Short break - Rothay Manor, Ambleside
PUBLISHED: 15:09 18 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:09 18 December 2017
A weekend in the Lake District is a must-do at least once each season, and Rothay Manor, near Ambleside, offers far more than easy access to the fabulous countryside.
On arrival, Rothay Manor offered the promise of a proper old-fashioned country weekend away. Built in 1823 by a wealthy merchant from Liverpool, it was converted to a hotel in 1936, and it’s not hard to picture scenes as if from Agatha Christie novels as you approach the black and white façade, and indeed within the interior.
Recent refurbishments have updated the rooms and public spaces, yet there is still that indefinable sense of age and history; décor is calm, soothing and perhaps a little old-fashioned, but the bathrooms could have been lifted direct from a very high end London hotel. I have to confess, the room décor did rather throw me. I asked myself if the quiet thinking here had perhaps been applied to the food, about which I had heard glowing reports.
Rather than fret about it however, we headed out into glorious afternoon sunshine and took ourselves first on a walk from behind the hotel towards Ambleside, before deciding that the golden light deserved our attention at the lakeside and shot back to the car and on to Lakes Head, from where stunning views of Lake Windermere are to be had.
It’s not far from here to Bowness, and a pleasant hour or so strolling the shops and admiring the Lake some more. Having arrived relatively late, we weren’t able to plan in a decent walk, but of course the options are endless.
As the sun dropped below the hills, we headed back to the hotel, where Mike disappeared into the bathroom and sank ear deep into a hot bath, while I enjoyed some undisturbed Strictly action. The fresh air and complete absence of demands from children, pets and the myriad of jobs that make up the average weekend sending me into a pleasant stupor, the realisation that our dinner reservation was only minutes away resulted in a flurry of activity and somewhat flustered arrival at the restaurant. Not to worry, of course, the service is so good we immediately felt relaxed again, properly looked after in that unmistakeable northern way, as if your arrival has simply made their day and how lovely it is that they can bring you a G&T and discuss the beer options (at great length and with great knowledge) before bringing that too.
Diners can choose from a nine course tasting menu, or opt to dine a la carte. We chose the latter and Oh. My. Goodness. So good. Before our first courses arrived, we were brought a plate of freshly baked Sourdough Bread and Beef Dripping with Pancetta, Shallots and Chives. Yes, that was our initial reaction too. Beef dripping? Really?! It was fabulous, wickedly good. I can’t believe it ever fell out of fashion, to be honest, although perhaps our grandparents weren’t too up on the whole pancetta and shallot thing.
Starters were also simply incredible. We both opted for Chicken Wings with Sweetcorn, Miso, Sherry Vinegar Caramel, Smoked Butter and Ice Lettuce. I have no idea how chef Dan McGeorge manages it, but each tiny morsel was packed with exquisite flavour and we could easily have called for seconds, but then an unexpected treat arrived in the form of Haricot Bean and Chorizo Espuma. You may have to forgive the amount of superlatives and similes I am likely to use when attempting to describe this; it was fabulous - light as air, earthy yet positively celestial in taste, with a scattering of fennel seeds and crumbs of chorizo. Pure heaven.
As my main course I chose Loin and Shoulder of Ambleside Herdwick Lamb, with Jerusalem Artichoke, Cevenne Onion, Globe Artichoke and Cured Spinach. The meat was incredible; the pink through the middle loin sliced like butter and a stack of shredded shoulder was soft as you could dream. Roasted Jerusalem artichoke came as a wonderful revelation to me and the whole dish was rounded perfection. Mike had opted for Venison with a Celeriac and Smoked Bacon Gratin, Purple Kale, Elderberry and Linseed. The slightly ferrous kale had the perfect counterpoint in the fragrant, sweet jus and the meat was rich and tender. We had been recommended to enjoy a glass of Merlot with our dinner and from first sip it was clear that this food was exactly what red wine was invented for.
A tiny palate cleanser was presented next; Lemon Mousse with a Limoncello jelly, White Chocolate and a Ginger Honeycomb Crumb. For me, the crumb was a texture too far, a rare misstep from a dazzlingly talented chef. For Mike, this was enough and coffee called. I just had to take it a step further however and requested the Chocolate Dome, a vast edifice that came packed with raspberry sorbet, rose meringue and a heavy chocolate mousse. Each bite was delicious, but could easily have been half the size and still beaten me! I did my best though, I assure you…
Returning to our room, we declared that a return to Rothay Manor should definitely feature on our list of things to do in 2018. For sheer gastronomical delight it’s the place to be.