Like 90% of the Antipodean expats in London, we can talk your ear off about our jaunts to the continent. You want itinerary ideas? We’ve got them. You want restaurant recommendations? We can make you hungry. You want to hear some horror stories? We can make you laugh. But ask us about the UK and many of us might be silenced.
Most of us end up in London, in spite of the crowds and cost of living, because we can move here fairly easily and it gives us the incredible freedom to duck off to Spain or France or wherever within the same day. Too seduced with those options, many of us forget about exploring England. A certain someone and I have been guilty of using England as the fall back option when it comes to holiday planning but I’m pleased we have ventured outside of the M25 a few times; even more so when I think about how well we’ve eaten on these trips.
A couple of tried and tested day trips to Cambridge and Brighton proved to be rather delicious, as did the long weekends in Cornwall and the Lake District, then last year we splashed out during our visit to Yorkshire and visited not one, not two, but three Michelin star restaurants. This gluttonous experience reminded me that modern British cuisine is seasonal and creative, and that while the London dining scene is booming, incredible food does exist outside of the capital.
I was reminded of this again after the first of many impeccable courses at the Raby Hunt in Darlington, somewhere north of York but south of Durham for those of you with any interest in English geography. For those who don’t, it’s about a five hour drive north of London. Housed in a Grade II listed building, from the outside it’s every bit countryside pub but inside, it’s brightly lit, comfortable and elegant.
We settled in with a drink at the bar and a quick look through the evening’s menu before moving to our table in the dining room. There’s no ordering done here which suits me just fine; the restaurant serves one main tasting menu of around ten courses, vegetarians need to book ahead for their five course menu. First to hit the table were a series of bite sized snacks; the artichoke was tasty but not quite as memorable as the silky raw scallop with grapefruit, or the Skrei cod delicately sandwiched between crispy skin and a paper thin slice of truffle.
On paper, the next dish of 62˚ Lindisfarne oyster made me a little nervous as I don’t usually eat oysters… it’s not the texture or flavour that disagrees with me, but sometimes they turn me pink and rashy! However, I hadn’t had one in a while so thought, ‘what’s the harm?!’ and thankfully there wasn’t any, just a creamy oyster with all the luxurious flavour and none of the slimy texture, beautifully complemented by the cucumber granita.
The next two dishes were possibly my favourites of the night. The Raby Hunt’s signature dish of razor clam, almond and celeriac tasted every bit as good as it looked; so intricately put together, I loved that every bite had a combination of textures. The raw beef with basil and nasturtium was always going to be a winner for me; a certain someone has even suggested I write a whole post on my love of raw beef dishes… it’s in the pipeline… but in the meantime, these fresh and generous slices of beef further cemented my love.
I thought the remaining savoury courses epitomised the Raby Hunt’s philosophy of simplicity; perfectly cooked sea bream with crispy skin, blushingly pink lamb, and the prettiest winter salad I have ever laid eyes on. One little twist was the first serving of lamb which, as soon as a certain someone and I bit into it, both likened it to… nachos. Obviously a very sophisticated nacho, but that was the sensation none the less; utterly moreish.
With only a few drops of wine left, we took a little break to replenish our glasses with a sweet wine for the dessert courses; we had our sights set on a port but there are some great alternatives on the menu so we branched out. When I read that the first dessert was licorice and lime, it did not set my heart racing but I was pleasantly surprised, the lime was so refreshing and the thin licorice biscuit was so subtle which played to my preference perfectly. By comparison, the black olive, chocolate mousse, and sheep’s yoghurt was not in the least bit subtle – the flavours were rich and the bowl made it very difficult for me to scrape clean without alerting the whole dining room. Very unsubtle indeed.
Twelve dishes done and dusted, we were pleasantly sated and more than a little impressed with the quality of the food but there was one final hurrah from the kitchen; a cigar box containing two chocolates: one yuzu and one curiously named ‘whisky room’. The first was sharp and zesty and all very nice but it was the golden skull we both wanted to try… a combination of whisky and tobacco leaf, eating it was an odd but enjoyable experience – not sure they’ll be rolled out to the masses but a daring concoction and fitting way to end!
The Raby Hunt’s philosophy is food inspired by simplicity and it delivers exactly what it says on the tin but with style. Truthfully, there was not a dish we didn’t enjoy; of course some excited us more than others but all were well thought out and perfectly executed – definitely worth the journey outside of the M25!
Have you dined at the Raby Hunt or ever ventured out of town just for a foodie escape?