Archive for August, 2012

Chef Interview: Jason Atherton, Pollen Street Social (Aug 2012)

Posted on: August 20th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Jason Atherton

Jason Atherton

Jason Atherton is a chef on a mission: A mission to continually evolve and improve his flagship offering Pollen Street Social while at the same time giving others around him the opportunity to grow.  Jason found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide at his flagship restaurant, one early afternoon in August

After Maze did so well, you must be thrilled with the success of Pollen Street Social?

About 15/16 years ago I was very lucky to work along side Gordon Ramsay at Marco’s (Pierre White) before he (Gordon Ramsay) set up Aubergine.  Years later (2002) I joined Gordon’s company to head up the Verre and Glasshouse Restaurants at the Hilton Dubai Creek.

It’s been eye opening working for the two English chefs who became the two youngest to be awarded three (Michelin) stars in Europe. For the likes of Marco (Pierre-White) and Gordon (Ramsay) to have had that level of maturity in their cooking at such a young age, to achieve (Michelin) three star status, really takes some doing and is something to be highly respected!

Indeed I have found that whatever Gordon (Ramsay) turned his hand to in the restaurant world: being a head chef; being a TV chef; being your boss; publishing a cookbook; being a restaurateur; he was damn good at it and I think that has been proven.

So when Gordon (Ramsay) asked me to come to London and open Maze in partnership with him it was a dream come true!  Maze opened seven years ago and was a great success for a big restaurant.  Combining large restaurants with fine-dining had only really been seen before in the States so it was a brave concept and one that worked well – the public enjoyed it and so did the guides with some much appreciated recognition.

After seven years it was time to move on.  In terms of objectives – when you’re younger you perhaps chase the dream of accolades but as you get older you find a finer balance – having a full restaurant of happy customers is paramount and anything else that follows is a bonus and I’m delighted that Pollen Street Social has proven (touch wood) a busy restaurant.

In terms of recognition, The Good Food Guide recently made an announcement that Pollen Street Social had been promoted to 9/10 for the 2013 edition.  I was bowled over by that! It puts the restaurant in a whole new bracket.  We have new young chefs beating down my door to come and work here, to learn and develop.  As a result I have a responsibility to train these chefs for the future and it’s an honour and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

At the same time I’m always motivated to continually improve what the restaurant (Pollen Street Social) has to offer, with each new set of dishes and each new menu, we must be constantly evolving and improving, continuously striving to aim higher in our goals – to please our customers and hopefully recognition from the ‘Guides’ will follow from that strong foundation.

How was the experience of appearing on Great British Menu this year (judging Phil Howard?)

Phil Howard is a great chef, he’s a legend in this industry, he knew I would be the mentor and he was up for the challenge.  I had to be honest, if there was something I liked I said so and likewise if I wasn’t so sure.  For me, maintaining my integrity was without question the priority. As it turns out I scored him the highest of the week because his food was the best I was judging.

Jason Atherton Secret Interview

Tell us about your new upcoming show “The Secret Interview”

I’m very choosy about the TV I will do and not do; I made a rule that I wouldn’t do too much reality TV as I wasn’t convinced about the link between what I do for a living and what this kind of TV has to offer.  “The Secret Interview” happens to be a reality TV show but what made the concept stand out for me is that its one with a difference: It’s about giving talented and passionate young people a proper opportunity.

Perhaps the younger generation of today don’t realize that you have to bust a gut for 6/7 years to make a sensible start on getting where you want to go.  No nice clothes, no holidays, no new cars and so on.  I remember living with 13 other chefs in a three bedroom flat with sleep deprivation headaches: I was working in one of the best kitchens in Britain and was happy, loved it in fact – maybe the current generation would struggle with that idea.  After all, since Marco (Pierre White) and Gordon (Ramsay) who is coming through?

These young people on “The Secret Interview” thought they were on ‘Future Stars’ so were possibly playing up to the camera a little, in fact their workplace was being streamed through to me.  So when they came to interview, for example, I might ask “Do you feel so passionate about being a chef that if someone came into your restaurant at 10.45pm and you close at 11pm would you still feed them?”  I might already know the answer having seen them in their working environment.

