A trip to The Lakes is always a joyful experience – usually ending in a great meal.
The dining options in the area are on brilliant form – in my opinion (and that of The Good Food Guide) L’Enclume remains the best restaurant in the country and many folk in the know are buzzing about the exciting things happening at The Samling and Lake Road Kitchen.
Confirmation of the quality of food on offer in the region comes when you add to these the likes of the Old Stamp House, the Drunken Duck Inn and the long established country house kitchens of Sharrow Bay, Gilpin and Holbeck Ghyll.
With the recent multi million pound renovation of The Forest Side by the Wildsmith Hotels group and the appointment of the hugely talented Chef Kevin Tickle, the level has just been upped.
At lunch there were two menus available, the four course ‘Bait menu’ and the ten course tasting menu, the ‘Grand 'Un’.
To me, as well as showcasing the chef’s skills, a good tasting menu should tell a story – too many are disjointed, where dishes do not flow. All too often they can seem to be more about the chef’s desire to wow with style over substance.
Not so at The Forest Side – sure, the chef’s technique and skills are evident but nothing is gimmicky – there are two key things that strike me about Chef Tickle’s confident, clever and creative food:
The first is his unfaltering attitude to ensuring there is a synergy of taste and texture. The second is the desire to share a passion for the fruits of the surrounding woodlands, hedgerows, hills and waters.
Knowing what Chef Tickle is capable of, I had high expectations – the fact that these were blown out of the water speaks volumes. My meal was cooked by the Sous Chef Martin Frickel.
The meal got underway with a couple of snacks, a Westcombe Cheddar Cracker with pickle and as light as snow. This was accompanied by a Celeriac ‘gutter’ (my description) filled with house-made black pudding, apple and creamy Tunworth.
Featuring the dinkiest potatoes I’ve ever seen, the first ‘proper course’ was Young Jersey Royals, Oyster, Tarragon & Pig’s Ear – the miniscule spuds came snuggled in a tarragon and oyster emulsion. Topped with baby oyster leaves, caviar and a shard of crispy pig’s ear, this dish hinted at the deftly balanced and cleverly textured dishes to come.
The Bread was a real humdinger – a sourdough made with a mixture of white and rye flours. Good sourdoughs are somewhat ubiquitous these days but what makes Chef Tickle’s distinctive is the natural yeasts he has cultured from Cumbrian damsons.
With a menu description that simply read Seaweed Broth, Kohlrabi & Marsh Herbs, the plump surf clams were a pleasant surprise. The delicate umami tinged kombu broth completed an elegant dish that boasted a sublime clarity of flavours.
Looking like a slice of Emmental, the crowning glory of the next dish was actually swede. This clever creative edge formed windows to the Venison Pastrami, Smoked Juniper Yoghurt, Swede, Corra Linn & Pickled Allium Flowers that lay within. Personally, I’d have liked the smoky flavours to be a little more prominent but I appreciate that this a subjective view. The pickled alliums flowers (ramsons in this case) were especially enjoyable.
The assured cooking continued with West Coast Scallop, New Season Asparagus, “Our Guanciale”, Conifer & Salsify. A delightfully simple, well executed dish.
Up next, not only one of the most visually striking and modern looking dishes, it was also one of the most flavoursome – Pablo Beetroot, Ragstone, Sourdough Crumpet, Hazelnut & Sunset Velvet. A textual triumph, punctuated by bursts of citrusy flavour from the oxalis.
The following dish – Line Caught Halibut, Salsify, Charred Alliums & Scurvy Grass – has lingered long in my memory thanks to the quality of the seafood, combined with the delightful sweet tartness of scurvy grass and Douglas fir. Beautifully restrained cooking allowing natural flavours to sing.
Showcasing a gorgeous hunk of pork, another piece of confident, balanced and innovative cooking - Crispy Pig’s Jowl, Pollen Curd, Birch Sap & Umbelifers. If, like me, you didn’t know what ‘Umbelifers’ are – Google tells me they are a family of mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems – the celery, carrot or parsley family.
I’ve enjoyed many good meals, let down by the desserts… not so at The Forest Side. Each creation was prepared with great skill, artfully presented and despite looking delicate, packed a punch.
Sorrel, Frozen Yoghurt & Preserved Blueberries, started things of well. A stunning looking dish that ate as well as it looked.
Next, a sweet yet earthy combination of Scorched Pear, Malt & Ginger Beer – once more, a wonderfully restrained dish where no ingredient, taste or texture seemed superfluous. The shot of house made ginger beer being the pièce de résistance.
To end, a vibrant dish of Rhubarb, Burnt Butter & Sweet Cicely – to perfect it, I’d have liked a little more sharpness from the rhubarb elements but overall it was still a joy to eat. The anise hit from the sweet cicely combined with toasty notes from the wafers and ice cream producing a delicate robustness.
Petit fours: Douglas Fir Turkish Delight and Fudge, Pistachio & Candied Deer Fir.
One of my most enjoyable meals ever.