With a celebrity chef sporting a handlebar moustache and a “wicked” sense of humour at the helm, you could be forgiven for fearing Seaham Hall was heading down a wacky culinary path.
Fear not. There’s no snail porridge, bacon and egg ice cream, or walrus en croute anywhere to be found.
Seaham Hall’s culinary director (yes, that is his title) Martin Blunos may be nicknamed the Walrus, by dint of his whiskery fizzog and larger-than-life character, but the direction he’s steering the hotel’s tucker is a straight one, but on a distinctly first-class ticket.
The menu tells you plainly what’s on offer, with the only airs and graces being on the finesse of Blunos’s contemporary take on classic dishes.
This really is fine dining, but before I go onto the food, I can’t stress enough what a change for the better the hotel’s £2million relaunch has been.
Seaham Hall is what the tourism experts dub ‘destination dining.’ A place that’s worth putting in those extra miles to be at – even if it does involve an arm wrestle over who’s to be designated driver.
You can’t help but be impressed with Seaham Hall Hotel.
The hall’s grandiose exterior is now matched with an uber chic interior, which tastefully combines the contemporary with the opulent.
Byron’s Bar and Grill by Blunos (yes, it is a bit of a mouthful) quite simply looks the business.
Two giant chandeliers sparkle in the dining area which on one side houses a drinks bar and on the far wall boasts a giant floor to ceiling dark wood cabinet housing a large flat screen TV running old Charlie Chaplain movies!
The walls, in a distressed-look wallpaper, are also festooned with eye-catching clusters of chrome flower light shades.
You are not short of conversation pieces to discuss while awaiting for your food.
Blunos has kept the menu simple. Each dish is, if it can be, just one word long; two words maximum. Starters was a choice of crab; lobster; butternut squash; mussels; scallops; or duck liver.
The main dishes too, were equally short on verbiage. You don’t need a French dictionary to understand what’s coming. Cod; sea bass; beef; salmon; halibut; or risotto.
What the dishes lack in words, they more than make up for in flavour. My mussels were steamed with shallots and swimming in an oaked chardonnay while my beef main (medium rare) was a hefty cut accompanied by giant onion rings, fat chips and a pouring cup of peppercorn sauce. Simple, but sensational.
Sweets too are straight to the point. I opted for the little-known tonka bean which is a glorified (and glorious) crème brulee.
My wife chose chocolate, which came with bergamot ice-cream, and an Earl Grey tuile, it tasted as good as it sounded and looked.
Having won the arm wrestle over driving duties, I got to sample the drinks cabinet which produced a great find. A bottle of Weihenstephaner (it’s easier to say after the third bottle), voted the world’s best wheat beer in 2012, was a rare treat, though not cheap at £5.50 a bottle.
The restaurant isn’t cheap full stop. Starters begin at £8, mains from £14.50 (my beef was £28) with the desserts dipping over the line at £7 to £8.
But for special occasions, it’s worth every penny. A trip on a Blunos ticket is, on this tasting, a first-class night out.