The Forest Side hotel in Grasmere is the latest in Andrew Wildsmith's small collection of boutique hotels (which includes the notable Hipping Hall, near Kirkby Lonsdale).
The décor, the formality vs.
informality, the luxury vs. elegance, and above all the food is all
exceptionally well balanced.
The food comes from the kitchen of Kevin
Tickle, who must get really fed up of being called Simon Rogan's former
head forager. There are touches of L'Enclume about the food, and there
is plenty of foraging evident both on the menu and on the cocktail list.
But Tickle has grown into his own style, with dishes being more focused
than they have become in recent years at L'Enclume. There is a lot of
"technique" - much of it modern - but it is not forced.
I started in the small, rather glitzily decorated bar where the cocktail list included some interesting creations, including this made with gin, cinnamon, prune juice & possibly some other stuff. Very nice, though there was an issue with (I think) the prune juice either having been put in the glass separately or having rapidly settled. A quick swizzle sorted that out though.
The dining room is just a gorgeous airy space, quite distinct from the
style of the rest of the hotel, with a touch of the Scandi about it. The tables are apparently made from the old floorboards of the room.
There are several rather over-cutely named menus: a 3 course a la carte menu ‘The reet l’al yan’ at £50; the Bait Menu, a four course table d'hôte lunch at £35, a six course tasting menu, the l'al 'un at £60, and, in the evenings only, a ten course tasting menu, the ‘grand 'un’ at £75.
I had the six course menu, which started with a couple of appetisers not on the menu above, served on a lump of apparently charred timber, designed to really upset the we-want-plates brigade:
The bread was absolutely beautiful, and such a pleasure not to have to struggle with excessively chewy sourdough. The loaf was made with wild yeasts that the kitchen had cultivated from Lyth Valley damsons.
Moving on to the menu itself, a kombu broth with kohlrabi, sea lettuce and a clam had a really clean, yet deep flavour.
Cod with shrimps, leeks & mollusc broth. Superb. The cod had been poached long and slow in a vat of butter, and avoided all the gluey pappiness that can result from a kitchen not getting the low temperature cooking right. And I could bathe in that sauce.
Excellent 32 day aged shorthorn rib, served with cabbage in various preparations ("brassicas old and new," as the menu put it) and a rather glorious nugget of gently smoked bone marrow. A superb sauce again.
The first dessert was a sweet cheese parfait with lightest honeycomb ever and sea buckthorn. A great first dessert.
The second dessert was rhubarb - poached, granita & ice cream - with sweet cicely syrup & burnt butter biscuits.
Espresso was absolutely superb. Though I'm not proud: I'll admit I turned this plastic cup round a full 360° before realising it didn't have a handle at all!
With the espresso came a couple of petits fours:
meal, Tickle asked me for constructive criticism: it was very difficult to find
anything to criticize, and about all I could come up with was that this fir Turkish delight petit four was a bit too heavily set with gelatine.
Having had the pre-lunch cocktail, I just had water and a very delicious non-alcoholic "All At Sea" mocktail, which I think involved cranberry juice among a number of other ingredients.
There is, however, a particularly interesting wine list made up of organic, biodynamic and
"real" (ugh) wines, largely sourced I think from Buon Vino Wines in Settle: some bins I'd heard of, but I'm a wine geek, but all
sounded fascinating. There aren't, however, any bargains on the wine
list, which is sadly rather sternly priced.
I asked for, and was given a quick look round the rooms: I find that it's always useful to have a look at accommodation in local hotels and restaurants and rooms when I get the chance, as it's highly unlikely I'd ever stay, due to a probably irrational feeling that one doesn't stay overnight within 45 minutes of home, and it's useful to know whether the accommodation can be recommended. I'd have no hesitation in recommending the rooms at Forest Side: the bigger rooms at the front of the hotel are just magnificent, with fantastic rooms. The smaller rooms are beautifully appointed and are quite a lot smaller, and have no view to speak of at all, almost to the point that you'd not want to look out of the window at all. But there's nothing they could ever do about that. I was particularly taken that there are three ground floor rooms that are dog friendly, and have their own external doors.
