I can’t say that I regularly lodge at five-star hotels – more’s the pity – but the swank pads I have stayed in tend to share a couple of features.
Firstly, there’ll be a striking foyer accommodating a slick reception team who somehow know who you are on arrival, even though you’ve managed to forget your own name.
Then, once installed in your quarters, you’ll find a massive TV on which to watch Countdown while Asbestos Tongue pilfers the posh toiletries under the guise of ‘having a bath’. (Molton Brown here, which I’m informed is an upgrade on my Lynx Nevada miniatures.)
As you’d expect from the region’s only 5 star gaff, the list of Nice Stuff goes on here at The Grand. There’s the oversized bed adorned with sumptuous sheets; thunderous shower, and air-con whacked up to a balmy (and barmy – this is t’north!) 25 degrees; but what really sticks out about the place is how it delivers on high-end luxe without, well, being up its own arse. Decor’s classy, not crass. Staff friendly, not fawning. It’s all welcomingly understated.
We’re giving the hotel’s new restaurant Hudsons a spin, and it’s apparent from the off that they’re hoping the Michelin lot swing by. The room – low-lit, wood-panelled, parquet-floored – is a laid back looker. The menu, naturally, of the nine course Tasting variety.
I’m usually of the old-school ‘three courses plus bread plus extra bread’ when it comes to menus, but there’s a lightness running through this sequence of scoff that stops it becoming a dirge of food noise, and much of what we throw down our throats is stirring stuff. It’d be knackering for us all if I went through every dish, so we’ll spin around some standouts.
They’re handy with veg here. “Duke of York Potato” (spud soup) is both a snug and – thanks to some supercharged tarragon – spry few spoonfuls of allotmenty pleasure. Carrots are given a little gussying-up – a dab of puree here, a vibrant light pickling there – and are as full of flavour as the expertly cooked lumps of protein that follow.
These include a wedge of venison that’s spent a proper amount of time hanging and developing its nearly- offally flavour. With it – more superior veg – silky disks of beetroot and a creamy, peppy, violet mustard that gives us a kind-of Deer Diane. Corking, that.
Or how about a slab of succulent stone bass, its fragrant roasty smokiness evocative of those harbourside restaurants from your first trips to sunnier climes. The accompanying bisque – a rusty ochre – ballsy, piquant and ace.
We’d have ended it on that briney high, to be honest, and by the time a piece of robust beef cheek lands I’m starting to regret the packet of Monster Munch I had in the shower earlier. Fatigue sets in and we fail to polish it off, When the gaffer tells us we’re the first guests to come unstuck since they opened, the disappointment in his eyes cuts deep . A waste of good truffle, I know. The shame.
Dessert revives. Juicy blackberries, pert panna cotta, brown butter wafer; but a plate of cheese is, on this rare occasion, a step too far.
I wonder, as we neck a nightcap in the lively bar, if a condensed version of the menu would be worthwhile for wimps like us. (I also wonder if they should give someone else the Spotify password when, around the venison course, things get a bit Sex Muzak.)
I’m not usually into all that website guff about a chef’s philosophy and how the chicken came from next-door’s back garden, but the line about the food at Hudsons being ‘simple but not simplistic’ rings true. Chef Craig Atchinson does plenty of the smarty-pants stuff while also knowing when to put the brakes on.
‘Fine’ and ‘dining’ have become dirty words, synonymous with a starchy and stuffy experience, but like the rest of the hotel Hudsons is a quietly classy operation.
Important Thing I Have to Tell You: The hotel provided the digs and the restaurant sorted the food.
I paid for the booze. There’s a wine match at 40 quid a head and, as much as there was some nice gear, there’s never quite enough of it, is there?