Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Forest Side, Grasmere

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:

A celeriac tuile filled with their own black pudding, Tunworth cheese and apple: the tuile was perhaps a little heavy, but needed to be substantial enough to carry the black pudding filling. Cold black pudding required a bit of a brain reset, but once you overcome that, the flavours were excellent.
This was a wafer made with Westcombe cheddar and topped with an evanescent cheese snow that just evaporated in the mouth.

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.

Duck heart salad with lightly pickled turnip, walnut & lemon thyme

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.
Being hyper-critical, the biscuits, while having a superb flavour, felt a bit thick and clunky in relation to the lightness of the rhubarb, particularly the ice cream and granita.

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:

After the  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.

The meal ended as it started, with this second petit four requiring a bit of brain recalibration: fudge has been rolled out (or just made flat?) and topped with reindeer moss and some other stuff. Bloody brilliant.

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:

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Cail Bruich, Glasgow - a wine dinner

Cail Bruich 
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, 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.
Steamed Bun, Ham “Jam”, Shallot, Beer Mustard
This didn't really convince me. Too much bun maybe, drowning out the rest. Really it just tasted like an underseasoned onion sandwich. Can't win 'em all.
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”
This was delightful: I think it was soused mackerel, the skin side blowtorched, mackerel tartare, green strawberry, marinated cucumber and those tart-yet-fruity red blobs.

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.


Nebbiolo flight

· 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.

Un-Burgundy flight

· 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
This was delicious. Very simple, but very nicely executed. Though, with all the wine, I could have probably eaten the other half of the duck breast too. ;)

Sweet Rieslings

· 2014 Riverby Estate Noble Riesling
Delicate, precise nose. Lovely botrytis notes. I've got written down here "risotto primavera nose" but have no idea what that means, and can't really see how it would apply to a botrytised riesling: somebody must have been talking about risotto at the time, or something.
Gorgeous palate. Very sweet, but that sweetness is kept entirely in check.
Rich, yet very balanced palate. Very, very balanced. Good acidity. Really bright.
Fabulous with the first dessert of strawberry, yoghurt and elderflower.

· 2012 Delheim Riesling Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest
Very precise, focused nose. Very fresh, ripe riesling fruit.
Lovely balanced palate. Huge acidity. Pretty impressive.
Interesting to compare with the Riverby.

Strawberry, Katy Rodgers Yoghurt, Elderflower Soda (sorry, no picture)

Other sweeties

· 1977 Lenz Moser Gewürztraminer Beerenauslese
A deep copper colour.
Oof. Fabulous nose that really wakes you up. Wonderfully precise nose, though not especially gewurz-y.
It's almost as though it's evolved from being gewurz and is now "just" an old Beerenauslese.
A lovely old BA.
A very, very good BA.

Rapeseed Oil Cake, Sea Buckthorn, Cream Cheese Crumble, White Asparagus Ice Cream
 I wasn't a great fan of the rapeseed oil cake, which I found a bit dense, but the white asparagus ice cream was absolutely stunning. The Gewurztraminer Beerenauslese powered its way nicely through this.

Sweet red

2004 Linne Calodo Zinfandel Sweet Leona Leona's Vineyard, Paso Robles, California
On the nose, this seems fully mature. Sweet fresh and dried blackberry fruit.
Vaguely sweet, ripe, red and black fruit on the palate.
Quite concentrated on the palate, with a pleasing intensity.
Slightly musky and very deep. Lots of rich black fruit, with a nice spice.
Very good balance.

Went nicely with the Valrhona Manjari & Whisky Fudge

Other Wines
There were several other wines that made it to our table, either as reserves or shared by other tables.

1996 Bollinger Grande Année (magnum)
Fresh bread nose. Lovely full palate. Very rounded. Utterly drinkable and delicious. 92/100

1996 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Les Clos Saint-Hilaire
Very precise. Huge acidity. Lovely white pepper spice. Touch of red fruit richness - presumably pinot dominated?
Lovely stuff, but it's just not thrilling me, and for me, it's in the shadow of the Bolly.

1995 Kuentz-Bas Riesling Cuvée Bicentennaire
A worrying coppery colour.
Old, clapped out riesling nose.
Even older and more clapped out on the palate.
There is still some riesling fruit in their, and it's not quite necrophilia drinking this.
But it's not really anything-philia either, as there's little pleasure or interest here.
Drinkable, but it is past it.

1991 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot
An old, mature chardonnay nose. But the class is there.
Butter, butter, butter on the nose, with a hint of lemon, and a slight green vegetable-broad bean note. Showing its class.
Gorgeous old Chablis palate. Poised, nutty, buttery, creamy.
Very wide in the mouth. Massive length.

2012 Pierre Gaillard Côtes du Rhône Les Gendrines
Fresh, nutty nose, with fresh apricots and pears.
Super-rich palate. Very creamy. Lots of layers of interesting flavours.

2014 Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône La Redonne
70% viognier; 30% roussanne. 13% abv.
Lovely fresh nose with a hint of rosemary and thyme and something rich.
Very good palate. Young, yet nicely rounded.
A little thin maybe. But there are some good herby-spicy notes.

Equipo Navazos Jerez-Xérès-Sherry La Bota MMX "Florpower - Más allá" nº53
A mid-deep coppery colour.
There's lots of flor on the nose - it's like sherry-lite. Nutty, toasty, raisiny.
The flor influence is evident on the palate too. Bone dry. Presumably palomino fino?
It reminds me of some Chilean palomino fino I once had.
It's a bit bonkers, full of interest, but I'm struggling to convince myself that I really like it.

1945 Pierre Janny Rivesaltes Vieil Homme
Bottle No. 704. 16%
Leathery, antiquarian bookshop nose, with rich, slightly raisined black fruits.
A touch figgy on the attack. Grapey, raisiny palate, with lots of fruit cake. Great depth.
Pretty much unbelievable that this is over 70 years old. Really enjoyable.

1990 Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque
Very medicinal nose - minty, cloves, eucalyptus.
Fabulous garriguey black fruit on the palate.
A bit young really, as there's still scope for it to integrate further.