So on one level the program was highlighting ethics.  At the end of the show one of the contestants would be offered a job being trained here (Pollen Street Social) and if they spend a year or two years with me and achieve all the right things then I could open doors for them: The top end of the restaurant world is small – everybody knows everybody and someone who grasps the opportunity being presented has a potential passport to greatness!

What is your philosophy for running a successful restaurant?

It’s about creating an environment that appeals to customers.  If you’re a good chef then cooking good food is a given.  I was excited about the opportunity to offer complete flexibility – eat one course, two or three – or come in and just have a cocktail, chat to the bar staff and so on.  We live through changing times and you have to adapt to the changing needs of your customers or your business can suffer very quickly.

What impact does the TV work have on your business?

Here’s the thing with TV – you either really enjoy it or you really don’t:  First point, if you don’t enjoy it then don’t do it!  The second is that you have to manage a careful balance, as it can help or hinder what you do in a couple of ways:  I feel, for me, its important to keep a focus on what got you on TV in the first place or you run the risk of diluting the credibility that makes you a decent chef.  At the same time if your appearances are good, business is good (for a short while), and if you are bad then business can be bad (for a long while).  So whilst I enjoy doing TV, I’m wary and wise (hopefully) to the extent and scope of the opportunity it provides.

What impact do the guides (AA, Michelin, GFG, Harden’s, Zagat or even Trip Advisor) have on your business?

They’re all important!  Although you have to maintain the right perspective.

The guides will tell you that they are there for their readers and not for chefs but yes they are important to chefs, too.  Not just from the point of view that they can affect your level of business – like no other industry chefs put their life and soul into their work and when some recognition comes along it is more than just appreciated! It’s a benchmark for chefs, no two ways about it!  When I go abroad do I use guide books, yes I do!  It remains very important but like I say, with the right perspective.

What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs of the future?

We live in a world of social media, TV, fame and fortune.  Be a chef for the right reasons, that is food: love of food: a passion for food.  Its long hours, dark days and tough times but what will get you through is a passion for food.

What are your plans for the future?

Organic growth – there’s no master plan.  Natural expansion has led to three restaurants in Asia, for example.  I don’t cook anywhere other than Pollen Street Social and that’s where I should be judged on my skill and vision.  That will remain the case for some time to come!  I plan to continue giving opportunities to others, developing them and playing a part in their careers, too.

Linthwaite House, Lake District, Hotel Review (Aug 2012)

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Linthwaite House Exterior

Linthwaite House Hotel, Lake District


Coloured wellies, arranged tidily by size, are the first things you see in the entrance porch of Linthwaite House. These essential accessories might suggest other less attractive features associated with country house hotels are present: chinz décor, antiquated furnishings, indifferent food and stuffy service.

This is far from being the case at Linthwaite, an established gem of a country house hotel in the Lake District. It has adapted to the demands of a discerning clientelle who look for fashionable design, contemporary furnishings, high quality food and welcoming service that allow them to enjoy the facilities in  comfort and ease. At the same time, other traditional country house features have been retained, such as carved wood fireplaces with real log fires, a cosy bar and a choice of lounges.

Located on the Crook Road above Bowness, Linthwaite House is set in 14 acres of gardens and woodland, the grounds enclosing a private tarn – a small lake. The Edwardian half timbered gabled building, originally a family home, maintains its domestic proportions which are part of the hotel’s attraction. Converted to a country house hotel in 1969, it was purchased by Mike Bevans in 1990. Subsequent years have seen the addition of 19 extra rooms from the original 11, and a major refurbishment which included a new wing and kitchen.

The most attractive public room is the spacious, well lit conservatory lounge, which looks onto the terrace and commands panoramic views of Lake Windermere. Complete with fireplace, sofa, chesterfields and a variety of armchairs it has a distinct lived in, relaxed feel. Here, and in the adjoining smaller lounge, guests can enjoy pre-prandial drinks, or, as an alternative to the restaurant, eat more casually from the Terrace menu, which includes the appropriately named “Unstuffy Burger.”

Linthwaite House Conservatory

 Although they lack views of the lake, unlike some other hotel dining rooms in the area, the three refurbished dining rooms – one of which is small enough for private dining – have decorative mirrors, prints, semi abstract landscape photos and antiques to gain the attention of diners. In the Billiards Dining room colours, textures and patterns are inspired by nature in a style described as “Raffles-meets-Ralph-Lauren. Green, pearl and taupe are the predominant colours balancing the fumed oak and solid wood floors. Banquette and contemporary dining chairs, in a variety of fabrics and patterns are supremely comfortable. Lighting varies from spotlights on tables, to bespoke large pendant lamps giving a background glow at a high level.

