Monday, 18 February 2019

A star shines bright in the forest

There has been some debate about both the meaning and indeed the virtue of Michelin Stars, with one chef actually opting to relinquish his star amid much publicity. Some critics say that a Michelin Star is less an indication of quality, more the ability to please Michelin judges.

A visit to the extraordinary Forest Side, above, at Grasmere, renders such debate redundant. Yes, of course the restaurant at an ample country house on the edge of Wordsworth’s village reflects the kind of things that Michelin judges like to see and taste; but behind that bald assessment is the reality of exceptionally inventive cuisine, deliciously and attractively presented by exquisitely well trained staff.
Décor at The Forest Side is bold, bright and invigorating

Chef Kevin Tickle, previously head forager down the road at Simon Rogan’s acclaimed two-Michelin Star L’Enclume, in Cartmel, earned his star in late 2017 –just nine months after opening. He said then: “Everything is about our surroundings and our sense of belonging to this place.’’

So many elements of the six-course (L’ Aal ’un) and ten-course Grand ’un tasting menus – including, of course, the Cumbrian titles – reflect their local provenance… I could begin with the ones you might expect: the freshly foraged late Autumn mushrooms, the venison pastrami, the fruit and vegetables plucked from the kitchen garden and polytunnels just across the way.

Or I could cite the slightly less expected squirrel pâté amuse-bouche – a tasty by-product of the relentless battle to halt the onward march of the invasive grey. Only at Northumberland’s Matfen Hall have I previously tasted the American interloper and it was good to experience its ever so slightly nutty tones again.

The thing to remember about tasting menus is that that is precisely what they are: a succession of tantalising, titillating morsels, each designed to please not just by its looks and taste, but also by virtue of the admiration inspired for the creative minds behind their genesis.

There was so much to praise, but I’ll single out “those filthy mushrooms he cooks in bone marrow” for the way “he” squeezed out every drop of flavour; and the aged shorthorn rib, with celeriac “that’s knocking on a bit”, charcoal and dittander. Not know what that is? Well, dittander is a herb from coastal salt marshes, like Morecambe Bay, and it also yields a peppery oil.

Dashi onion
We paired our repast with wines expertly selected and explained by the young head sommelier, Guillaume Limoux – when pondering the expense of a Michelin Star meal, it’s worth recognising that there’s a small army of dedicated professionals delivering these delights.

We prefaced our dining with a couple of “foragers’ favourites” in the cosy bar – a blackberry kir royale, from the hotel’s own blackberry liqueur, and a grapefruit pisco sour, featuring also vodka and Mexican agave.
An exceptionally generously sized bedroom, with ample en suite, super king size bed and views over the gardens to the fells had greeted us on arrival, while our stay was expertly book-ended by a breakfast as near perfect as you could wish for. I was fortunate to choose the crispiest eggy-bread on the planet.
  • My wife and I were guests of Forest Side.
  • A version of this blog also appears in Flybe's magazine, Flight Time.  
  • See also my author blog.