Monday 5 August 2013

The Castle Dairy, Kendal

The Castle Dairy
Wildman Street
Kendal LA9 6EN

The Castle Dairy is probably the oldest occupied building in Kendal, dating back to the 14th century.  It must, by my reckoning also be one of the oldest restaurants currently operating in Kendal, although not continuously.

The street facade

I remember it in the 1970s, when it was not a new restaurant, run by two women (I was going to say 'old women' but that might just be how I remember them because I was much, much younger at the time) with something of a fearsome reputation.

They are long gone, of course, and between 2007 and 2011 the Castle Dairy's doors were closed and the building fell into disrepair, to the extent that it was included on English Heritage's 'Heritage at Risk' register in 2010.

The Castle Dairy reopened in 2011, having been taken on by the local further education college, Kendal College.  It now provides valuable work experience in the kitchen and front of house for Kendal College apprentices; on the evidence of this visit it also provides some very fine food.

Certainly on this visit it does not appear to run like many catering college restaurants, with lecturers supervising students: there was just one person working front of house, and (if she was one of the apprentices) doing her lecturers proud, as she was very good. 

The main hall

I dread to think what Kendal College's health & safety people make of this fireplace
Inside it seems pretty much unchanged.  As befits such an old building, small corridors link a number of small rooms.  There's a lot of old wood, flag floors, and (on this spring day) a fire blazing in an old range.

There are two menus at lunchtime: an à la carte and a "bar menu" (not that there's really a bar area as such).
Bread is, I believe, from Kendal's excellent Staff of Life Bakery: a fabulous elderflower sourdough and a slightly underbaked brown/granary(?) bread were offered.  It's great that they're supporting a local small business like Staff of Life, but - particularly for a restaurant related to a catering college - it seemed a bit of a cop out.  Or maybe they put apprentices into Staff of Life?

My first course was shown as a special on the menu, though as it's a laser-printed sheet, I'm not sure why there's a need to have a couple of items billed as specials on what's not a long menu.

Poached smoked haddock with a wild garlic and haddock brandade, crispy (i.e. breadcrumbed) quail's egg and Lakeland pancetta. This was early April and a bit too early for wild garlic in Cumbria this year, which struck me as a little odd. But apart from a query over where they'd got wild garlic, there was nothing in the dish to fault. The haddock was perfectly cooked, the quails eggs were spot on, with the yolks still runny, the bright green brandade was ultra smooth, yet retained the full flavour of both the wild garlic and the haddock.

Main course was a lovely pigeon dish.

Pan-seared wood pigeon with liver parfait, cumin-spiced fregola, swiss chard and a carrot purée. Excellent dish again with all the ingredients perfectly cooked and working very harmoniously.

Orange torte with blood orange sorbet
Unfortunately the dessert was a bit of a let down. An orange torte with a blood orange sorbet. The sorbet was beautiful, but the torte was just a bit too technically perfect, like a patisserie student's first torte-by-numbers attempt. It was just a bit heavy for me, not least because it was at least 50% chocolate, which wasn't mentioned on the menu at all. Some orange flavoured whipped cream hadn't quite worked either, having somehow managed to take on the texture of commercial squirty cream.

Very good espresso after.
Upstairs is an art gallery (for the College's art students), but also houses some of the ancient fixtures and fittings, including rather oddly a massive oak 4-poster bed. This must be about the only restaurant in the country with a bed that's not for sleeping in.

The Castle Dairy on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Mike said...

I lived in Kendal when general Manager of The Woolpack Hotel, Stricklandgate (sadly gone now) from 1974 to 1978 and The Castle Dairy became our regular restaurant of choice, particularly when we had friends over.
Avril and Elaine, the owners, as you say, could be somewhat fierce but once one got to know them , they were lovely.
It was the very first place I tasted a decent vintage Hospice de Beaunne, found under the rubble during some major alterations..... it was wonderful and the Elaine limited it to one bottle only per table, although I did persuade her to be generous one evening when I had a couple of special guests!