Linthwaite House Dining Room

The 30 well maintained and frequently refurbished rooms and suites benefit from a soothing Ralph Lauren style, often with smart stripes and patterned wallpaper. Regardless of size, they are well appointed, giving a relaxed, luxurious feel. There are five lake view rooms which take advantage of the hotel’s superb location.

For very special occasions, guests might book the luxury Lake View Room with hot tub or the new Loft suite which is open plan with a retractable roof, a free standing double ended Italian bath, walk in shower for two, twin hand basins and multi media entertainment.

Like other rooms, Room 24 where we stayed had bespoke hand made furniture. Decorated in a cream and yellow palette, with patterned wallpaper behind the head boards, it had a light and airy feel. The seating area had a high, comfortable two seater settee, flat screen television and an arch style hanging standard lamp. Thankfully, the twin beds were not heaped with a mountain of extraneous cushions.  The stylish full tiled and brightly lit washroom had bath, separate shower, stream free mirrors, fluffy towels, waffle bathrobes and Mouton Brown toiletries.

The service throughout our stay, whether in the dining room, lounge (below) or elsewhere, was informative, welcoming, helpful and relaxed and still thoroughly professional.

Linthwaite House Lounge

I was able to chat to Andy Nicholson who has been Operations Manager since 2004. Once head chef at Linthwaite, he still gives help if the kitchen is short staffed.  This reflects his hands on, multi tasked management style which he describes as “unstuffy.” Proud of his team of 39, three quarters of whom are British, he stresses the importance of constantly observing and analysing the quality of service in order to improve it. This involves being respectful to all staff members and adapting his approach to individuals according to their age and experience. Certainly, this has paid dividends with an average of 20-30% of staff staying for over two years, which is high for the hotel trade. Some have far exceeded this such as John, the kitchen porter with 13 years, Margaret the Housekeeper with 10, her assistant Elaine with 9 and Kate, the wedding coordinator with 6. Capping them all is Colin the gardener with 17.

With the help of his senior team comprising his deputy, two assistant managers, and a restaurant supervisor, Andy has produced a hotel whose high quality accommodation, comfortable facilities and seamless service are worthy of 4 AA red stars, with 2 AA rosettes for the restaurant. This is not to mention the host of other awards and good ratings in the food guides it has received. Given the consistently high standards, rates for return guests average at an unsurprising high of 70%. Occupancy rates can be as high as 85%, as they were with special promotions in January and February, but Andy was realistic about the limited amount of revenue they generated.

One of his priorities is to gain three AA rosettes for the restaurant. Regarding a Michelin star, he would obviously welcome one, but will not direct all his resources solely to achieving it; his main aim is to please his guests, especially his regulars, rather than Michelin.

Andy accepts the recession has influenced consumer behaviour. Whilst not unduly losing guests, he notices they are more selective in their choices and look especially for value for money. This has not depressed him or led to a relaxation of his efforts. Nor as it caused him to lose his sense of humour: he suggests wellie throwing as an alternative sport for guests staying during Olympics!

Restaurant Review: Linthwaite House, Lake District (Aug 2012)

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Chris O'Callaghan Chef

Head Chef: Chris O'Callaghan

Talking to head chef Chris O’Callaghan after a busy evening service, I was impressed by his energy, passion and sense of purpose.  He came to Linthwaite House in April, succeeding Richard Kearsley who had done much to maintain the hotel’s strong reputation for fine dining. With an impressive CV, including three years at Gravetye Manor and nine in the Alan Murchison stable of restaurants – L’Ortolan, Le Becasse, The New Angel, and most recently, Paris House, Chris was keen to add his own stamp to Linthwaite’s kitchens.

Overseeing a brigade of 9, with a minimum of five in the kitchen at any time, he describes his management style as relaxed and “even,” with no shouting, treating each member of his team as individuals. All are involved in the final development of a dish. Presently, he is collaborating with the pastry chef on a special cherry parfait.

