So much was my intent to get to Pine that I booked a holiday around it. Five days in Northumberland, living off nothing but crab, with some seal stuff and some penguin stuff in-between, despite neither being very tasty. We were sent by the guides; top ten in The Good Food Guide, a star from Michelin and a feature in every top restaurant list going, it was to be the centrepiece; the silver candelabra on the most rural of tables. Forty minutes from civilisation, down a lane, up some stairs, and into a calming space that looks onto the Pennines via the carpark.

The cooking is that kind of new Scandi with a touch of Ynyshir ‘fire and fuck it’ attitude. There’s garams and herb gardens, mushrooms grown by named friends, and foods cooked for months rather than minutes. It’s clear the chef here can really cook, though with the occasional forgettable moments that I’ve already forgotten. A nibble of trout and mussel xo is immediately overshadowed by a brittle tart of cheese and carrot jerky that plays on deft flavours and unexpected textures. Then bresaola, except it’s not bresaola because I find out they don’t use Italian terms here as I sip my apassimento. Lovely bresaola though, punchy and properly beefy, the Italians would be proud to make this.

Asparagus sliced, raw I think, in it’s own juice puckered with sorrel and a granola of sunflower seeds, before raw scallops with rhubarb that works brilliantly and feels utterly unique despite having this combination before. Bread with potato and grains, with a hedge green butter of herbs and a kind of rapeseed salad cream that I thought I’d hate and absolutely loved. Then two courses of real class; the most perfect pork jowl in a fat jewelled broth that L’Enclume would kill to produce, over far to quick for my liking given I could of eaten four of it, and lions mane mushrooms, strident and pleasingly dank, under a pock of something buttery and earthy. It’s very, very impressive.

A juice of blackcurrant and fennel marks the increase of portion sizes as I half joke about putting a shot of gin in. In truth, as the courses get bigger they lose a little bit of intensity and I lose a little bit of interest. Pollock with wild garlic and kohlrabi is one big vegetal note around a fish that needs fat not steam, and two cuts of hogget, each cooked with the expertise you’d expect from a £145 tasting menu, with sheep’s curd and deep fried leaf and a kind of salsa verde except it’s absolutely not an Italian term and oh, I just really want some mash potato here. Any carbs actually, even sweet potato fries if it came to it. Just substance. We’ve gone through the savoury courses and Sophie is hungry enough to discuss trying to find scampi fries on the way back.

Desserts are typical of people who don’t like cooking sweet things. A bright and tart tartlet of sea buckthorn, then a crystallised leaf with cherry and sweet cicely that’s borderline genius. There’s a cone of Jerusalem artichoke and parsley root that I swear I ate in Cartmel and a kind of parsnip honeycomb with goats cheese which I’ll gladly never eat again. Apple cooked for three months is treacly and toffee-like, whilst madeleines with herb sugar are excellent.

With just me drinking the bill tickles £400, which is with me going easy and could easily have gone hundreds up with us both hitting it properly. I enjoyed Pine. Or at least I think I did. Every time I revisit the meal in my head I come to a different conclusion. Part of me wants to just applaud the cookery, whilst another bit of me felt that a key part was missing; the very essence of hospitality to feed with generosity. We get in the car, heading back down the same country lanes in the pitch black, almost hitting a deer that runs across the road. We stop at a service station to get the scampi fries. They taste nothing like the real thing.


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