The Treehouse, Alnwick – Second Time Lucky?*
I’m true to my word. After contacting The Treehouse, Alnwick’s premier dining establishment, regarding our dud meal back in the summer (you can read our thoughts here) the team asked if we’d consider a return visit. They were adamant we’d not experienced the best the kitchen had to offer, a sentiment a few people I know had also echoed. I appreciate the fact this can happen, but I can only write about what I have encountered on the day. So, with the family in tow – including my sister-in-law and niece who are meat eaters – we booked and took the 80 mile round trip to give them another shot at winning us over.
The worry I have in these instances is that the advance warning will naturally result in the game being upped, meaning it still isn’t a true reflection of what other diners will experience. Some friends advised me not to bother at all, but I felt harsh likening their Macaroni and Cheese to a Sainsbury’s Value ready meal. Visiting on a Saturday also meant they’d be busy, and I wondered how attentive staff could be – with the best intentions- when our last meal took nearly 2 hours for just one measly course.
My sister-in-law and niece were every bit as wowed as we’d expected by the surroundings and the restaurant. Operating a 2 or 3 course menu on the weekend, Mr. Canny commented that the options for meat eaters and veggies seemed more limited on account of this.
A burger, Fish & Chips, Sausage & Mash and Gnocchi also aren’t the most inspiring of dishes, and the fare seemed akin to that you’d find in a local pub. Good to see local butchers Turnbull’s get a mention, but it doesn’t really feel like the kitchen are taking advantage of the abundance of Northumbrian seasonal produce at their fingertips to craft a menu that befits such a beautiful and unusual venue.
The children’s menu was no better, although I was pleased to see actual vegetables on offer. I chose the Melon & Berry Salad for Dinky to try, as now she’s eating solid food we like her to eat different textures and flavours. She particularly enjoyed the sweet watermelon and blackberries, but the blueberries were hard work for her toothless gums. Of course, this is an aside as I couldn’t possibly rate a restaurant based on whether an 8 month old can gum their salad!
Interestingly, Mr. Canny’s adult version of the same salad wasn’t too dissimilar, with only the radish and a heavier hand with the dressing marking them apart. My sister-in-law opted for the same Goats Cheese Salad I’d eaten during our last trip for her starter. She said the ratio of beetroot to goats cheese was imbalanced, and based on the photo I’d agree. It wasn’t all hidden at the bottom either!The mains courses were better than last time, but that wasn’t a huge accomplishment. I think the pricing is off for what is on offer, it has to be said. Hard Rock Cafe in London charge £16.25 for a burger and fries in a prime location, and when you compare it to the Venison Burger of The Treehouse at around the same price point it seems like a bargain. It may be near a tourist attraction, but this is not the capital. It solidified my belief that The Treehouse are churning out food like this as they feel they have people held to ransom. Because the options for dining are limited in the vicinity and because of the ambience, people will pay through the nose. Especially if they’re hungry.
My main of Butternut Squash Hash (vegan) was nice, although I felt like it was missing an ingredient to make it shine as a main. I don’t normally feel that vegetarian food needs meat to be a complete meal, but whether it was the portion size that made it feel like a side it hard to say. Mr. Canny’s Onion Bhaji and Curried Lentils were spot-on however, and a more considered vegan option to the lacklustre Cous Cous he’d eaten last time round.
The Teen had the Gnocchi, which was perfectly adequate. Not easy to get excited about something we’d eat as a mid-week supper, but as the only vegetarian option on the menu that’s what he had to have.
The best part of the meal was the desserts, which were fantastic. The Sticky Toffee Pudding had a lovely sauce, and the moist sponge was springy with flecks of dates. The warm Brownie was exactly as it should be, and the Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream worked as a contrast against the rich chocolate.
It took two hours altogether, which was an improvement on last time, but the service was still slow. In a venue of this stature I’d expect it to be polished and refined. The staff appear to be inexperienced and it makes it clunky and awkward. They try really hard but it shouldn’t be an effort as it is their job, and having to keep asking for forgotten drinks is frustrating.
Having heard Michel Roux Jnr visited recently for a TV show is interesting, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I don’t think he was served up Fish & Chips though! I wanted to be able to report back and say it is amazing and I was completely wrong, but I remain unconvinced this is the absolute best they have to offer. I can’t get excited about pub grub in what I perceive as a fine dining establishment. The local benchmark for a comparable offering is Blackfriars, and I feel The Treehouse misses that mark on many fronts.
Thanks for reading,
*Footnote: Since dining at The Treehouse for the second time I have been refunded the cost of both meals we ate there. Clearly this has not influenced my review in any way.