Seaham Hall launches new dining pods - here's what to expect from the al fresco experience
Seaham Hall is already famed for its boutique rooms and award-winning spa, but now the spotlight has been shone on its oft-overlooked grounds.
The 37 acres at this sprawling East Durham estate are one of the historic site’s gems and one that helps make it such a peaceful break, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Now, the lush grounds have been given some new additions to make them as much of a destination as the hall itself. The Terrace at the back of the palatial main house, once home to none other than the fabulously decadent poet Lord Byron, has unveiled new areas that really take al fresco dining up a level.
First up, the grounds have been illuminated so guests can take a moonlit stroll. If fondue’s your thing, a new sunken fire pit area with blankets and cushions has been designed for people wanting to tuck into fondue bites and toasted marshmallows.
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Or, for something more substantial, private domes can be booked for two to eight people.
With its Bose speaker playing laid back funk and Ibiza tunes and own heater, as well as blankets, the pod was a great escape from the nippy February night air when we put it to the test.
I’ve dined in the opulent surroundings of the restaurant at Seaham Hall, but the pods are a great way of offering something a little different to the norm in a more intimate setting that’s ideal for special occasions.
In the coming weeks, the pods will be joined by a Big Green Egg grill so guests can see their meals prepared before them, which will all add to the theatre of the experience.
In the meantime, we ordered ahead from the grill menu which has been specially designed for pod guests. Until the egg arrives, the grill dishes are prepared in the kitchen and brought out to guests.
After a round of snacks, I started with tartare of dry aged beef, with pickled kohlrabi, with a slab of beef fat grilled sourdough.
It was a beautifully-executed dish, that looked almost too pretty to demolish. Fresh and packed with natural flavour, the subtle nuance of the raw meat was complemented perfectly with the crispness of the pickled vegetable. It was a masterpiece in savoury starters.
Much of the ingredients used in the Seaham Hall kitchen are sourced as locally as possible and my main was another example of how to use the North East’s natural larder to best effect. The line-caught day boat pollock flaked into submission at the lightest of pokes and its mild flavour was elevated with a cultured butter. It was one of the best fish dishes I’d had in a long time.
Dessert was another beautiful medley of flavours: Halen Mon sea salted caramel custard tart with reduced organic milk ice cream. You’d really struggle to find finer food in the area than that plated up at Seaham Hall.
Obviously, servers don’t wait next to the pods, but they do make regular trips out to check on drinks and if it’s the right temperature.
We found the pod soon warmed up and didn’t feel the cold at all – as snug as two peas in a pod.
:: Prices are £75 per person for the pods for a three-course meal. The price is based on a minimum of four guests (max eight). A £100 room hire is charged for less than four guests.You can book at Seaham-Hall.co.uk
:: The hotel is also hosting a special Mother’s Day Champagne afternoon tea option in the pods. Mum will also be given a complimentary Temple Spa Relaxation kit, featuring travel-sized products such as Repose Aromatherapy Relaxing Night Cream and Quietude Sleep Well Mist. The Mother’s Day Pod Experience costs £295 total (based on four dining – £74 pp – must be booked in advance).
The colourful history of Seaham Hall
From the marital home of Lord Byron, to providing bootleg booze to Al Capone, and a slightly less glamorous chapter as a TB hospital, Seaham Hall has seen it all.
Its history dates back to 1791 when it was built as a grand Georgian home by Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet, whose daughter Annabella went on to marry Lord Byron at the family abode.
Though the flamboyant poet’s union with Annabella barely lasted a year, due to his hedonistic behaviour and rumours of adultery, their daughter proved a real success story.
Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace, after which one of the hotel’s suites is named, paved the way for women in science and is widely credited with being the world’s first computer programmer - at a time when computers weren’t even in existence.
In the 1820s, the home was bought by the Marquess of Londonderry, one of his many grand estates, a testament to the wealth acquired from mining.
It would remain in the family for a century, before it was used as a hospital in the Great War, and was used as a hospital right up until the late 1970s.
It underwent various chapters as a hotel and an old people’s home before it was given some much-needed TLC by local businessman Tom Maxfield who saw its potential as a 5-star hotel.
Despite being very much a high-end boutique hotel, it also has quirky original features. Make sure to ask to see the wine cellar to learn more about the site’s connection to Spey whisky, a link which saw it used as a base to smuggle whisky onto waiting ships at the nearby Seaham Harbour bound for prohibition-era New York and Chicago, where customers are thought to have included infamous gangster Al Capone.
Today, the hotel is part of the Pride of Britain Hotels group.