Northumberland-born Ally Thompson and her partner, Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori opened Restaurant Hjem in Wall, Northumberland in May 2019. Ally answered a few questions ahead of the North East Tourism Awards on March 24th, 2020.
Give us a bit of background about Hjem?
Alex and I took over the running of The Hadrian Pub in Wall, Northumberland in January 2019 with plans to renovate the pub’s old ‘breakfast room’ and realise our dream.
Having both worked in some amazing restaurants across Scandinavia and in London, we knew one day we wanted to open one of our own.
We wanted to create a destination restaurant, which represents us both and Hjem (meaning ‘home’ for both of us) does that – bringing together the best Northumberland produce together with Scandinavian values and cooking techniques in a really special environment.
The opening of Restaurant Hjem – a 24-cover fine dining restaurant in May 2019 – felt like such an achievement after so much hard work!
We serve a 12-course taster menu from an open kitchen. Alex loves creating new dishes working with the amazing produce which we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
Since opening, we have been genuinely delighted and a little bit blown away with the reception we’ve been given by diners, food critics and those across the North East’s burgeoning food scene.
Hjem’s inclusion in both the Good Food Guide 2020 and the Michelin Guide 2020 as well an amazing review from Marina O’Loughlin in the Sunday Times were all real highlights for us in 2019 and we’re really looking forward to what 2020 holds.
What does it mean to Hjem to be shortlisted for awards such as the North East England Tourism Awards?
We were thrilled to hear we’d been shortlisted for the NETA Awards. It’s lovely when all your hard work is recognised – towards the end of last year, we were given the Taste of the North East Award at the Living North Awards, and that felt great!
It’s always been our hope that people who travel from around the country to visit us at Hjem will make the most of their trip and explore more of what Northumberland the wider North East has to offer.
We feel very proud to be helping to fly the flag for the North East’s wonderful food scene, which is getting better and more exciting all the time.
What makes Hjem stand out from the crowd?
Hjem uses Northumbrian produce but cooked in a more Scandinavian style with lots of light dishes and flavours. Hjem’s food ethos is very much focused around using the ingredients and produce that can be found in the farms and gardens around Northumberland, cooked and prepared with Swedish techniques and principles.
We serve wines made with minimal intervention and with a real respect for the environment. Service is knowledgeable, warm yet professional.
We want visiting Hjem to be an experience and not just a meal out. A tasting menu is a great way to do this and allows Alex to showcase his cooking and the ingredients he is working with. It also means our guests don’t have to make too many decisions, which is always a bonus!
What is your favourite part of the North east and why?
My favourite part of the North East, apart from Hadrian’s Wall and the surrounding areas (too obvious) is the Northumberland coast, it’s such a beautiful part of the region and stretches so far.
I have wonderful childhood memories of school holidays spent in Beadnell, trips to the Farne Islands from Seahouses where my grandparents lived and a regular Sunday afternoon run around on Druridge Bay with my siblings and our dogs.
Alex also loves the coastline and loves reminding me that you can almost see Scandinavia if it’s a clear day (hmmm).
Are there are any hidden gems in the North East that you would encourage your clients to visit?
The hidden gem that I always recommend our guests to visit if they are heading to the city is the Ouseburn (obviously not hidden to people from the region but for those visiting the North East, it’s the last thing they are expecting!).
Lovely restaurants, traditional pubs, live music, art and craft, a city farm and Seven Stories all in one place! Great for kids and adults and a place I have fond memories of, both as a Student in the region, and now as a grown up with small children to entertain. It was one of the first places I took Alex in the city and he loved it.
I also think it is an amazing example of how much our region has changed (for the better) over the last 10 years since I have been away. It was all a bit dingy when I was a teenager and now it has got so much to offer all ages!