The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024
15/06/2024

Reaching for more Michelin stars

It might turn out that there is indeed some place like ‘Hjem’ if a new restaurant planning application for Northumberland gets the green light. Sam Wonfor finds out more
  • Second restaurant planned with its own grounds to grow produce
  • Development on Close House estate will include accommodation with wildflower roof
  • If permission is granted, 20 jobs will be created and doors will open next year
Architectural impressions of proposed new fine dining restaurant, Freyja. Elliotts of Hexham

The couple behind Northumberland’s first Michelin star restaurant have tabled ambitious expansion plans, which would see them open a new restaurant in the county.

Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and his Northumberland-born wife, Ally, who opened Restaurant Hjem in the village of Wall in 2019, have submitted a planning application for a purpose-built restaurant-with-rooms on the Close House estate near Heddon-on-the-Wall.

If granted, their bold new venture, Freyja, will be supplied by a fully restored Victorian walled garden, which sits on the proposed plot within the grounds of the Grade II listed Georgian mansion house.

Named after the Norse  goddess of love, fertility and battle, the restaurant will offer a ‘seasonally driven, highly creative yet relaxed’ dining experience, which builds on the ethos Alex and Ally have employed to make Hjem into a must-visit for food lovers from all over the region, the UK and beyond.

Even the Hairy Bikers have parked themselves there on more than one occasion after sampling the tasting menu for their BBC2 series, The Hairy Bikers Go Local.

Working with the freshest and locally grown produce has been the underpinning philosophy of the 28-cover restaurant, which gained its Michelin star status just 18 months after opening and has retained it ever since.

Now the hope is that Ally and Alex will be growing their own in Freyja’s back yard (figuratively speaking), with the support of Hexham Organics who will be making sure the walled garden produces an imaginative selection of ingredients to keep the open-plan kitchens well stocked.

The walled garden will produce fresh ingredients for the proposed restaurant.

“Restoring the walled garden feels like an important thing to do,” says Ally, who manages Restaurant Hjem. 

“We’re looking forward to seeing it filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables – and of course it’s always a chef’s dream to have their own garden to pick from.”

While the grown produce will come from over the wall, the meat, game, fish and dairy produce will be sourced primarily within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant.

“We’ll be using lots of the local suppliers we already have relationships with, of course,” says Ally.

“The whole project is really exciting. We’ve been working on the plans for almost a year now, so we’re very pleased to have submitted the application.”

The project, which would see around 20 new jobs created, has been developed with new business partner, Charlie Watkins, who got to know Ally and Alex after becoming a Hjem regular.

Restaurant Hjem’s manager Ally and head chef, Alex are hoping to embark on a new gastronomic adventure with Freyja

Ally says: “We welcomed Charlie as a guest and then Alex did various private cheffing jobs with him. It’s great to be working with someone who we know loves what we’re trying to do.”

Designed by Hexham-based Elliott Architects, the plans for Freyja are described as ‘low level, low key and sophisticated’ with a strong use of natural materials.

As well as the 24-cover restaurant with associated bar and lounge spaces, there is also a separate one-story building where 12 bedrooms – topped off with a wildflower roof – will offer diners the chance to add luxury Bed and Breakfast to their dinner reservation.

“The architects have been really clever in the designs so every bedroom has its own private view with a little outdoor terrace,” says Ally.

“I think people will appreciate having somewhere private to look out over that beautiful view.”

Whether it’s the setting, the people or the produce, Ally and Alex —  who were both working at restaurant BROR in Copenhagen when they met a decade ago — have a strong commitment to platforming the best of what Northumberland has to offer.

“It’s always at the forefront of our minds to bring people together to experience something special in and from this place, and to give local young people looking to get into the hospitality industry a chance to do something unusual,” says Ally. 

“Freyja will allow us to do even more of that.”

And for any Hjem fans worrying about the future of their favourite fine dining haunt, Ally has a reassuring message.

“Hjem will still be Hjem — of course it will,” says Ally. “We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve created here and will continue to develop ideas and deliver them to guests.

Alex in the Restaurant Hjem kitchen

“But unlike Hjem where we inherited a building, and a bar and a bed and breakfast business, with Freyja what we’re hopefully going to be able to do is create something from scratch to our own vision.”

And the name?

“I wanted a word which was strong, powerful and feminine,” says Ally. “With Freyja, there’s the added meaning of fertility too, which chimes in with the garden and what we’re planning to do with it.

“Also, when I was 15 I said if I had a child, I would like a little Freya. This is just a different kind of baby… and a different spelling, which I love!”

If the planning application is successful, it is anticipated that work will start on the restaurant in the summer, with an opening pencilled in for late 2025.

@samwonfor

Since 2021, Gateshead College has managed £4.7M of funding, worked with 14 delivery partners and supported over 1,900 people to gain new skills and qualifications, to start new careers or progress through Skills Bootcamps

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