Chris claims it is too early to define his style precisely or how it will evolve. However, he is passionate about using seasonal British ingredients. For instance, he will not use Parmesan, preferring Doddingtons cheese even though it is more expensive. Therefore, building good relationships with top regional suppliers like Lake Speciality Foods is important. Whilst he accepts foraged ingredients can be useful, they must not occupy too much of a kitchen’s time. As with most young, ambitious chefs, he has embraced modern techniques including molecular ones to maintain consistency and expand the scope of his cookery.

Whilst his personal aim is to gain a Michelin star and three AA rosettes, he accepts that pleasing his customers is paramount. He cooks for them, not for the guides, as it should be.

Having enjoyed an impressive lunch shortly after Chris arrived at Linthwaite, I was keen to return to see how his cooking had developed. I was not to be disappointed. Chris’s cooking shows great skill in its range, timing, ingredient combination and presentation. Dishes are well balanced in terms of tastes, textures and temperatures. Based on classical roots, there is a degree of restrained invention that produces elegant, sophisticated dishes.

The dinner menu offers a choice of five starters, mains and desserts. Two dishes change daily, affording a greater choice to residents, most of whom dine for more than one night. There is no tasting menu which is not necessarily a disadvantage because  more time can be spent refining the carte. Menu descriptions, although detailed, are still understated, offering nice surprises to the diner.

Dinner began with canapés of smoked salmon twirls; cheese and ham straws and honey roasted cashews and peanuts. Simple and delicious, they rightly did not steal the thunder from what was to come

Well made breads – cheese and paprika and granary with oats – had crisp crusts and firm crumb.

An amuse bouche of mushroom veloute was enhanced by a well judged addition of truffle oil.

A tart of cured pigeon retained the soft texture and gamey flavour of the bird. Sandwiched between the slices of breast and the crisp pastry base was red onion marmalade of with a perfect combination of sweet and sour. Whilst the raspberries might initially appear a superfluous garnish, the need to balance the rich oiliness of the pumpkin seeds with an acidic element justified their addition to what was overall a highly accomplished starter.

Linthwaite Pigeon

Another first course featured soft shelled crab deep fried in a ethereally light tempura batter and partnered with a quennel of sweet dressed crab, gently spiked with chilli. Delicately flavoured lemon grass jelly and a spaghetti and puree of butternut squash were brilliantly conceived and well executed garnishes. Visually, also, this dish was stunning.

Liinthwaite Crab

Two contrasting main courses were sampled. The first, a veal “cushion” or rump was cooked medium to maximise its tender, sweet qualities. This was coupled with unctuous slow cooked shin which simply melted in the mouth. Cep tortellini and puree gave a deep earthiness whilst charred onion, roasted carrot and cauliflower gave a caramelised flavour and crisp texture. A red wine reduction, given added richness by nuggets of bone marrow and a slight aniseed note of tarragon, bought the elements together in a harmonious whole. This was not a dish for the feint hearted given its generous portion size and robust flavours, but one that was exemplary in its mastery of meat and sauce cookery.

Linthwaite Veal

Lighter and more delicate but no less accomplished was a dish of poached sea bream fillets, rolled to present their attractive glistening grey skins. Perched on a bed of braised pak choi, bean sprouts and strips of red pepper, all al dente, they were surrounded by a fragrant, clear Thai consommé seasoned with tiny dried shrimps.

Linthwaite Sea Bream

Desserts offered greater scope for creativity and use of molecular techniques which were exhibited to the full.

Chocolate tart had buttery pastry and a rich ganache. This was moderated by a paste of salted grue de cacao, giving good balance to the chocolate elements. A velvety smooth and not over powerful mint ice cream added a refreshingly light note whilst shards and cigarettes of meringue gave crisp texture and contrasting colour.

Another dessert featured poached meringue flavoured with vanilla, lemon crumble, strawberry compote and an exemplary strawberry sorbet. This was a happy marriage of flavours and textures that again showed the undoubted skills of the pastry section.

Linthwaite Strawberry

The dinner ended with coffee and truffles and passion fruit jellies, made with the same care and attention to detail given to what preceded them. Overall, this was a distinguished meal, with only one minor hiccup and many high points. Chris has lost no time in establishing himself as a rising star in the Lake District, certainly one with Michelin star potential.  We shall all watch his career with interest.

