My year at Durham was neatly bookended by short stays at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel. Our first stay arriving on a chilly September afternoon was marked by a warming log fire, roasted game and snuggly blankets nestled by the hearth, and my return trip was welcomed by the scent and sound of sizzling log fires outside, and the gentle summer sunset of one of the longest days of the year.
After a charming walk recommended by hotel staff across the stunning local moorland and weaving brooks both speckled with local birds of prey and ewes mothering their new offspring, it was time for supper.
For starters we ordered the light mixed beetroot salad with goat's curd and toasted walnuts. The beetroot was rich and earthy, with woody warming walnuts that were perfectly softened by the creamy mellow goat's curd and refreshing scatter of flat leaf parsley.
The Portland crab on toast with a brown crab mayonnaise was sweet and delicate and matched beautifully by the depth of flavour from the brown crab meat.
Having smelt the local wild garlic throughout our walk it seemed only natural to order the wild garlic and potato soup with cheese scone. The nourishing green soup was full of fiery garlic and earthy potato whilst the miniature cheese scone provided a warm note of smokiness and salt.
On our walk up to the restaurant we had passed the big open fire adorned with duck and chicken, pots of flavoursome roasting and caramelising onions, so next we opted for the half Swarbrick Farm chicken with their garden coleslaw and fries. The chicken was perfectly succulent and moist yet coated in a crisp skin speckled with hints of oregano and sweetness and nestled next to a summery light coleslaw.
The half Goosnargh duck also roasted on the open fire was served with cider braised peas, whipped potatoes and bacon. It was phenomenal. Its meat tender and melting with notes of bitter roast from the fire and sweetness from the cider and peas and all wrapped in a familiar cover of creamy, rich whipped potato.
The final of our mains was a roast Goosnargh duck breast with a fried potato cake and pickled cherries. The pickled cherries were a twist on the classic sweet and sour fruity flavour to match the duck, and the creamy potato cake and rich jus tied the two together.
Far too tempted by the varied dessert menu we order the almond and raspberry tart with vanilla ice cream and the Hargrove Farm strawberry Etonian mess. Rather than sickly sweet the almond was punctuated by hits of tart raspberry and flecks of toasted nut, whilst the Eton mess was full of fruit rather than an overpowering smack of cream and meringue. Both were effortlessly balanced and fulfilling.
After a long and deep sleep it was time for the gruelling journey back south for the summer, but not before a hearty breakfast of eggs royale overlooking the peaceful grounds and surrounding landscape.
I hope I am lucky enough to return to this special spot one day, with my year abroad ahead of me it could be many months before I'm back there smelling the familiar and homely scent of their crackling open fire.
I am an amateur cook blogging about the food I eat and cook, and my travels along the way.