At 24, head chef Phil Cubin’s youthful looks belie his considerable experience in the kitchens of renowned restaurants such as Sharrow Bay and Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons. After three years as Gilpin Lodge’s sous chef, he recently succeeded Russell Plowman, one of his key mentors. Phil’s gentle temperament, open personality and modest character make him instantly likeable, and are reflected in his calm regime in the kitchen. This is built on a highly organised approach to his brigade, with detailed guidelines to ensure consistency of execution. His team of seven is nevertheless given ample room for personal development, whilst contributing to the success of the kitchen as a whole. For instance, the recently completed Spring Menu, with six choices in each of the three courses, is the result of a long series of tastings involving his whole brigade and the front of house team. Certainly, Phil is anxious to develop the strengths of those in his charge, while their passion and willingness to learn remain strong.
Keen to stamp his own identity on the cooking, Phil’s style reflects a more natural than scientific approach. Appreciating the high quality of seasonal produce – including foraged ones – in the Lake District, his dishes exemplify the respect and sensitivity with which they are treated. Often inspired by the prime quality and beauty of a single ingredient, his preparation and mainly classical cooking techniques, along with careful selection of garnishes, are designed to highlight the freshness and flavour of the star element. Over elaboration, he understands, will not achieve this end.
In autumn and winter, grouse, hare and venison have proved to be popular choices. Although it is still early days, spider crab, salt cod and lamb dishes on the new spring menu have proved equally popular. In addition to his five course Gourmet Menu, Phil has recently introduced a three course Simply Grill menu featuring pork rillettes, cote de beouf and crème brulee.
Fine Dining Guide had two opportunities to sample Phil’s five course menu, finding much to admire in the restrained innovation, precise cooking, clean tastes, fine balance of tastes and textures, and elegant presentation. Over pre-prandial drinks in the lounge, different canapes were offered each night: black pudding bonbons, cheese straws, smoked salmon with crème fraiche on first, haddock goujons, aubergine mousse and olive straws on the second. Well executed, these were light, flavoursome mouthfuls.
Of the two three types of breads offered, rosemary focaccia, was outstanding in its moist crumb and crisp, fragrant crust.
A delightful amuse bouche comprised crispy, well seasoned ham hock, tangy home made piccalilli and soft boiled quail egg.
Another, a velvety cauliflower veloute, given added texture and flavour with thinly sliced florets and diced bacon, elevated this potentially bland vegetable to gastronomic heights.
Amongst first courses, a new take on a classic featured warm salt cod brandade deep fried in a crisp batter. Pickled vegetables cut the rich savoury elements of the fish whilst saffron aioli and parsley puree served as two contrasting sauces. (Wine: Fuentemilano Verdejo-Viura, Castilla y Leon, Spain)
Seared foie gras was well timed to produce a caramelised crust and melting interior. Accompanied by ethereally light watercress tempura, baby watercress, crispy chicken skin shards and a sauce of beetroot juices, this was a brilliantly conceived and well executed dish. (Wine: Terra de Asorei Alborino, Rias Baixas, Spain)
A starter of cold lobster had been well timed to retain is succulence and sweetness. Served with a simple salad of cucumber, tomato and fennel, the crustacean was allowed to take centre stage.
Phil’s signature main course proved to be a truly innovative triumph of tastes, textures, flavours and colours. Plump, west coast Scottish langoustines, wrapped in lardo di colonatta to protect their delicate texture and enhance their wonderfully fresh taste, were gently pan fried to give colour and extra flavour. This inspired technique was both simple yet skilled. Deeply flavoured squid ink risotto, seasoned with a small amount of parmesan, provided the base of the dish, whilst maple gel enlivened without overwhelming in its sweetness. Crisp wild leeks, dressed with chive oil, completed this accomplished dish. (Wine: Classic rose 2011, Chateau Massaya, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon)
Another main course of Cumbrian beef demonstrated the excellence of classical meat cookery. A tender, medium rare fillet, paired with slow cooked unctuously rich ox cheek, was garnished with creamy potato puree spiked with horseradish and sweet confit shallots. These elements were bought together by a dark, well reduced red wine sauce. (Wine: Chianti Classico 2008, Isole e Olena, Tuscany, Italy)
A breast of Goosnargh duckling – the most flavoursome of all breeds – was roasted to a pleasing medium with crisp skin. Thankfully it was not sliced. (Why many chefs insist on slicing duck breast, as if diners are incapable of doing it themselves, remains a mystery, especially as juices are lost and the dish gets cold more quickly.) Having said this, steak knives would have been appreciated, not because the duck was tough, but rather than the knife should glide through the thick breast as it would through butter. Golden beetroot, honeyed baby onions and fragrant garlic flowers were simple yet effective garnishes. (Wine: Domaine de Mortier 2009, Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France.)
Rack of spring Cumbrian lamb was slow roasted and rightly served with its full compliment of fat. This rich, sweet meat, served medium rare to maximise its flavour, was appropriately garnished with wild garlic leaves and flowers, braised piquant Jerusalem artichokes – an unusual yet satisfying garnish – and a light jus. (Wine: Sierra Cantabria 2007, San Vincente de la Sonsierra, Rioja, Spain)
Dinners at Gilpin Lodge always feature pre-desserts. The raspberry and orange flavoured granites, with their foam/ cream toppings, sampled on successive evenings, served their purpose in being palate cleansing and refreshing,
Desserts often allow for greater invention and creativity, this being no less true at Gilpin Lodge.
The most outstanding option saw strawberries treated three ways: macerated, jellied and powered. These were partnered with a red pepper sorbet of superb texture and flavour, and an intense basil jus. Shards of meringue added a crisp lightness. The overall balance of sweet and savoury flavours, soft and crisp textures, and light and dark colours made this dessert a tour de force of invention. Served on dark slate, it was also visually stunning. (Wine: Boizel Brut rose NV, Evelyne Roques-Boizel, Epernay, Champagne, France)
Another accomplished dessert was moist cherry cake, sauced with an intense cherry gel. It came with a tangy yogurt sorbet, powdered pistachio and buttermilk. (Wine: Elysium Black Muscat 2010, Andrew Quady, Madera, California, USA)
White chocolate and mascarpone had a light cheesecake texture. Garnished with pineapple poached in syrup flavoured with fennel and anise, and topped with a sugar ribbon, this was another indulgent dessert. (Wine: Domaine Rotier 2008, Renaissance, Gaillac, France)
Another innovative dessert featured a rich and well textured quennel of spiced palm sugar mousse set on a slice of gingerbread and garnished with fresh lychees and fragrant star anise powder. The dish may have benefitted from the absence of a grapefruit foam, which merely distracted from the other elements. (Chateau La Veriere 2007, Coteaux du Layon, Loire Valley, France)
Strong coffee and well made petit fours – macaroons sand chocolate truffles – provided good endings to memorable meals. These were made more enjoyable by the excellent service which was friendly, solicitous and well informed. Sommelier Ziggy Grinsbergs expertly selected wines to match each dish. It took over six tasting sessions, liaising with the chef, to finalise the flight of often lesser known bins.
Clearly, Phil Cubin is a rising star in the ultra competitive world of Lake District dining. He admits he aims to have firmly established himself at Gilpin Lodge over the next five years having further developed his own distinct style. From the evidence gained so far, he has impressed with his first spring menu and is well on the way to establishing is own reputation. We will watch his career with interest.