I grew up in the Lake District, so the stunning views and country charm don’t really hold much sway when it comes to visiting this corner of the UK. But I certainly will visit for a luxurious stay in a fabulous hotel and a Michelin-starred and four AA Rosette awarded Restaurant. So just before Christmas my fiancé and I spent the night at The Forest Side Hotel in Grasmere for some much needed relaxation and dining.
The Forest Side is the ultimate country escape, found just outside the village of Grasmere, one of the smaller Cumbrian tourist spots and famous as being the home of William Wordsworth. The hotel couldn’t be more perfectly located, it sits nestled amongst the hills, overlooking the lake and forests in the distance.
Once a private home, this quite spectacular Victorian Mansion is surrounded by its own fellside, home to a herd of Roe Deer, Red Squirrels and the odd sheep in the surrounding fields. If you’re not into walking/hiking then there’s plenty of scenery right here on your doorstep and the villages of Grasmere, Rydal and Ambleside are only a short drive away. The hotel houses 20 contemporary guest bedrooms across three categories: Cosy, Superb and Master and is also dog friendly in six rooms.
After a smooth drive from Manchester we are warmly greeted and shown to our sensational Master suite. What’s wonderful is that the Forest Side combines contemporary luxury with traditional charm as well as using materials that are locally sourced in its decor. With interiors conceived by renowned designer James Mackie, luxurious wall coverings and fabrics by Zoffany, ultra comfy Westmorland beds made by Harrison Spinks and hand crafted deep pile Herdwick carpet by Wools of Cumbria. The pale blue colours are serene and comforting whilst also making the green scenery out the windows really stand out. The huge king-sized bed lies underneath a sweeping canopy from the high ceilings giving the whole suite that extra touch of luxury. The bathroom has a rather large bath perfect for 2 as well as a waterfall shower combined with underfloor heating and soft lighting with a range of lovely full size Bramley toiletries. It was ever so nice to get ready for dinner after a relaxing bath and in such gorgeous surroundings.
Talking of dinner, the Michelin-starred, four AA Rosette restaurant is the beating heart of The Forest Side. The restaurant offers both 4-Course and 6-Course lunch menus, while the evening offering consists of 4-Course and 8-Course menus. Having previously cooked under the likes of Marcus Wareing and Andrew Fairlie, head chef Paul Leonard has long been praised for his loving and simple use of local produce and this was evident in the way he came to each table to serve some of his favourite dishes on the menu. One of The Forest Side’s most valued treasures is its extensive and original red brick walled Victorian garden that grows a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. The garden and fellside foraging provides an abundance of fresh produce and alongside the rich biodiversity of the local area, Paul has all the tools needed to create a truly unforgettable dining experience.
As we make our way to dinner we are invited for a cocktail in the bar, a warm, intimate space for relaxing after a long day of hiking or for admiring the views whilst enjoying an exclusive cocktail or carefully chosen wine and looking forward to the meal to come…
The intimate dining room has only 20 tables and yet feels spacious and open at the same time. I’m immediately drawn to the rustic features dotted around such as beautiful sculptures of growing mushrooms and the dark polished wooden fireplace. We opt for the 8 course tasting menu, there is of course an option for wine pairing but on this occasion I was content with a couple of glasses throughout the meal.
Beginning with ‘snacks’, 3 beautiful morsels of food ranging from a cheddar and pumpkin ball and a cauliflower paste tartlet, we were then given the freshest piece of trout smoked over forest pine with a cured ham fat broth which was wonderful. However our favourite part of this course was the accompanying bread. A freshly made brioche with a marmite reduction glaze. Now I didn’t realise I was such a fan of marmite until we found ourselves eating the whole loaf (as well as licking the glaze off our fingers) before the next course could even be brought out. We were offered another as we were informed it just had to be dipped into the sauce of the upcoming hand dived scallop and Soloway brown shrimp. How could we possibly refuse?
One of the highlights of the menu, Lakeland Dexter beef tartare with an oyster purreé and caviar, was brought out by Head chef Paul and his recommendation was to enjoy the dish along with some salty beef crisps (they reminded me of prawn crackers… but beefy). I tell a lie his actual words were ‘get a bit of everything and smash it on a cracker!’ and that’s exactly what we did. The dish was superb, and reinforced the fact that you should always enjoy food exactly the way the chef intends it! Onto the perfectly cooked hand-dived scallop which is always a favourite of mine but I’m not big on the potted shrimp, not that it stopped me dipping my bread in the sauce.
I was intrigued by the next menu item of ‘Beetroot cooked all day in their own juice’ to which our server explained that after a while the natural sugars of the beetroot are released, giving it a sweeter taste. The dish was beautifully presented and was certainly my kind of thing as I love an earthy root vegetable. The steamed cod in buttermilk with smoked pike roe was lovely, but paled in comparison to the Venison. Aged saddle of Cartmel Valley Deer (it would be a bit cruel to have one of the nearby herd on the menu!) with celeriac and last year’s walnuts was a truly superb plate of food. Not only easy on the eyes, each element was expertly put together to create an absolute taste sensation that we enjoyed so much we practically licked the plates clean.
On to puddings and I was very much looking forward to the baked apple and blackberry, a combination I had always loved thanks to my dads homegrown fruit and my mum’s desperate attempt to use it all up by baking crumbles and pies. This version was a little more refined to say the least. An impossibly smooth apple sorbet on top of a meringue dome, filled with blackberry and custard crumb. I absolutely loved every last bit! But the next dessert was even better, because if there’s one thing I love more than nostalgic fruit combinations it’s chocolate. The presentation of ‘Chocolate and Sea Buckthorn’ was simply enchanting, consisting of three balls under a leaf of caramelised sugar, one with a melting chocolate centre, one the sea buckthorn gel which was such an interesting and delicious consistency and the other a sumptuous chocolate truffle that ended my meal on a final ‘Mmmmmmmmm’. A triumph from start to finish. Even after 2 loaves of bread.
After 8 courses we were ready for bed and could not have been more comfortable in our room with temperature control, fully blackout curtains and the most comfortable bed. Although there’s no place like home, I could get used to a room like the ones at Forest Side. In the morning we went for breakfast early and, despite such a huge meal the night before, enjoyed a full English breakfast with sourdough toast and fresh coffee and juice. The bacon was particularly good and cooked perfectly soft with the fat crisped up just as it should be but I did miss a hash brown, maybe I’ve been in Manchester too long but I need a deep fried potato to make it a proper breakfast.
As we departed on one of those days where there’s not a cloud in the sky, the sun is still rising and the morning frost is just starting to melt, we can’t help but wish we could prolong our stay. But I think that’s what makes Forest Side so special, it’s a real country escape where you can get away from it all but with the kind of exceptional food you’d find in a top city restaurant. Book your stay now if you want to cosy up and have a lazy weekend away or treat yourselves in summer to the incredible scenery and wonderful walks whilst staying in a hotel that is truly hard to beat.
Forest Side Hotel