Putting Middlesborough on the gourmet map, the newly-opened, beautifully-restored Acklam Hall is dramatic to look at. It has undergone a stylish and tasteful renovation to emerge from former school to a far more appropriate role as a contemporary bistro and restaurant.
If cornices are your thing (!) you’ll be blown away. The historic architectural detail of this place should be seen to be believed. This is what you call tasteful renovation. Lovely subtle paint colours and thoughtful restraint let the original features shine through. Nice to see a nod to scholarly history with old school photos, desks and memorabilia.
A smart bar area at the entrance to the hall looks into the cosy salon. Here you can enjoy a coffee anytime of the day or a cocktail or champagne with afternoon tea – there’s a good selection of unusual teas to try.
There’s a gastro menu featuring modern British food with a bit of invention – belly pork cassoulet, sea bream with samphire. An impressive breakfast menu is served too, featuring full English, kedgeree, avocado on toast.
The Dining Room serves up The Brierley Experience at £55 a head. And it is very impressive. Fine dining and Middlesbrough are rarely buddies but this place is trying hard. Staff are on a learning curve but the man in charge really knew his stuff. As a bit of theatre, they’re out to impress. White-gloved waiters (a pet hate) face the challenge of carving the crustiest sourdough in the world on a quaking trolley at the table (the breads are all handmade and delicious – with three butters to choose from). We were brought delicious amuse bouche – flavoursome hot crab beignets in a (cold) seafood bisque.
The food is ambitious and it looks a picture. Rabbit from the starter menu came as soft white slices of saddle with crispy leg bon bons, a little truffle puree on the side. A foie gras ‘mosaic’ was a crisp tuille case with foie gras inside. Sauternes jelly adding sweetness. The dish of the night was a smoked entrecote of Dexter beef. So pink, so perky – with its just-right hint of the smoker. Add to the plate fall-apart ox cheek, beef dripping onion and Lyonnaise potatoes and you get to see what the kitchen is really good at.
A curry-scented stone bass with with Israeli (big) cous cous, sultanas, mussel and curried granola was less impressive with bits of Romanesco cauli just too hard, though the fish itself was decently punchy. Desserts, again, looked the part – picture perfect from the pastry chefs. ‘Peanut’ emerged in the form of an iced parfait, crème caramel and nostalgic brittle. “Rhubarb’ played out in all its pinkness in poached form with Madeleine cake, sorbet, crème patisserie all encased in a sugar cage. We drank a bottle of Fleurie from what’s a well-chosen and priced wine menu.