There are few roads in the region more likely to send stress levels soaring than the Central Motorway in Newcastle during rush hour.
It’s a route I avoid at all costs during peak times.
But a dinner date invite by a good friend was enough to make me tackle it post-work on a drizzly Monday evening en route to Jesmond Dene House.
To add to my motoring misery, my Sat Nav sent me to the wrong entrance, adding another 15 minutes to my journey. Great.
My mood was far from cheery by the time I arrived, but this boutique hotel’s charms soon had me sloughing off my stresses.
Despite being a stone’s throw from the hullabaloo of one of Newcastle’s busiest suburbs, this Grade II-listed building is an oasis of calm amidst the lush greenery of the Dene.
A former 19th century mansion house, that blends elements of arts and crafts architecture with the gothic, the independently-owned hotel still retains a unique character.
As befitting a residence that once hosted the likes of great novelists Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s a place brimming with artistic flair covering a broad spectrum of art works, from talking point sculptures and striking paintings by famed former miner Norman Cornish to Japanese-style prints and black and white shots of Muhammad Ali.
It’s an aesthetic flair that also flows through the menu at this three AA rosette restaurant, that’s open to residents and non-hotel residents.
As you’d expect from a former mansion house, the dining room is a capacious area, all high ceilings and period coving, contrasted by orange feature walls and a vivid striped carpet.
It’s got an air of romance about it, and though we were just on a mate date, the romance was heightened by our place at a cosy candle-lit window seat overlooking the hotel’s extensive gardens. Looking for a place to impress your better half? Then this is ideal for occasion dining.
The menu has a firm focus on local produce and though the venue itself doesn’t shout about being fancy, it’s certainly food that feels special,
Take my starter for instance: dragon’s egg cucumber soup with North Sea crab, which is one of the pricer starters at £10.50.
Sounds like something from Game of Thrones, but is actually the name for a round cucumber, sweeter than your average veg, that had been incorporated into a beautifully-smooth soup.
It was presented with a perfectly-moulded round of flaky crab, that took only the lightest of pokes to crumble, with the soup poured around once at your table.
Sticking with local seafood, I chose the native lobster salad (£23) for mains, a perky dish of avocado, baby gem lettuce, pickled cucumber, heritage tomato and duck egg that was punctuated with plump lobster and a dusting of bacon crumbs. It was beautifully-executed and fresh as could be, though I would have liked a little more lobster for the price.
Special mention must also go to our sommelier Alex, who was both knowledgeable and entertaining as he talked us through the wine list, swaying me towards a Chilean viognier, that packed a fruitier punch than my usual go-to, the typical French version.
Make sure to ask to see the wine cellar too which no doubt, like the rest of the rooms at this hidden historic building, has plenty of colourful stories to tell.