Visitors can get a taste for Auckland Castle in more ways than one this summer.
Home-made and seasonal food is topping the menu at the Bishop Auckland heritage attraction – much of it made from ingredients that have travelled yards rather than miles from plot to plate.
The tea room at the castle is using a variety of seasonal herbs, vegetables and salad leaves grown onsite and picked at their peak to turn into delectable food.
Sharing the same address means the tea room’s head chef, Luke Orwin from North Shields, only has a short walk to the castle’s kitchen garden, guaranteeing freshly harvested ingredients that are full of flavour.
Luke, 21, who has worked with former North East Chef of the Year David Kennedy as well as at Northumberland’s acclaimed Matfen Hall, is passionate about serving home-cooked, seasonal food.
“The tea room is a true celebration of the seasons that makes the most of the fresh produce grown here at the castle, harvested at its best and turned into delicious food,” he says.
“Freshness is everything for me. It’s fantastic that when someone orders one of our salads all I have to do is step outside, pick the ingredients and know that within minutes they are being enjoyed by our diners.
“Having such garden-fresh ingredients at my fingertips means I can also ensure our menu is kept new and exciting.
“Later in the season I am looking to make our own range of delicious chutneys and preserves featuring produce from the castle’s kitchen garden that we will serve with our food and also sell to customers in the tea room.”
The tea room housed in Auckland Castle’s imposing Bishop’s Library, is set to serve up a host of other exciting offerings too.
So popular has the dining venue become with both visitors and Bishop Auckland residents alike, that a new Kitchen Garden Pavilion has been built in a secluded courtyard off the Gentlemen’s Hall as an overflow seating area for use during busy dining times.
It means the tea room – which specialises in light lunches and homemade cakes - can take on more staff with three posts expected to be created, including an apprentice chef role.
Luke is also looking to begin offering take-out picnics for the summer season so visitors can make the most of the sunshine and Auckland Castle’s well-tended gardens and medieval Deer Park with its ancient trees, abundant wildlife, listed buildings and stunning views over the County Durham countryside.
Current seasonal dishes on offer in the tea room include homemade garden vegetable soups, smoked salmon croque monsieur, castle quiche with pancetta and a leek, apple and parsley salad, and the best-selling Library chicken club sandwich.
Afternoon tea is also available at £12 per person with 48 hours’ notice, and there is a take-out cake service.
Charlotte Walton, Auckland Castle’s catering manager, adds: “It’s an incredibly exciting time to be working here. Auckland Castle has an amazing heritage and history, and I am thrilled that the tea room is able to contribute to this by enhancing visitors’ food experience.”
The tea room, which is free to access without having to pass through the pay barrier, is open 10am-4pm daily except Tuesday. Call 01388 743750 to pre-book afternoon tea or discuss any special dietary requirements.
More information at www.aucklandcastle.org