If you’re familiar with boutique-style country house hotel Jesmond Dene House, then you’ll know it’s a well-liked and well-respected go-to destination for a special occasion. A big fan of their afternoon tea in particular, when I heard the team had ambitions to redevelop the old admin buildings adjacent to St Mary’s asylum in Morpeth I was curious to see how they would put their unique stamp on a place with such a clinical and practical past…
(Click images to enlarge)
Looking around today, the interior is more refined rusticity than your charmingly-antiquated country pub with plenty of flair you’d expect to see at Jesmond Dene House. The main dining area at St Mary’s Inn has the capacity to seat over 50 diners comfortably, and that’s without forthcoming outdoor space – there are also three dining areas (seating around 15-20 people) that lead off the main corridor. As well as the dedicated ‘breakfast’ area for guests (often used for afternoon tea later in the day we’re told), the Inn has its own chandelier lit private dining room also available for use.
Every last decorative detail offers a nod to local artists – even the paintings in the ladies toilets depicting Northumbrian heroines add a homely touch that really made us feel like St Mary’s Inn is a home from home for us Northerners
My companion for the evening was good friend and fellow business owner Cath, (who lovingly makes the most beautiful natural skincare products for both parent and baby) so we secretly wanted a secluded seat by the fire, a glass of wine and plenty of time to catch up. We ordered a couple of glasses of pinot grigio and a selection of bar snacks to nibble on while we decided on our mains – the chilli peanuts and puffed pork crackling served with apple sauce we ordered went down a treat as we browsed the menu. As part of their offering of local ales, St Mary’s Inn serve their very own ‘home brew’ from the Wylam Brewery which, of course, we had to try. A slightly fizzy, pale ale, it was light, refreshing and easy to drink – a true complement coming from Mrs Prosecco and Pie!
So far, so good. I loved the decor, the wine list was plentiful and the Inn’s twist on traditional bar snacks piqued my curiosity for our mains. Tonight we wanted proper comfort food; we didn’t need anything fancy, just something simple and filling that befitted the cold wintry weather outside.
I opted for a juicy flat iron steak served with a bowl bone marrow and parsley chips, while Cath chose the barbecue ‘Kansas’ chicken with honey-roasted carrots and parsnips. Food came in a flash and we tucked in eagerly. Despite Cath’s protestations that eating bone marrow on/in any form of food was horribly wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my bone marrow-drizzled chips and used them wisely to mop up every last drip of my peppercorn sauce.
My steak was well cooked, locally-reared and the flavour of the meat shone through despite being surrounded by a dozen different complex flavours, while Cath’s chicken was tender, moist and fell from the bone.
As the burning embers of the fire carried a warm glow and gentle heat around the room, thoughts quickly turned to the Inn’s selection of decadent desserts and visions of apple tart and rhubarb and custard pavlova swept through our brains…
My apple tart, (though more of a cake consistency), was served warm with ginger ice cream and proved a worthy choice to complete my comfort food cravings. Cath’s rhubarb and custard pavlova served with chunks of cinder toffee and creamy vanilla ice cream was without doubt the winning dish and I happily helped her finish it off! Bright pink chunks of rhubarb and golden cinder toffee added a subtle, tangy sweetness to the creamy vanilla and beautifully soft melt-in-your-mouth meringue – a truly dreamy dessert!
After our meals we were invited on a tour of the rooms by manager Victor, whose stories about the building, its history and renovation definitely brought the place to life for Cath and I. There are 11 rooms within St Mary’s Inn, each one named after a Northumbrian reservoir and all individually furnished with handpicked accents like fabric from the Phillipines, wrought iron beds from a local maker and art and mosaic sculptures from local artists. An assortment of furniture and antiques adorn each room, meaning no two rooms are the same. I liked the juxtaposition between old and new as you walk past the antiques and into the tranquil white marble bathrooms with their neat pyramids of fluffy white towels, rainfall showers and assortment of beautiful toiletries.
Describing itself as a a “pub with rooms”, this inn certainly sells itself short. The rooms are beautiful and so individual that it’s difficult to choose a favourite, but both Cath and I liked the fact St Mary’s Inn have a dog-friendly room with its own private outdoor terrace available for just £10 extra. As Victor explained, with the ongoing development of the existing St Mary’s asylum building there isn’t a lot to look at from the back of the Inn (save for the derelict old asylum awaiting demolition in the distance if that floats your boat) – but this will all change soon as their ambitious landscaping plans come intto fruition.
Having only officially opened its doors in November 2014, the Inn is looking forward to its first spring/summer season and I can tell it’s going to be a very popular haunt for locals, but also people like me who love to up-sticks and move to the country, even if it’s just for the day and enjoy a real taste of the countryside and all it has to offer. We left feeling well-fed and inspired by Jesmond Dene House’s country cousin, and to top our evening off we had the most breathtaking view of the stars I’ve ever seen scattered in the heavens above us as we drove home.
A perfect ending to a perfectly enjoyable evening at St Mary’s Inn.