It’s raining. Of course it is, we’re in a small village in Northumberland after all. Despite the weather, Ponteland high street still looks just as pretty at night as it does during the day.
But there’s no time to take in the sights, the rain mercilessly hurries me and my dear mum from the car towards the warm glow of the windows at Eleven, our hosts for the evening.
There was a real buzz around the place on a busy Saturday night, the room filled with smiling faces, laughter and good wine flowing.
Manager and part-owner Stephen Pitfield was quick to greet us at the door and sit us down. From our candlelit table, I took in the minimalist wood heavy design of the restaurant.
It felt cosy but stylish, with local art available to buy hanging on the walls and a great view of the pass-through to the kitchen where the other two owners, Ryan Carr and Danny Land, were busy working their magic.
As I settled in with a lovely can of Repeater IPA, from Hoults Yard brewers Full Circle Brew Co. (Even the beer is locally sourced!), I perused the menu that had been promptly placed on my table.
It was a 7 dish tasting menu, including dessert and a cheese course (at the additional cost of £9) all for £59. The idea of the menu being that you can experience a range of different flavours, appreciating them individually on small plates, rather than opting for one large main.
I’m a vegetarian but my mum is a proud carnivore so we were able to experience the variation between the two menus.
Somewhat surprisingly there wasn’t an awful lot of difference, it was just the two main course meat and fish plates that had been switched for my menu. The rest of the dishes were the same.
There’s a big focus at Eleven on seasonal dining and luckily for me, veg plays a huge part in bringing those flavours to the plate.
Granted, I do often eat fake meat so facing a full menu of purely vegetable-based flavours was a refreshing prospect for my increasingly bored palate.
Anyway, enough chit-chat, I know what you’re all here for – let’s get into the food!
To start it was fermented potato bread and cultured butter. You can’t get any simpler than bread and butter, but let me tell you, this was the most delicious bread I have ever eaten.
It was so light and airy, an absolute melt in your mouth deliciousness. Who knew bread and butter could inspire such delight?
Next up was courgette, ewes curd and nasturtium (it’s a flower – thank you Google!). This little dish, served up in a bowl around the size of my fist, was an absolute sea of green.
Green leaves sat perched upon the green purée that covered the ewes curd. It was a cold dish that really did cleanse the palette with its refreshing flavours. The ewes curd was delightfully soft and added a tangy, milky flavour that complemented the courgette surprisingly well.
The final starter-style dish was sweetcorn, berkswell and marjoram. The flavours, wow they were incredible. The sweetcorn was deliciously smokey and the nutty notes of the berkswell cheese paired the flavours perfectly.
In a lot of ways this dish personifies what Eleven is all about, flavour comes first. Of course, the food is still well presented but the pursuit of bold flavour takes precedence, with the rustic look of the dishes challenging you not to judge a book by its cover.
Now onto the main dishes, where the vegetarian and regular menus deviate. I had the beetroot, roscoff onion and mushroom broth.
This horseradish garnished dish was absolutely bursting with seasonal flavour. Like all of Eleven’s dishes, this one unassuming plate was home to an array of fresh flavours, tantalising textures and seasonal colours.
On the other side of the table, my mum was enjoying the melt in your mouth delights of the Cornish sole, almond and crystal lemon cucumber. The gleamingly white fish was steamed to perfection giving it that super-soft flakey texture and judging by my mum’s reaction, it was delicious!
My final main dish was the Coco di paimpol beans, cucumber and green sauce. Once again my plate was filled with healthy green and brown colours and fresh juicy slices of veg. The creamy white beans had a nutty, flowery flavour that paired excellently with the invigorating green sauce.
My mum enjoyed the perfectly cooked, tender slices of Dexter rib with beetroot and roscoff onion.
After tucking into my cheese course of full-bodied Devon blue and quince it was time for dessert! Or so I thought, instead we were treated to an off-menu item. It was described as a burnt peach granita with grated fennel pollen.
It looked and tasted like a sorbet, with a sweet almost aniseed-like warmth to it. Certainly one of the tastiest and most innovative palate-cleansing dishes I’ve ever had.
And finally, for dessert, warm chocolate mousse, delica pumpkin and hazelnut! This was one of my favourite dishes of the night, when is dessert not a highlight, right?
But seriously, this was special. In what was a lovely touch, Danny, the mastermind behind the menu, came out to present this one himself. The chocolate felt more like a sauce than a mousse, it was the beautifully rich blanket hiding the unlikely but perfect combination of soft, again almost sorbet-like pumpkin and delightfully crunchy chunks of hazelnut.
Like the rest of the menu, Danny had managed to fit a number of bold flavours and textures into one unlikely parcel, all complementing each other perfectly and taking you on that rustic, seasonal flavour journey that Eleven is quickly becoming known for.
This cosy and atmospheric restaurant oozes personality, character and has that warm homely feeling – much like its food.
Big flavours are the order of the day with a tasting menu that truly takes your palette on a tantalizing journey. Eleven is fast going to become a must-visit spot for foodies all year round.