Which? Good Food Guide: Press Release (2013)

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Competition at the top as The Good Food Guide announces best restaurants in the UK

The 2013 Which? Good Food GuideChef Simon Rogan’s Cumbrian restaurant, L’Enclume, has achieved a perfect 10 in The Good Food Guide 2013* for the very first time, it is revealed today, as the bestselling restaurant guide publishes its annual ranking of the UK’s Top 50 restaurants**.

Restaurants in The Good Food Guide are awarded a cooking score out of ten, with L’Enclume joining Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck as one of only two restaurants in the UK to achieve this hallowed rating. Whilst The Fat Duck retains the number one spot in the Top 50 ranking, L’Enclume is biting at its heels at number two.

Elizabeth Carter, Consultant Editor of The Good Food Guide, explains what makes L’Enclume so deserving of its perfect 10 cooking rating: ‘L’Enclume is mind-blowing. It’s a world-class destination in harmony with its local community, serving food that is hard-wired to the Cumbrian soil. Rogan creates miracles from nature; he cooks what the land can provide – nothing more, nothing less. Eating at L’Enclume is a unique, almost one-to-one experience. It is quite simply astonishing.’

Simon Rogan, chef patron of L’Enclume, comments on his success: We are over the moon and never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get the maximum score. It’s brilliant for the team as now we are among a very elite company of people who have achieved this status, but we will continue to push forward with all the projects we have going on up here and try our best to make it even better.’

The Good Food Guide’s annual Top 50 restaurant ranking is highly regarded by chefs and restaurant-goers alike, with particular attention paid to those chefs and restaurants who make it into the top 10.  Restaurant Sat Bains, in Nottinghamshire, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in London, stick at the number three and four spots respectively. Cornish favourite Restaurant Nathan Outlaw retains the number five place with Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, in London, rising to number six. Raymond Blanc’s always-popular Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is ranked seventh; Hibiscus in London, eighth, and The Square, also in London, is ninth.  London restaurant The Ledbury, hit by rioters a year ago, features in the top 10 listing for the first time at number ten.

The sheer quality of all the restaurants who take the top 10 places in the restaurant listing begs the question: are we living in a culinary golden age?

Elizabeth Carter answers: ‘As far as The Good Food Guide 2013’s top 10 restaurants list is concerned, the answer is unquestionably yes. Times might be hard but at the top end each restaurant which features in the top 10 is hitting new heights in terms of creativity, confidence and sheer flavour. If ever there were a blueprint for world-class restaurants, this top 10 is it, and they are all here for us to enjoy in the UK.’

The Good Food Guide 2013

Top 50 Restaurants – Complete List

Cooking score shown in brackets

  1. The Fat Duck, Berkshire (10)
  2. L’Enclume, Cumbria (10)
  3. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottinghamshire (9)
  4. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London (9)
  5. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall (9)
  6. Pollen Street Social, London (9)
  7. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire (8)
  8. Hibiscus, London (8)
  9. The Square, London (8)
  10. The Ledbury, London (8)
  11. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London (8)
  12. Le Champignon Sauvage, Gloucestershire (8)
  13. Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House, Buckinghamshire (8)
  14. Le Gavroche, London (8)
  15. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London (8)
  16. Whatley Manor, The Dining Room, Wiltshire (8)
  17. The Waterside Inn, Berkshire (7)
  18. Midsummer House, Cambridgeshire (7)
  19. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London (7)
  20. Pied-à-Terre, London (7)
  21. The Kitchin, Edinburgh (7)
  22. Murano, London (7)
  23. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh (7)
  24. Gidleigh Park, Devon (7)
  25. Fraiche, Merseyside (7)
  26. Robert Thompson at the Hambrough, Isle of Wight (7)
  27. The Crown at Whitebrook, Gwent (7)
  28. The Pass, West Sussex (7)
  29. Michael Wignall, the Latymer at Pennyhill Park Hotel, Surrey (7)
  30. Fischer’s Baslow Hall, Derbyshire (7)
  31. Hambleton Hall, Rutland (7)
  32. The Peat Inn, Fife (7)
  33. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Tayside (7)
  34. The Old Vicarage, Derbyshire (7)
  35. The Artichoke, Buckinghamshire (7)
  36. The Hand & Flowers, Buckinghamshire (6)
  37. Purnell’s, West Midlands (6)
  38. Tyddyn Llan, Denbighshire (6)
  39. Mr Underhill’s, Shropshire (6)
  40. Bohemia, Jersey (6)
  41. The Sportsman, Kent (6)
  42. The Creel, Orkney (6)
  43. Simon Radley at Chester Grosvenor, Cheshire (6)
  44. The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill, North Yorkshire (6)
  45. The Royal Oak, Paley Street, Berkshire (6)
  46. Galvin La Chapelle, London (6)
  47. Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, Cornwall (6)
  48. The Box Tree, West Yorkshire (6)
  49. Castle Terrace, Edinburgh (6)
  50. Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk (6)

