LAST week, impressed by the sterling work of the Polish waitress in Richmond’s new Spanish tapas restaurant, I made a passing remark about the only decent waiting staff these days seemingly being East European.

Well, m’lud, on the evidence of last Sunday’s lunch at Solberge Hall, near Northallerton, I rest my case.

What this rather bijou Georgian stately home converted many years ago to a hotel needs desperately is a cohort of experienced Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians to show the locals how it is done.

I’m not saying they were inept. Apart from the young girl who ushered us from the bar to the dining room and thought it okay for us to carry our drinks (I know that sounds pompous but it is not what you expect in country house hotel presenting itself as a high-end establishement), they were correct and generally attentive.

Indeed, duty manager Craig was professionalism personified but his young charges were completely lacking in personability and engagement. Even making allowances for their youth, this was waiting-on by rote/auto-pilot and all a bit depressing.

We had hoped for better things. The hall is under new ownership – again. This time it is part of the Classic Lodges group which includes the venerable Old Swan at Harrogate and the Grinkle Park near Saltburn – both one-time favourites of ours.

There’s not much evidence we could see of the investment Classic Lodges promised when it took ownership a year ago. On the surface the bar and Garden Room restaurant look as splendid as ever but it doesn’t take much to spot chipped and grubby paintwork in places. And we couldn’t make up our minds if the leather chairs and sofas in the bar were shabby chic or just past their best.

And returning to those bar drinks, when Sylvia asked for a straw for her G&T (something to do with not spoiling her lippy – you ladies will understand) our waitress said they had “sold out”! Of course, Solberge Hall doesn’t sell straws, it was just the first thought that came into her head. But it seemed such a basic staple for a posh hotel to run out of. Bizarre.

So labouring under the burden of our pre-prandial drinkies, we were escorted to the elegant Garden Room restaurant and told our starters were ready. We then waited 10 minutes. Compensation arrived in the shape of fresh, warm bread rolls and lots of butter.

Starters were pretty good. Sylvia’s house terrine with red onion chutney, mixed lead salad and toast was a loose-textured, soft pork terrine with a sweet chutney. It was let down by the limpest of limp mixed salad.

My fishcakes – moist, salmon-based, lightly battered were excellent and the creamy beautifully-balanced hollandaise sauce could not be faulted. The pea shoots listed on the menu had been replaced by baby spinach which I think was probably better anyway. My only quibble with the dish was the size – one fishcake would have been ample for a Sunday roast starter.

On to the mains - loin of pork for Sylvia and sirloin of beef for me. There was also roast chicken breast, sea trout and wild mushroom arancini as alternatives.

Alarm bells rang (for me at least) as we waited. A couple across the dining room were clearly not happy with their roast beef which was whisked away and replaced with the pork which they appeared happier to eat.

When ours arrived, all was clear. The beef was very thickly cut. Which is fine if the beef is well-aged and rested top-quality sirloin. This was some way short of that. Was it topside or even silverside? Had it not been allowed to relax before carving?

If it been carved thinly, the chewiness would have been less obvious and less of a challenge for those whose dental strength might not be as it once was. By eating small pieces I found I could manage but it was heavy going.

It was a shame because the flavour was good and other things on the plate was very acceptable, particularly the beautifully glazed beef gravy and the handsome Yorkshire pudding. The roast potatoes were little on the soggy side, the mash fine.

We shared a very large bowl of vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, whole green beans and peas – which were borderline al dente/underdone and lacking in seasoning. I’ve no problem with going easy on salt but give the diner the option of adding good quality sea salt. The Solberge Hall salt pot is the most piddling example I’ve ever come across.

Sylvia’s loin of pork was absolutely first class – moist and served with a very good gravy. The crackling – which I nicked – was peerless.

But back to the lights-are-on-but-nobody’s-at-home service. We were not offered any sauces with our meat. I asked for horseradish. It came. But then it didn’t occur to our waitress that Sylvia might want apple sauce with her pork. We asked for it. It came. Oh dear.

Proceedings had been leisurely throughout. Which is okay because nobody wants to rush Sunday lunch in a luxury country house hotel ambience. But with the arrival of a large-ish wedding party in the banqueting room at the rear it slowed to glacial pace and we cut our losses before desserts. As it was the bill (£55 including bar drinks and a glass of wine each with the meal) took some time to arrive.


Solberge Hall Hotel, Newby Wiske, Near South Otterington, Northallerton, DL7 9ER

Tel: 01609 779191


Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten-free options

Sunday lunch served: noon-3pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 6, Service 5, Surroundings 7, Value 6