From its founders, the Lumley family, who fought in the War of the Roses and hosted a visit from King James I – who still lends his name to the venue’s top suite – to the 20th century wars and, most recently, the fight against Covid, the castle has remained a constant feature as the world around it has changed.
Although much of its period features are still remarkably intact, over lockdown, the hotel, which is owned by the Earl of Scarborough but operated by the No Ordinary Hotels group, took the opportunity to revamp its dining rooms: the library and Knights restaurant – which is helping to bring more people through its palatial doors.
Over the summer, the castle also welcomed a new head chef, Jim Hall, who’s previously donned his whites as head chef at well-known sites such as Ramside Hall and Malmaison in Newcastle. And, just before the lockdown hit, it also welcomed the appointment of new general manager, Gordon Cartwirght who has more than 30 years’ experience in five-star hotels under his belt.
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Born in Fatfield and a former St Robert of Newminster pupil, chef Jim has long been aware of the imposing castle which stands proud in the North East skyline and he says it’s great to work at such an historic site.
"There’s so much character in this building, hundreds of years worth of history, but in the past I don’t think it’s reached its potential,” he said.
"This is an iconic hotel and now I think we have the right team to unlock its potential. The appointment of Gordon means there’s lots of opportunities to do that and I came here for those reasons.”
The new changes, which have included lightening the once dark and imposing Knights restaurant and adding glass panels to its raised dining areas to open up the room, are helping to bring people back with bookings three-fold what they were last summer.
Jim bought his own kitchen team with him, some of whom have been with him for 10 years, rising through the ranks.
As a young chef, Jim honed his own skills working as a sous chef in Oxfordshire at restaurants including the acclaimed Sir Charles Napier restaurant and he says he noticed the North East restaurant scene had really upped its game once he returned.
“I came back to the North East after 10 years and could see how much the dining scene has improved,” he explained. “Whereas before you had a few good restaurants and a lot of good chefs who often moved away for work, you now have some great places for them to train.
"It’s come on in leaps and bounds, with lots of multi-rosetted restaurants and it’s really motivating for guys coming through; to have these top level restaurants.”
As well as venues changing, recent times have seen people’s appetite for eating out increase.
“In lockdown people cooked more, their palate changed and it’s made people more enthusiastic about eating out and eating out in better places,” he said.
"Lumley Castle has a great following of regulars and we’ve had great feedback on the new menus’, he said. “I think sometimes people don’t realise you don’t need to be a hotel resident to dine here but the changes are helping to bring more people here.”
What’s on the menu
Afternoon tea is one of the most popular dining options at Lumley Castle, and there can be few more grand rooms to sip on your tea than in its library, filled with great literary works and a roaring fire.
The traditional English treat is served daily in either the Library bar or Knights restaurant. Like the rest of the dining offering, it too has upped its game.
Now priced £21.95, it’s better value than most with a savoury sandwich layer of hand carved ham and English Mustard; Northumberland cheese savoury, Arlington white egg mayo and oak smoked salmon.
The sweet tiers come laden with warm Earl Grey and sultana scone and plain scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserve; chocolate and caramel torte; strawberry choux bun; glazed summer berries and double cream egg custard tart.
Evening meals are also a hearty affair and are inspired by the seasons.
The new menu features some real winter warmers with starters such as Leek & potato velouté with warm potato salad & chive oil (£6.50) and castle cured salmon with spiced potato pancake and celeriac remoulade (£7.50).
Meanwhile, from the mains section you can expect generous portions of choices such as braised beef shin with roast garlic & celeriac puree with parsley emulsion (£18) and wild mushroom carnaroli risotto with king oyster, aged parmesan and nasturtium (£14.50), as well as a grill section.
The drinks menu is more extensive than most, and there’s some theatrical cocktails on there including a smoked section where drinks such as negroni and a black Russian, arrive under a glass dome which is lifted to unveil a swirl of aroma.