Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th October 2009.
What a great place. Northcote's notable success is thanks to a formidable double act: general manager Craig Bancroft and chef Nigel Haworth. How did they link up? "I found myself managing Northcote at the age of 20," says the amiable Bancroft. "It was a bit much: the chef walked out and I was ready to quit. But then fate, in the unlikely form of my granny, intervened. She had tea with a friend, who just happened to be Nigel Haworth's aunt." Granny told aunt about Bancroft. Aunt told granny that Haworth was looking for a job as chef.
That was back in 1983. A partnership was born, one that has spawned Northcote, plus four more standout gastropubs in the region. When they met, Bancroft didn't know that Haworth would become one of the most highly regarded chefs in the north; Haworth didn't know that Bancroft had a gift for wine, as well as being a consummate hotelier and host.
The food, of course, is the thing. The solid Victorian house, built for a rich spinster and occupied by a succession of local worthies, is no beauty, though the garden is coming on a treat, with burgeoning fruits and vegetables for the kitchen.
An interior designer has recently been let loose on the 14 bedrooms which are now an interior designer's nirvana, but not, I fear, mine. Already dark, they are darker still, courtesy of blacks and purples and deep reds and metallic wallpaper – you know the form. Though extremely comfortable (too warm, though there are fans) and beautifully kept by the housekeeping team, they just don't happen to be my scene, but then I'm not everyone.
Number 8, on the ground floor, is tomblike in its darkness, though it does have a private terrace. Number 2, the smallest, pretty in gold, would be my favourite, if it wasn't for dashing, deep-red Number 3, which really works. All the marble-clad bathrooms are spoiling.
But enough nit-picking about the decoration. We are here for the exceptional high standards, the friendliness and the food. And goodness, what food. Not for nothing did Nigel Haworth win through on BBC's Great British Menu with his Lancashire hotpot. We ate it, and his Lancashire cheese ice cream, and a lot of other things on the Gourmet Menu that could genuinely be called cuisine de terroir, rooted in local produce, with fresh, clean flavours and attractive but unpretentious presentation. I can't think why he only has one Michelin star. His young, spirited head chef, Lisa Allen, does him proud. Breakfast matches dinner in its quality.
It feels like a treat to be at Northcote, but it's also completely relaxed and beautifully run. Both this and the nearby Inn at Whitewell are beacons of their type and both are found amid the stunning hills and valleys of rural Lancashire, where granny and aunty met so profitably nearly 30 years ago.
Northcote Road, Langho (01254 240555; www.northcote.com) Doubles from £225 per night, including breakfast. One (superb) adapted room for guests with disabilities.