Holbeck Ghyll, Lake District, Hotel Review, July 2012

Posted on: August 1st, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Holbeck Ghyll

“Had William and Beatrix Heelis stayed at Holbeck Ghyll they’d never have bought Hill Top.” Lloyd Owen’s comment typifies the high regard in which the hotel is held. He and Renée Zellweger stayed a fortnight in April 2006 whilst filming Miss Potter. Joseph Fiennes described Holbeck Ghyll as “gorgeous (with) fantastic views, hospitality and food.” And it was no surprise that Michael Winterbottom chose it for his quirky series The Trip, which saw Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon lunching in the restaurant during their gastro tour of the north.

Not that the hotel needs celebrity recommendation to attract visitors; indeed its stunning location, luxurious accommodation, excellent restaurant and friendly, professional service speak for themselves. They have made it a magnet for discerning guests, many of whom return. A member of the Small Luxury and Pride of Britain hotel groups, Holbeck Ghyll currently holds four AA red stars and three Rosettes in addition to its Michelin star which it has held for twelve years.

Named after the rocky stream that cascades down its woodland grounds, Holbeck sits proudly on a hillside between Bowness and Ambleside, commanding views of Lake Windermere and the peaks beyond – Scafell, Langdale Pikes and the Old Man of Coniston. This is an important selling point but by no means the main one.

The original house of grey stone and slate, complete with bay windows, gables and turret, presents a solid and imposing façade which totally belies the elegance and comfort within. Bought by Lord Lonsdale in 1888, the first president of the AA for use as a hunting lodge, it was given an Arts and Crafts makeover with its well-proportioned solid forms, brick fireplaces, wooden fittings and stained glass windows above the main staircase. Overall, Holbeck Ghyll has a distinct period feel without seeming antiquated.

This is immediately evident in spacious oak panelled reception hall with inglenook fireplace, real log fire and cosy Parker Knoll chairs. Equally relaxed seating, in a variety of styles and sizes, can be found in the two lounges, with their Bergerac furniture, heavy curtains, oak panelling, rich red walls and polished wood floors with rugs coverings. This contemporary chic avoids over elaborate chinz which is the bane of so many country house interiors.

Holbeck Ghyll Reception

The main Dining Room, lit by a tall bay window giving lake views, emphasises the traditional hunter’s look with its oak panelling, varied sized bare wood tables with place mats, chairs without arms and sconce lamps. Adjacent is the Terrace Dining Room with its more sophisticated décor: Furnishings of tapestry style green, heavy curtains, larger dressed tables and chandelier lighting. For someone who slouches when dining, the elegant carver chairs confirmed this room as my choice for dinner.

Holbeck Restaurant views

The main house provides 14 individually designed rooms and suites with six more in The Lodge. Using the particularly detailed literature and website, potential guests can choose rooms with twin, double, king sized or four poster beds, whirlpool baths, double showers, balconies, and private terraces.

Behind the main house, a collection of former private houses and bungalows have been adapted to offer extra, adaptable accommodation. Amongst these, all the Mere suites with lake views have recently been refurbished. The most luxurious accommodation is probably the Miss Potter suite, with 325 square metres of living space and a large private terrace, with a sunken hot tub. The Sheiling suite (a separate house) has room for more people with two double bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge with French windows and balcony and private garden.

