“F**k me, it looks like a Batchelors Pasta ‘N’ Sauce’ – HR, blogger
‘That looks rank!’ – NW, blogger
‘Was that a microwave meal?!’ – Anon, Twitter
‘Even a packet of Ainsley Harriott’s cous cous would have been better than that!’ – Anon, Facebook
I’ll come to these statements and their significance later on.
Every time we visited Alnwick Garden or Castle we’d try to book in to The Treehouse restaurant, which is located close by. Somewhere so popular must be flipping fantastic, right? I’d heard good things, so it seemed like a pretty safe bet for a decent lunch. Imagine my joy when we managed to snare a last minute table when my sister-in-law was visiting. Mr. Canny will confirm, I did a little jig.
I planned our trip in meticulous detail. We’d secured a late lunch slot, meaning we could spend time in the Castle before popping in for food. We’d head back afterwards with time for a tour, then we’d make a detour to Bamburgh for her to experience the beautiful Northumberland coastline. I really am an awesome tour guide! Adriana was mighty impressed when she spotted the restaurant in the distance.
We arrived for our table slightly early because we knew we were among the last diners of that particular service. I’d forewarned about the vegan upon booking to make sure there was something for him to eat. I was pleased he was presented with a specific menu, which had TWO choices for starters and mains. The prices didn’t seem too bad at all, despite having heard reports to the contrary. There was the usual grumble of the wine list not having vegetarian and vegan-friendly markings next to the selection, but Mr. Canny used his trusty app to work out what we could have to drink.
We were every bit as wowed by the interior as I’d hoped. I imagine it’s even more magical on an evening, with its twinkly lights and roaring fire. There wasn’t much need for that on a summer’s day! As a Lord of the Rings fan, the Teen was also in awe, which is something that rarely happens. He’s all about the food usually.Adriana decided she would eat vegan too as a way of understanding Mr. Canny’s diet, which I thought was a lovely gesture when the standard menu featured dishes more suited to her palate. I couldn’t see what was ‘locally-inspired’ (a term they used on their own website) here, but hey ho.
When visiting a restaurant to do a review, I like us to all order different items from the menu. The Teen was struggling with the selection of vegetarian dishes on offer, so we asked if the listed side dish of Macaroni Cheese – one of his favourite comfort foods – could be made into a larger portion. Yes, was the response, although we were told the side was pretty big to begin with. Not a problem for the boy with hollow legs. I asked if the starter of Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad could also be ‘maxed’ for my main. Mr. Canny ordered the Tomato and Red Pepper Cous Cous, and Adriana selected the Wild Mushroom Risotto. We didn’t bother with starters, thinking we would possibly try out one of the desserts if we still had room at the end.
We waited for what felt an age for our dishes to arrive, which isn’t great when dining out with a baby. There was an apology about the delay from the staff, but no explanation as to why it had taken so long. The diners at the table beside us had two courses in the time we’d been sat at our table, so it was frustrating to say the least, especially as we were keen to make the most of our time in the Castle.
After almost 45 minutes the mains arrived. Far from being wowed, I was immediately disappointed. Mr. Canny’s main was flavourless. The courgette was barely cooked, the couscous had no seasoning, there were no olives as listed on the menu and the portion was meagre. It wasn’t the most difficult dish to prepare anyway, but it could have been a decent vegan lunch with the right care and attention.
The only dish that looked like any real effort or thought had been put in was the Wild Mushroom Risotto. I could tell there’d been a heavy-handed approach to the use of Truffle Oil as it was brought to the table, but at least it had flavour. The same could not be said for the bland gloop that was served up to the Teen.
I know Macaroni Cheese isn’t the most inspiring meal to look at, but what about some breadcrumbs and a couple of minutes under the grill to give it a chance? I’m hardly Gordon Ramsey, but I can do better than that! He ate it because he was hungry and, at 14 years old, wasn’t bothered it was one of the most dismal things I’ve ever witnessed coming out of a professional kitchen. As for the advice from staff that the side sized portion would have been ample, all I can say is I’m pleased we ordered chips as a sharer on the table or he’d have left hungry.
My salad was nice enough, but again felt the portion was tiny (especially when I was charged £14 for it!). They’d used a lot of dressing on the leaves for my tastes, which didn’t work well with the earthiness of the beetroot in my opinion.
I was extremely unhappy and was going to bring this to the attention of the staff, who became noticeably thin on the ground by this point. Dinky was fractious as the meal had taken so long as she became hungry herself, so I decided not to hang around any longer. By the time I’d settled the bill (just under £70, which included two alcoholic drinks), it had taken nearly two hours to eat one course.
Not wanting to cause a scene with our guest in tow I vowed to send an email about our experience. I wondered if I was being unnecessarily harsh and asked my friends on social media for their opinions on the dishes first. After all, as a family that dines out as much as we do we may have become hypercritical. The response was more damning than I could have imagined, and I will never doubt my own ability to judge the standard of a meal again. With the reputation of The Treehouse, there was a dismay at the quality of food. The quotes at the start of this post are the highlights. Some charitably countered that The Treehouse is all about the ambience and the food is merely a bonus, but I’m not buying that. You shouldn’t call yourself a restaurant and serve up what looks like a Sainsbury’s Basic ready meal! My cousin was booked in for a birthday meal but cancelled once she’d seen and heard about our experience, not wanting to chance a shocker on a special day.
I feel our expectations and the reality of what their team could conjure up were vastly out of sync. There was nothing local about the menu we were presented with, and felt the prices were eye-watering for the portions. I have to give some credit though and that’s for the vegan menu, but I refuse to accept that a dietary requirement means we have to eat substandard food. I contacted their team and registered my chagrin. They have subsequently been in touch and have invited us for a return visit in order to prove their kitchen was having an off-day. To have garnered such a fantastic reputation in the past I’m told our experience is merely a blip and not the norm. I can only blog about what we found on the day however, and this post very much represents our opinion. It remains to be seen whether this can be turned round, but I am hopeful and open minded about Round 2.
Thanks for reading,