thing that wows diners: the food produced under the stewardship of Executive Chef Richard Allen has been given not one, nor two, but three AA Rosettes. Some of the ingredients put to amazing use in the menu come from Rockliffe Hall’s own 365-acre estate. If you want the best experience, leave yourself in Richard’s capable hands with the nine-course surprise menu.
Trinity Gardens, Quayside,
Newcastle NE1 2HH
0191 222 0755
Terry Laybourne’s old gaff is rightly given credit as the fire that took Geordies from the caveman era of cuisine in Newcastle to a new enlightened age, but it’s worth pointing out that the restaurant still holds its own against all the new up-and-comers. Classic bistro cooking wins out here, with Terry’s kitchen coming out swinging with bold, punchy flavours like a prizefighter still in their prime who isn’t willing to let go of the culinary crown.
Tees Valley TS22 5NF
The stunning surroundings of Wynyard Hall’s grand atrium, vast grounds and serene lake are just part of the reason people come here: the dining is up to snuff, too. Whether you elect to order off the à la carte menu, featuring Rioja-braised octopus risotto with poached cod and fennel, or the more relaxed brasserie menu, you’ll be able to relax as if you’ve just walked in as an extra on The Great Gatsby.
THE LIBRARY RESTAURANT
Matfen Hall, Newcastle NE20 0RH
With two AA Rosettes for its cooking, The Library Restaurant at Maften Hall is a throwback to the grand old days of dining. With long wooden bookshelves heaving with literature lining its walls, and dark curtains framing the windows, eating here by candlelight is an evocative experience. There are classics – from seared fillet of stone bass with belly pork, cauliflower purée and pommes Anna – as well as more contemporary dishes, including halloumi and avocado on toasted bloomer with a basil and balsamic glaze; the poshest cheese on toast you’ve ever eaten.
Aykley Heads House, Aykley Heads, Durham DH1 5TS
0191 307 7033
Crisp linen tablecloths replace the starched silk ones that once typified fine dining at Finbarr’s, a rustic haven with an Italian twist. Start with silky buffalo mozzarella served with a fennel and blood orange salad before trying the veal osso bucco with saffron risotto alla Milanese and gremolata. The low-ceilinged charm of the dining room adds to the atmosphere at this Durham institution, which reopened in its present location last year.
THE RABY HUNT
Summerhouse, near Darlington DL2 3UD
Alongside winning Restaurant of the Year at the Living North Awards in 2015 and 2016, James Close’s fine dining restaurant near Darlington also possesses two Michelin stars. The reason it is so garlanded with awards is simple: the standard of the menu can barely be beaten. The 10 and 12-course tasting menus are a theatrical romp through the North East larder (there are a lot of skull motifs involved these days), with seasonal produce taking centre stage. This isn’t just in the elite of restaurant; this isn’t just fine dining. We’ll have to make up a new word for it: elifine dining.
Morpeth, Northumberland NE65 9EN
Eshott Hall’s kitchen garden provides much of the produce served up from the two-AA Rosette kitchen and eaten in the grand dining room with glittering chandeliers and gold-framed mirrors. Many of the dishes have a traditional core, around which more contemporary flourishes are added, then there are the classics which combine high luxury with kitchen staples: the fine fillet of beef with roasted king oyster and a parsley and black pepper crust is capped off with a playful side of corned beef potato cake.
DOBSON AND PARNELL
21 Queen Street, Newcastle NE1 3UG
0191 221 0904
The tile-and-bare-brick walls at Dobson and Parnell, plus the booth seating and low-hanging lights, combine the latest trend for industrial chic with the fine dining experience you’d expect of a building which was formerly home to Terry Laybourne’s Michelin-starred 21 Queen Street. The latest inhabitants don’t disappoint, serving up dishes on their à la carte menu that echoes the Tyneside Classical architecture outside. But there’s innovation here: the treacle tart comes with a healthy helping of miso and parsnips, and is encased in sweet dripping pastry.
The Avenue, Durham DH1 4DX
0191 384 6655
The market tasting menu at this cosy 22-cover place run by husband and wife team Stephen and Helen Hardy takes high-grade ingredients (such as Whitby crab or Scottish hake) and builds dishes around them, using a simple list of ingredients and sophisticated cooking techniques to eke out every last morsel of flavour.
Otterburn Castle, Otterburn,
Northumberland NE19 1NS
Wood-panelled walls, high-backed chairs and hanging tapestries are the décor of choice at Otterburn Castle’s Oakroom restaurant – it’s apt, since the building dates back to the ninth century. The food here is as rich as a feast from that era: take their beef cheeks served with a Bourguignon garnish, fondant potato and a red wine jus for instance. Eat like a king! Just not one of those bloated gouty ones with high blood pressure who’ll keel over at the sight of insubordination.