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:

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