A fun game to play with the Metropolitan Elite, or indeed anyone south of Watford, is to ask them to locate Hexham on a map. Or Northumberland, for that matter. Many areas of the north, of which the rural northeast is a particularly good example, resemble the Bermuda Triangle to southerners: mysterious, vaguely defined, and utterly doable patrolled by monsters. For me, however, Hexham was the subject of many Carlisle ‘nice exits’ in the 1980s, walking along the B roads to this quiet market town with a grade I listed abbey dating from AD674, several art galleries, many places to eat stottie cake and a chance to learn more about the Vindolanda Fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
As a child, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of Hexham and instead dreamed of being taken to the Gateshead MetroCentre to eat at Spud-U-Like and browse Athena for sepia posters of dudes changing tires. But recently I came back and stayed at The Beaumont hotel and ate in his very good restaurant. If I’m being honest, not a single local will thank me for alerting you to this chic 33-room townhouse-style hotel recently renovated with a bar that will serve you a good apricot bellini or a chilled bottle of Petit Chablis in eat at tables near the abbey park, because, until now, Le Beaumont was largely Hexham’s secret.
Maybe I enjoyed my Saturday night alone in Hexham so much because the Beaumont still retains an air of shredded, diligent and usual hospitality. It’s a mood so many big companies have given up right now, due to understaffing, helplessness and most importantly new irrational post-Covid corporate policies that appear to be nothing more than a budget cut masquerading as “keeping you safe”.
A recent short stay at a Malmaison, for example, looked a lot like a community theater production by Franz Kafka and explored similar themes of angst and alienation. Pull up a chair, my friend, and let me bore you with observations of some beautiful things that we lost in the plague that will never come back. Will “Freedom Day” herald my own freedom from the hotel receptionists demanding, upon check-in at 3pm, that I order my exact breakfast for the next day, “because Covid” means that the chef can’t stick a toast without 6pm ‘written notice? The more I travel to the new world in 2021, the more I love Victoria Wood’s cat I become a trippy trap on the Cheadle train with a list of little complaints about scarce supplies of UHT jars and missing custards.
So I checked into the Beaumont, and they wondered if I would like to book to eat, which I avoided, as I rarely eat at the hotels I stay at. The food is always blah, isn’t it? Bored chefs serving club sandwiches with ready-made crispy toppings or a signature burger topped with pulled pork. No, I would do other projects.
Two hours later, I timidly walked into the dining room at the Beaumont with a crumpled face on the pillow and asked if they could fit in. Thank goodness they said yes. A menu appeared filled with surprising, imaginative, delicious things; a little touch of finesse, perhaps, but definitely on the good side of accessibility. Starters included beetroot-dried salmon with sourdough and an apple and cucumber salad, as well as a beef tartare with beef fat and an egg yolk. I’ll just have one starter, I thought to myself, being a little fairy woman who eats like a bird, so I ordered the mackerel with currant and samphire – three of my favorite things on a plate. Never, in the roughly 347 times I’ve been served mackerel on MasterChef, has nobody done it so well: the skin was beautifully charred, the flesh moist and salty, all littered with tiny, sweet halves of gooseberry. mackerel and sat on top of a generous mound of buttered salicornia. “It’s amazing,” I thought to myself, and quickly asked for the menu to return. Well, ordering a main course was now sane. A deceptively simple artichoke-stuffed chicken platter was accompanied by other artichokes of the Jerusalem variety, hazelnuts and nasturtium flowers, and delicious mashed potatoes.
I was afraid to eat alone, but recently realized that it could offer the best and most invigorating of times: a good menu, a tall glass of cold Viognier and, if need be, some vacillating, low-level gossip. . on the WhatsApp family for entertainment. There is a unique joy in ordering plates of beautiful things for yourself as other tables come and go and provide constant ear piercing material. The staff always seem a little warmer when I’m alone, usually staying a fraction more for a little chat. Solo dinners always stay on my mind longer, maybe because I was absolutely present.
For research purposes, I ended up with a black sesame peach frangipane, which was more unusual and delicate than sticky ribs, but I’ve never seen it like anywhere before. And that’s the point: there is a hotel dining hall in Hexham that produces intriguing, well-judged and fully devourable food that I would love to travel from London to again. I treasure every moment right now when the combination of great food, cold wine and warm hospitality makes me forget the endless moments of ’cause Covid’. So far in 2021, Le Beaumont is in my top three.
The Beaumont Beaumont Street, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 3LT, 01434 602331. Open weekdays, lunch noon-3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m. (last orders). About £ 30 per person for three courses, plus drinks and service.