11 AUGUST 2011
Nestled in a crook of the River Tees in County Durham, lies Rockliffe Hall; it has a long and interesting history, surviving two fires and decades of disuse, and reopened in 2009 as a spa hotel and golf course with a strong culinary slant.
The check in process, as you’ll find the rest of your stay, is calm, collected and friendly without any fuss; it will put you instantly at ease. Rooms are spacious and elegant, the bathrooms well appointed and the room service swift and comprehensive. There’s complementary wifi for those who either can’t bear or can’t afford to be disconnected from the digital world for more than a few hours at a time.
A spa might not seem like a particularly foodie destination – but the discovery that one can both order and indulge in champagne without leaving the confines of a sun lounger beside one of the pools in the health spa itself may lead you to believe you’ve found the ultimate health regime.
When the time comes to leave the massage pool, the attendants are happy to assist you to one of the many forms of sauna including the tepidarium, the caldarium, the Roman sauna and even a room containing an ice fountain.
And if all that sounds like hard work, then the foodie in you will send you directly to The Orangery – without passing go or collecting £200.
Run by Michelin starred chef and local boy done good Kenny Atkinson, The Orangery is a perfect après-treatment to the health spa. Atkinson originally worked with his uncle before decamping to the Scilly Isles where he was awarded the island’s first Michelin star for his work at the St. Martin’s Hotel. Returning to the mainland, he spent some time at Seaham Hall before settling in at Rockliffe Hall.
After a couple of amuse bouches, we settled on the tasting menu with matched wines that, interestingly enough, included a truly superb sake. The quality of the food was nothing short of exemplary and was matched perfectly by the efficiency and congeniality of the staff. Each dish we were presented with had a decidedly British feel to it and every one was sized perfectly to feel like you’d actually eaten something without encroaching too much on your appetite. No foam here. A standout dish was the mackerel, cooked to perfection with skin so crisp it shattered like glass.
Make a point of leaving room to explore the delights of the cheeseboard; you’ll end up sampling a fantastic range of British cheeses. Head to the cocktail lounge post-meal for a perfect Whisky Sour as a finishing touch.
Breakfast is another treat – eggs benedict and smoked haddock, your classic full English or continental all washed down with perfectly made fresh coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
A short while later you can roll into The Waterhouse Bistro for a light lunch; wash it down with a bottle of Charles Smith’s superb Kung Fu Reisling from the well put together wine list.
If you’ve a space left, a decadent Afternoon Tea is served in The Morning Room washed down with a glass of champagne, naturally.