Short break - Sharrow Bay, Ullswater
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 February 2017
You can drink in the views and dine in style at the Sharrow Bay Hotel, as Emma Mayoh discovered.
In the decades since Francis Coulson first brought life to the Sharrow Bay Hotel one thing has not changed. The views across the glassy water to the often frost or snow-covered hills are still among the best in the area, if not the country.
There’s no doubt it was these panoramas that first drew Francis to the old fisherman’s lodge after seeing it in the Manchester Guardian in 1948. Together, with friend Brian Sack, despite post-war rationing, the pair turned Sharrow Bay as THE place to eat and stay.
While the view has not changed, the world in which this Lake District institution functions has. Sharrow Bay – dubbed the UK’s first country house hotel – now operates in an industry where scores of comfy country getaways and luxurious lodges thrive and try to steal its thunder.
Their opportunity was bolstered temporarily, perhaps, when the hotel lost its treasured Michelin star and it went through a period of uncertainty when the previous owner, Von Essen Hotels, went into administration. It also went through difficult times, like much of the region, when Storm Desmond hit in December 2015.
But this old Lady of the Lake has proved that true style and glamour never fade. This is a place that shines. No doubt this has been down, in large parts, to the culinary prowess shown by the kitchen team. Led by Mark Teasdale, who has diligently dedicated over a decade of his career to the Sharrow Bay, the restaurant produces an exquisite dining experience for its guests, as we discovered on our visit.
Starting in one of the lounges, we spent time enjoying a glass of wine, a taster of the food to come and taking in the surroundings. The candle-lit lakeside restaurant was a place I’d happily spend most of my days. You could spend forever browsing the huge range of antiques and collectibles, many left from Francis and Brian who are still remembered with great affection by hotel staff.
The culinary experience matched its surroundings. Starters of roast loin of rabbit with spiced parsnip and apple and mustard veloutè and west coast scallops with oriental vegetables, Thai curry, red pepper and sesame salsa made a strong impression and we were eager for the next course.
For mains we both opted for a herb crusted cannon of Herdwick lamb, perfectly cooked, with aubergine, sable potatoes, tomato and rosemary. Having eaten Herdwick lamb at many restaurants, this one would be difficult to beat.
For dessert, we shared the Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding – a must in a place that says the original sticky toffee pudding recipe was created by Francis in the 1970s. In fact, an anonymous bidder paid £32,000 to charity in 2007 to be allowed to make the pudding alongside the pastry chef. The pud didn’t disappoint, perfectly paired with a dessert wine, it was the right balance of sweet.
Luckily for us, and for all of the guests at the Sharrow Bay, those same picture perfect views are still enjoyed. Even more fortuitous for us is that we stayed in Marion, our beautiful room for the night. It came with its own sitting room and was filled more with beautiful antiques and collectibles. There was also a luxurious bathroom, hidden away behind wardrobe doors, with L’Occitane toiletries, swagged curtains and a whale-sized bath. It was, pleasingly, located at the front of the hotel which meant we got to enjoy those views at every opportunity. In fact, I spent most of my stay sitting in the window in the hope of permanently etching that vista in my mind. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, it was also a must to keep the window open just to hear the water lapping at the shore beneath.
What’s also striking about the Sharrow Bay is how easy it is to relax here. There are comfortable lounges to enjoy where you can read, play a game of Scrabble or just enjoy watching the roaring log fires. Its remoteness, down a dead end lane, certainly helps to get away from it all, too. This is a place where it feels like time has slowed down; it’s a place to savour and enjoy. Despite having spent just the one night there, I felt as refreshed as if I had I spent a week away.
There is no denying that for most people this is a place to visit for an occasion or a special treat – the £20,000 bottle of Cristal on the wine list sums it up. But it’s a place that is worth every penny. And a place I’m already saving up to visit again.
Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, Penrith, CA10 2LZ, 01768 486301, www.sharrowbay.co.uk