The Old House Pub & Kitchen
There is a growing trend in Northampton for old pubs to get a new lease of life, with examples like the Garabaldi Hotel, Princess Alexandra and The Artizan to name but a few. At the forefront of this extreme pub makeover was the Old House, arguably one of the most popular pubs in Northampton. The long standing pub underwent a complete transformation back in the summer of 2013, creating a modern and contemporary gastropub and bar that still sees queues of patrons waiting to get in on a Saturday night.
Now a year and half on from their refurbishment, the Old House has garnered an impressive reputation for being the full package and the Northampton Gent team are investigating whether this reputation is justified.
Found in the heart of the vibrant Wellingborough road, the Old House is a stunning Victorian building that has been renovated to create a space not lacking in grandeur. Having opted for a relaxed, contemporary look that highlights luxury, the pub bucked the growing trend of stripping back old pubs to more minimalist, industrial interiors. Original open fireplaces, intimate vintage lighting and the use of black and gold throughout create an air of sophistication and opulence whilst the use of comfortable leather seating, exposed brick and quirky prints on the walls ensure that the pub is not overly formal and imposing, producing a modern, relaxed and stylish space.
The Old House has four main spaces with each offering something slightly different. The main bar is the largest part of the pub, with a large, square bar being found in the center which allows staff to serve customers from all angles on busy Friday and Saturday nights.
The Orangery -similar to a conservatory – is found just beyond the main room and is a smaller space with seating. With large windows looking onto the pub garden and a set of wide folding doors to bring the outside in, the Orangery is the bridge between the bar and the garden and makes for a pleasant setting in the warmer months.
With an abundance of seating and outdoor heating, the pub garden really is one of the most impressive aspects of the Old House. The garden truly comes into its own in the summer, with visitors enjoying al fresco dining throughout the day and the garden becoming a hive of social activity on weekend nights.
The final space, and arguably to some the most important, is this upstairs dining area. The dining room is rather cosy, continuing the motif of open brick, dark browns and blacks and interesting, vintage furnishings. The smaller space makes for an intimate dining area to enjoy food and can get booked up quickly, especially on the busier weekends.
The atmosphere in the Old House varies widely depending on the time visited. In the daytime in the week, the Old House is light and airy, with visitors often frequenting for lunch. It is often calm and quiet and makes for an ideal lunchtime setting, especially with the free Wi-Fi for those looking for a rather peaceful environment to work in. In the weekend daytime and weekday nights, the pub has more of a buzz and is slightly busier, with people eating lunch or enjoying tipples with friends whilst watching sports, with the downstairs bar area having multiple flat screens televisions around.
This chilled and somewhat tranquil atmosphere disappears however come Friday and Saturday nights, when men and women come together to party. The pub will often have DJ’s play music on weekend nights, mixing a variety of music including house, R’n’B and pop. On these nights, the atmosphere is loud and lively as groups of friends laugh, drink and dance around in the downstairs bar, orangery and garden. Due to its popularity, the Old House’s downstairs bar area can become very busy so naturally expect slight delays when purchasing beverages. For those searching for more breathing room, the garden often has more space and seating.
To offer a more refined dining experience, the dining room has none of the screens of the downstairs bar and feels far more like a restaurant, with attentive staff waiting on patrons. The decision to dedicate the upstairs exclusively to dining and separate it from the busy downstairs bar highlights the Old House’s goal of providing high quality food in a sophisticated setting. It leads to a pleasurable dining experience; a stark contrast to some establishments we have visited on weekends where those out for a meal crossover with those on the beginning of a night out which often creates a less than gratifying dining experience.
What kind of review would it be if we did not talk about the pub’s drink selection? For beers, both tap and a bottle, the selection is not overly adventurous, with choices such as San Miguel, Sol and Peroni. For the discerning beer gent out there however, there is a stand out favourite with Staropramen on tap; a wonderful Czech Pilsner that we would highly recommend. The pub also features ales on tap at the bar as well.
