After months of scribbled-out diary dates and the kind of hiccups that hit every hotel revamp, Forest Side has finally opened. This imposing Victorian manor is the latest addition to the Wildsmith Hotels stable joining Hipping Hall in Kirby Lonsdale and The Rybeck in Bowness-on-Windermere.
Sitting serenely above the road skirting the slate-strewn prettiness of Grasmere, the hotel is hunkered into the hillside, cradled by lofty trees and surrounded by grand grounds. It looks staid and traditional, however, behind the old-fashioned façade is one of the most innovative new restaurants in the Lakes.
Putting the right chef in place is as important as finding the perfect wallpaper (Cole and Son in this case) especially as the Lake District has upped its game over the last few years. The region once famous for a sugary snack (Kendal Mint Cake) and coiled sausage (Cumberland) is now a gastronomic hotspot with as many culinary pilgrims traipsing to the dancing daffodil-daubed region as fell-walkers, lately all jostling to get a table at Lake Road Kitchen and the Old Stamp House in Ambleside down the road.
There was a fire roaring in the entrance hall when we arrived. The bright, breezy restaurant with its high ceilings and picture windows framing the fells in the distance is a sea of honey-hued wood from the floors to the rustic wooden tables made from the original dining room’s old floorboards.
The 10-course tasting menu (11 if you add cheese) is dubbed The Grand ‘Un – and it is. (There’s a shorter a la carte option The L’Al Yan if you fall at the first hurdle). A meaty mound of Goosnargh duck giblets, hazelnut whey and sauerkraut kick-starts the experience followed by hen’s yolk, kohlrabi, sea lettuce and marsh herbs, the salty seaside salad slicing through the richness of the yolk.
We opted for the sommelier’s off-beat drinks pairing which added an extra dimension (in terms of flavour and theatricality) to the dishes. A pungent venison pastrami, smoked juniper yogurt, swede, Old Winchester cheese and pickled allium flowers was paired with Forest Gin (foraged Peak District moss is one of the ingredients) and earthily herbal Artemisia tonic, a speared cube of sea buckthorn jelly on top.
Catherine’s garden salad (Catherine is the gardener), a fresh tangle of ragstone, scurvy grass and crisp goat’s cheese crumpet was washed down with a citrusy, spruce-laced beer from the Lancashire-based Old School Brewery.
The two stand-out dishes though were the palate cleanser: frozen yogurt, celery and lemon thyme paired ingeniously with a sparkling sake, the culinary equivalent of jumping into an icy river.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the scorched pear, malt and ginger dessert – a spoonful of spicy sweetness, the dense ginger cake, soft pear, creamy malt ice cream and glass of peppery homemade ginger beer, perfect for a winter’s day.
Ten courses might sound like a marathon but the menu is so intriguing, each dish containing a moment of wide-eyed surprise that it stops you from flagging. With the finish line in sight we didn’t want it to end.
* Kevin Tickle has now left Forest Side
The Grand ‘Un Tasting menu is £75 (cheeseboard £15 supplement per board) drink pairing £45
Forest Side (theforestside.com)
Written by Lucy Gillmore, March 2016
Images by Jenny Heyworth
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