Northumberland villagers feel ‘frozen’ after Michelin-starred restaurant stops serving bar meals

Driving through the sleepy town of Wall, you won’t realize that this is one of Northumberland’s greatest success stories in recent years.

Located in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall country, it’s arguably home to one of the town’s best welcome signs: a flower-covered wall bearing the town’s name, which can be a bit confusing if you’re not from the area. . There’s also the Hotel Hadrian, but beyond that, there’s not much else.

It’s in that hotel, however, that you’ll find Hjem restaurant, which gave Northumberland its first Michelin star in 2021. It retained the star again this year, with foodies heading straight to the village from across the UK: and some even from further afield.

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However, Wall residents say there are a lot of bad feelings towards those who run the restaurant. Located in a pub that was a community center and meeting point for more than 200 years, according to residents.

A message on Hotel Hadrian’s website says that “the hotel is not currently serving food” and that “the bar will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 3pm.”

But it hasn’t always been that way. One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The whole way this matter has been handled has created a lot of bad feeling in the village from people who feel they have been frozen. When the new Owner and management team were everyone’s new best friends.

“They were going to do this and do that, and in the blink of an eye everything was completely focused on getting that Michelin star, which is an achievement, but everyone else and 200 years of history were pushed to the side.”

Hjem Restaurant in Wall, Hexham

Residents see Hadrian as the last community asset in town. For years, Wall has been without a town store, post office, school, and infrequent bus service means many locals cannot freely come and go from the town.

In recent months, residents have flocked to Humshaugh’s Crown Inn and the George Hotel in Chollerford to drink and socialize. When it comes to shopping, it’s a two-mile drive to the community store in Humshaugh or a 10-mile round trip to Hexham, though some don’t have the means to get to either.

The George Hotel in Chollerford, one of the pubs Wall residents now go to
The George Hotel in Chollerford, one of the pubs Wall residents now go to

David Mason has lived in Wall for 69 years and has seen the face of the town change for nearly seven decades. When he was younger, there were three stores at one point, and he says that Adriano was run with varying degrees of success, but always as a hub and meeting place for the town.

It also provided accommodation and a place to eat for tourists and walkers from all over the world who were doing the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. He said: “I’m very disappointed because when they first took it over we heard it was going to be this type of restaurant and my concern was that it would become exactly what it has become.

“It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth for many of us who have been in the town for a number of years. As for activities, we don’t have any kind of decent bus service anymore, so you need a car so anyone who doesn’t It depends on a bad bus service or someone to take them.

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“When you don’t have that and can’t get out of town, a pub is a good place to go to meet people, have a drink and chat.”

Another resident, who also wished to remain anonymous, said: “As the Hjem restaurant became more and more successful, they became less and less interested in the pub. There was a fabulous beer garden overlooking the valley, but then they put a fence to “keep the riffraff out,” in his words.

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Views from Hjem’s garden

“I asked the person who said do you refer to us (residents) as riffraff? and she told me no”.

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The resident in question said that the following night they asked to sit in the beer garden and, despite the fact that there were no guests in the restaurant, they were told that it was only for Hjem’s guests. They initially thought it was unusual, but it was during last year’s European Championships that the penny finally fell.

“When the Euros started we asked if we could move the tables and social distance to watch the England game,” they said. “There were very few people and we wanted to get it back up and running but were told no, the tables might be needed for food.

“England went through to the next round of the European Championship and we asked a second time and got the same answer. At that point the penny dropped that they don’t want our money.”

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“It would have given them a bit of cash flow, enough to pay staff, but they’d rather have people come in and spend a couple of hundred pounds per person.”

Hjem’s management said they turned away those who wanted to watch England matches because there were still Covid restrictions in place, limiting the number of households that could meet in a social setting.

Since the Hjem restaurant changed the Hadrian’s opening hours to open from Wednesday to Saturday, the pub the community trusted has stopped hosting a senior night on Thursday nights and serving lunch on Sundays. One resident said that people traveled miles for Hadrian’s Sunday lunches because they were so good, but the current tenants left the Sunday service “without batting an eye.”

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They said: “It’s hit the community quite hard. We had a party in the village park for the jubilee and there were two or three people I haven’t seen for a couple of years and they really miss the pub in general.”

“For some people, it’s okay because they can go to the Crown at Humshaugh in the next town over, but that means they get a ride back or have a designated driver. Some of the older residents, though, just don’t go out anymore, at al least that’s the impression I have, and it’s really sad.”

Another added: “It is indeed very sad that we lost our community asset. It really was the heart of the village for the vast majority of us and well used by the surrounding community, not to mention the number of tourists who stayed and ate over there”. .

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“It was a great destination and seemed to go on and on until they decided to have a nice dinner and a nice drink from Wednesday to Saturday and turned the public bar into a warehouse. Walkers very often seemed to enjoy chatting with the locals and I’m sure this improved your time in our friendly county.

The Hadrian was once a popular spot for walkers on Hadrian's Wall.
The Hadrian was once a popular spot for walkers on Hadrian’s Wall.

“Only today I saw ladies looking too despondent walking with their backpacks back down Main Street. I guess like many they thought it was still a nice cozy pub and inn to stop at. It’s strange when people come, they’re greeted with arms, apparently they want to be part of the community, but then they dismantle what was a big part of it.”

Hjem restaurant refutes some of the comments made by locals and says that although they have stopped serving food at the Hadrian hotel bar, it is still open from 3pm to midnight Wednesday to Saturday for anyone who wants to come in for a drink.

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Ally Thompson, restaurant manager at Hjem, said: “When we arrived at the Wall in 2019 we were given a warm Northumbrian welcome and quickly felt at home. Since then, we feel we have become part of the town community and have enjoyed making many friends among our neighbors who have been incredibly supportive.

Hjem restaurant chef Alex Nietosvuori and restaurant manager Ally Thompson, pictured, sat together inside the restaurant near Hexham, Northumberland.
Chef de cuisine Alex Nietosvuori and restaurant manager Ally Thompson, who have retained the Michelin star of the Hjem restaurant

“During the first covid lockdown, we worked tirelessly to try to help the residents of the town, ordering and delivering products that the supermarkets did not have in stock, cooking hot food and generally trying to keep people fed for a while. difficult for everyone. We were delighted to have been named Northumberland’s first Michelin starred restaurant last year, but we couldn’t have done it without the fantastic ingredients we source from farms and gardens around the county.

“Building positive relationships at the local level is critical to our success. Since we opened Hjem, we have hired and trained an additional 10 staff members, and we are proud that we have been able to keep all of them despite the challenges we have recently faced.

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“The pandemic and ongoing cost of living crisis have hit the hospitality industry incredibly hard, and over the last 12 months we’ve had to make some tough decisions to ensure our survival. Unfortunately, serving food at The Hadrian became unfeasible as energy, product and labor costs skyrocketed.

“We haven’t forgotten about the pub, we’ve just changed its focus to being a drinks-only establishment. Hadrian’s bar is open Wednesday to Saturday from 3pm to 12pm and everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a drink.

“As the business has grown, I am no longer always behind the bar, but only a phone call away and can also be found walking our two dogs around town every day and talking to anyone and everyone I meet.”

Have you visited one of the four Michelin-starred restaurants in the Northeast? That you thought? Let us know!

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