Finally, I was also taken by the fact that the Forest Side has its own waterfall, which was certainly flowing on the drizzly day I went:
725 Great Western Rd
This was a special evening at the excellent Cail Bruich restaurant in Glasgow: a group of us who know each other from meeting online on the forum at www.wine-pages.com, had arranged a Friday night takeover of Cail Bruich, a tasting menu and corkage, so we could share interesting wines from our cellars. We were split between several tables of between eight and twelve covers. The menu was the same across all the tables, though the wines varied from table to table: the wines below were those on my table, and, I should emphasise again, were brought by us: they're not off Cail Bruich's wine list.
This was an excellent evening, full of terrific wines generously shared by participants, terrific food from Cail Bruich and also exceptional service from Cail Bruich, who coped amazingly well with us.
As well as praising the quality of the food, it's worth saying just how well paced the evening was too - credit needs to go to both the kitchen and the front of house at Cail Bruich for that. We were not rushed, but had enough time to get through all our wines. It was great to see front of house so interested, that they were busily snapping photos of the wines with their 'phones.
1995 Domaine des Forges Coteaux du Layon Chaume Grains Nobles de Pineau
Quite a delicate nose with touches of honey, lemon, floral notes, and almost orange flower water.
Lovely palate. It is very sweet of course, but there's a massive acidity too, which keeps it perfectly balanced.
Very, very precise and focused. Very concentrated and powerful, but still very balanced.
with nibbles of Smoked Haddock Croquette, Steamed Bun and Spring Vegetable Tartlet
2006 Dr Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli (Finger Lakes, New York)
Mid gold colour. Fairly intense, nutty nose, feeling very evolved. Something a bit marsanne like on the nose.
Fair palate. Bit of a spritzy zesty lemon note on the attack. This is fading and drying out. There's something very familiar about the flavour, but I can't pin it down. There's a rather odd combination of length and falling short at the same time. Possibly a hint of oxidation, but that might just be the Rkatsiteli. Really quite curious: it's definitely not dead, but it's not entirely alive either. The moral seems to be: drink your Finger Lakes Rkatsiteli before it gets to ten years old.
1991 Coulée de Serrant, Nicolas Joly
A deepish golden colour.
Fantastic nose, with lemon, lots of white pepper, and some wet dog.
Remarkable palate. Though it takes a bit of getting used to. It's slightly raisined, and there's a touch of oxidation. A wine to keep going back to. Absolutely bone dry. Good acidity on the finish.
The smoked haddock croquette really brought this to life, though the spring vegetable tartlet did it no favours whatsoever.
Smoked Haddock Croquette, Brown Sauce
This was spot on. Can't say I'd ever have thought of brown sauce with a brandade of smoked haddock, but it worked really well for me. Plus it made the 91 Coulée de Serrant sing like Callas.
|Spring Vegetable Tartlet|
This was really good: incredibly light pastry, and just full of the flavours of spring.
On to the first couple of courses:
2015 Riverby Sauvignon Blanc
An exclusive! The first bottle to be opened in the UK.
It has a lovely nose: very restrained, with some green peas, lettuce and a good minerality.
Very good palate. Very bright and focused. There's also a fab peppery spice note.
Very impressive and a very food-friendly sauvignon blanc.
Great restraint. Quite a firm minerality. A splendid sauvignon blanc.
It also worked exceedingly well with Cail Bruich's excellent mackerel dish: in terms of food and wine matching, I find it difficult to believe that any table could have had a better match at any point throughout the evening.
|Mackerel, Cucumber, Green Strawberry “Sauce Vierge”|
|Wye Valley Asparagus,Crispy Egg Yolk, Smoked Hollandaise|
Very simple, and an excellent little refresher plate at this stage in the meal. A slow cooked egg yolk, so you had the unctuous texture, without chasing liquid egg yolk across the plate. I'm not a great fan of gratuitous smoking of things that have survived generations without being smoked, but the hollandaise worked very well, I thought. Just a hint of smoke to lift it, without being at all dominant.
