Kenny Atkinson at Seaham Hall is a superb chef.
The White Room, is the finest restaurant in County Durham, and you’ll want to tell your friends about it.
The Good Food Guide gave the restaurant a score of 6 and Harden’s Restaurant Guide gave them a Remy award as one of the top twenty restaurants outside London. They were awarded 2 rosettes by the AA.
The classical dining-room sports a fashionably theatrical full-height mirror, and there are modern pictures on the wall. When we stayed there, we ordered from a set lunch menu offering three courses for £29.50, which, as will become apparent, is an absolute steal.
My wife’s starter of pan-fried fillet of organic Scottish salmon, fennel, fine beans, spiced tomatoes and basil was fragrant and light, with beautifully cooked French beans. It may sound pedantic to harp on the beans, but get them wrong and who cares what flashy acrobatics the rest of the ingredients turn?
I ordered carpaccio of local heritage beef with carrots, creamed horseradish, glazed mushrooms and smoked bone marrow. Served on a rectangle of slate, it looked ravishing, with a colourful smear of purée here, a dot of horseradish there.
The bone marrow – it’s rare to find a chef who’ll dare to throw this into the mix, particularly on such a reasonably priced menu – was aromatic and nutty and brought a salty tang to a dish otherwise a bit short on flavour. The horseradish lacked bite, and the daintily sliced beef was lost in a neither-here-nor-there walnut dressing. Also, though this was a starter, it felt rather small.
Call me a glutton, but portion size was an issue for me again with the mains. The flavour combinations, however, were exquisite. My roast loin and confit shoulder of local lamb, sautéed sweetbreads, confit cherry tomatoes, pea and mint purée, young leeks and rosemary set the taste buds dancing, the pea purée adding zing to the perfectly cooked cuts of meat. My wife’s pan-roasted belly of confit pork, glazed apple, braised cheek, Scottish girolles and sage cut a similarly impressive caper, the meat being both melting and sweet, while the unexpected star of the dish was a purée of lemony potato.
Could the puddings trump these? They could. My wife’s blackberry-jelly crumble, Granny Smith apple sorbet, apple-pie foam and cinnamon doughnut was both as rarefied and childishly satisfying as it sounds (think clever-clever crumble with upmarket butterscotch Angel Delight). My salad of marinated berries, lavender and yogurt sorbet, chocolate tuile and red-berry soup was underscored by orange zest and an aroma of smoky chocolate.
In addition to the dishes we ordered we were brought the following: sun-dried tomato bread roll; salt bread roll; a spinach velouté with truffle oil and mushrooms; and a 'pre-dessert’ of panna cotta with lavender 'space dust’ (the retro 1980s sweetie that’s still all the rage in smart kitchens).
You’d be hard-pushed to eat this well, for so little, in such welcoming surroundings anywhere else in Britain.