It is not in its beer selection however that the pub distinguishes itself, but rather in its cocktails. The Old House serves up a range of competitively prices cocktails, with a good selection of classics on the menu. For gents with a penchant for whisky, the Old House does an enjoyable Whisky Sour which should not be overlooked. Personally however, we would recommend leaving the menu behind and requesting a Manhattan served sweet. The cocktails work great as a precursor or ending to a meal. Perhaps the most important and often most overlooked cocktail that the Old House offers is a Bloody Mary. Visiting for breakfast and sipping on our Bloody Mary late Sunday morning, we were reminded of two things. Firstly, cocktails at 11.30am on a Sunday morning are simply wonderful. The second being the struggle we faced to find a breakfast quite as good as the one we enjoyed at the Old House, which leads nicely on to perhaps the most important topic of the review…
The food is the proverbial life blood of any gastropub. The Old House’s menu has focused on adding contemporary flair to timeless flavours, with a heavy French-classic influence; taking simple, traditional dishes and injecting them with the same level of style and class as they have done with the rest of the establishment.
The creative force behind the menu and the various gastronomic delights is head chef James Peck, who joined the restaurant in the summer of 2014 and brought with him a dedicated team; each with experience working with fresh, seasonal produce. Having been a chef for six years whilst in the military before working in some of London’s finest restaurants including The Grove and The Sands End, James has now set his sights on making the Old House Northampton’s top gastropub by crafting colourful dishes that are both as pleasing to the eye as they are on the palette.
When speaking to James, he highlighted the importance of using the right, local produce: “I am originally from Northamptonshire and my decision to move back made me realise the array of amazing produce we have on our very doorstep. We have taken on a new range of local suppliers to source the finest available cheese, meat and vegetables alongside local producers of oils and herbs. I felt this was key to promoting local businesses and the potential it has to put Northampton on the map.”
The dinner menu is reasonably priced considering the quality of food being served. Having tried the signature burger – wild venison with treacle cured bacon and bacon jam in a warm brioche bun & hand cut chips for £13.95 – we were left impressed (the review is on the way). The team uses a rather unique technique, using a sous-vide method to cook the burger before searing it in a hot pan, ultimately creating a slow-cooked, tasty burger.
A stand out piece on the menu we would recommend is James’ signature dish of wasabi crusted sirloin steak with grilled bok choy and an asain slaw with a soy honey reduction £20.95. A unique way to serve a steak, the dish showcases the young chef’s desire to bring something different and modern to Northampton’s diners.
The dinner menu is served all week – bar Sunday – upstairs from 6pm to 10pm whilst the aforementioned formidable breakfast is available from 10am to 12pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For those looking to enjoy a meal in the relaxed bar area, the Old House also feature an evening bar menu of British pub classics that are a level of refinement above normal pub grub, including Doombar battered fish and chips and a diverse selection of burgers. On Sundays, attention turns to their very noteworthy roast dinner.
For any gastropub, the demand to turn honest, seasonal British fare into exquisite, chic dishes is by no means an easy goal. Too much style sees a pub fall into the realms of pretentiousness, whereas not enough can have dishes labelled as basic pub grub. This fine balance requires a head chef that is ambitious and talented, and the Old House has this with James Peck.
James also alluded to the next big plans: “The aim for us is to keep the standard of food growing and making ourselves more known to people, as there are lot of people out there that still don’t know upstairs is a very beautiful restaurant, hopefully when the time is right we will invite the AA in to visit and see if we can put this place on the map!
“Plans are in motion to open another venue opposite from the Old House; the plan is by the summer we will have a mirror venue, sharing similar food but with a more casual dining experience with amazing local steaks, burgers and big flavoured dishes. Me and the team will keep pushing on and thrive to put Northampton on the map.”
It is this level of enthusiasm and motivation that will continue to see the gastropub succeed and grow. Our only wish would be to see some more craft beer behind the bar, but the food and atmosphere more than make up for this. For those who have yet to pay a visit, we would highly recommend popping in.
Old House, 214-216 Wellingborough Road, Northampton, NN1 4EE