The smoked hollandaise and deep fried yolk meant that the Sauvignon Blanc worked better with the asparagus than I'd feared, and better than it often can do (too often it's too much like with like). However, both the rkatsiteli and the Coulée de Serrant worked well, as did a 1996 Bollinger that made its way over from another table.
· 2001 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo, Vigna Enrico VI
A very young colour.
A nose verging on the glorious. Really poised black fruit (blackcurrant particularly), with a layer of fresh tobacco.
A lovely palate. Just what it should be. If anything, it feels a bit young.
Fascinating palate. Very dry and drying. Soft tannins, but very evident tannins.
This is a jolly interesting wine now, but needs a few more years to really blossom.
2010 Adam's Rib The Red, Castagna (Beechworth, Victoria)
A very curious mint sauce nose. Very minty with lots of tar.
Fascinating palate: fresh, vibrant black fruit, and then you get a real punch of the syrah (it's a blend of 70% nebbiolo and 30% syrah).
These layers of flavours continue flowing over each other throughout.
Carries its 14% alcohol very well.
I love this: a fascinating wine.
· 2013 Riverby Estate Pinot Noir Reserve
Very, very soft red fruit on the nose, with a nice herbal note.
Soft, round palate. Quite a spicy touch with firm tannins.
Worked very well with the duck.
2000 Chateau Musar
Yup. Musar nose. Old sweaty leather. Oxidative. Sweaty and cheesy.
While Musar can swing every which way, I'm not convinced this bottle is quite right. The 2000 is often described as a Burgundian Musar; hence why it was in this flight. It feels both a bit oxidised and a bit reductive on the palate, and a bit cooked. I think this has got cooked at some point.
1996 Ridge flight
1996 Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah
Very attractive, very approachable nose. This is so much more approachable than the Santa Cruz Mountains merlot.
Lots of juicy black fruit on the palate. Very enticing.
Drying tannins on the finish.
1996 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot
Quite a slight nose - black fruits. Slightly murky nose. It's not especially thrilling on the nose.
Round, full, soft black fruit on the palate, with big, spicy tannins on the finish.
There's something slightly curious about this, though I am rather liking it.
It's a bit too young and tight, I think. Slightly sweaty palate. Leathery tannins.
Under 300 cases reds flight
(Okay, I struggled putting these last two reds into a flight, but a bit of research - including reading the label - revealed under 300 cases of each were produced. And a couple of hefty reds should show well towards the end of the meal.)
2003 Fetzer Coro Mendocino
A blend of 50% Zinfandel, 30% Syrah, 15% Petite Sirah, and 5% Grenache from vineyards in California's Mendocino county.
An intriguing nose. Soft, slightly herbaceous black fruit. With aeration, this is really growing on me. Delectable and very balanced.
Wow. This is very good. Much better than I was expecting.
It's an intriguing blend, and it works very well. Lovely balance on the palate.
Huge depth with real spice. There's lots of zinfandel character, yet balanced by the other varieties.
Delicious and full of character. Very accomplished.
I'd buy more of this, though it doesn't look like it comes over here, so I can't, unfortunately.
Probably being a bit generous, but 95/100
1997 Domaine de la Grange des Pères, Vin de Pays de l'Herault
Fantastic nose with gorgeous rounded black fruit.
Rich, full palate. This is delicious, if rather hefty stuff.
But it feels a little simple compared to the Fetzer.
Really rich in the mouth. Very wide and mouthfilling. Very rounded and open.
|Goosnargh Duck, Apricot, Peas, Lettuce, Girolle, Black Garlic|