Madison House, where we stayed, is a de luxe cottage suite, originally a private bungalow. With two double bedrooms, one en suite and one single bedroom, separate bathroom, lounge, kitchen and utility room, it is perfect for a family or small group

Holbeck Madison House View

The lounge, with its pastel shade decor, exposed brick walls, real coal fire, timber lined ceiling, strip lighting and fitted beige carpet has a distinct 70s feel, but no less appealing for that. The LCD satellite television, DVD player and music centre bring the room up to date, whilst the lavender coloured three piece suite offers comfortable seating. The double aspect French windows with panoramic views of Windermere give access to a small terrace with table and chairs, a hot tub – which, sadly we unable to use due to the inclement weather – and a private garden with sun loungers.

In the bedrooms, Egyptian cotton sheets and soft feather pillows provide luxurious bedding. Simple yet elegant dressing tables and mirrors, bedside tables and lamps contrast with the wall mounted LCD televisions. Less is more as a mountain of extraneous cushions which seem to inhabit most hotel bedrooms were mercifully absent. Bathrooms are well appointed, one with an ultra modern deep bath with pull out shower attachment, the other with a huge walk in shower. Slippers, sumptuous fluffy towels, thick bath robes and designer toiletries make using these rooms a pleasure.

Other accommodation features The Lake View rooms and Junior Suites (pictured) which are large, bright and airy and boast fabulous views over Windermere lake and the surrounding fells.

Holbeck Lake View Room

As is often the case, it is the small touches that make all difference: the personalised greeting and hand made chocolates in the reception area; proper hooked wooden hangers in the built in wardrobes – unlike the horrendous security style ones in corporate hotels; a hot water bottle, shoe mitt and sewing kit in the bedroom drawer; fresh milk in the fridge; Hildon water placed in the bedrooms after being turned down; and, best of all, a decanter of locally distilled damson gin in the sitting room!

Andrew McPherson General Manager

General Manager, Andrew McPherson

All of the above make for a care free, agreeable stay with wonderful views regardless of the weather. But Holbeck has a lot more to offer.

The Health Spa, managed by Mrs McPherson, has sauna, steam room and treatment rooms using the therapeutic qualities of E’spa products for revitalisation and rejuvenation.

In good weather, walks to Troutbeck or Ambleside are popular. Alternatively, use can be made of the tennis court, croquet lawn and putting green.  For the more active, the concierge can arrange a variety of activities with local providers. These  include horse riding, professional bird watching, cycling, climbing, canoeing, and clay pigeon shooting. The more adventurous might opt for a hot air balloon or helicopter ride, or the hire of a supercar. For a indulgent, more sedate treat, a luxury Michelin picnic can be enjoyed after being driven to a location in a vintage 1932 Rolls Royce.

Overseeing the whole operation is Andrew McPherson (left), whose aim is to “create your home in the English lakes.”  The high 70% return guest rates are a testament to his success.  Managing five deputy managers and 38 staff – a high staff to guest ratio – is no mean feat, but a hands on approach and leading by example have paid dividends in maintaining the high levels of hospitality for which the hotel is renowned. This consistency is partly due to the longevity of service of many of the key players in an industry not famed for staff retention: Head Chef Dave McLaughlin has been in post for 12 years; Mildred the housekeeper for seven; the Head housekeeper and maintenance man for five years and the restaurant manager for four. Capping them all is Lionel, the pastry chef, who has worked at Holbeck for a remarkable 17 years.

From check in to departure, staff at Holbeck could not have been more obliging. The assistant who showed us to Madison House was charming, thoughtful and comprehensive in his description of the suite’s facilities. My fussy request for a brightly lit corner table with carver chairs was happily met. The sommelier kindly listed in detail the wines we had for dinner. And my private interview with the chef was seamlessly arranged.

Whatever the weather, a stay at Holbeck Ghyll is an ideal way to unwind and relax, especially after a long drive from the south. Guests can be confident in the knowledge that the rooms and facilities will be excellent, the food exquisite and the service faultless.

Holbeck Ghyll, Lake District, Restaurant Review, July 2012

Posted on: August 1st, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

 Holbeck Restaurant

With twelve years at Holbeck Ghyll and previous experience under Michelin starred chefs at (the now closed) Michael’s Nook, not to mention numerous stages in top end kitchens like Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Dave McLaughlin is one of the most experienced head chefs in the Lake District. I was lucky to be able to chat to him before a busy day’s service.

Head Chef Dave McLaughlin

Dave McLaughlin Head Chef

His calm, thoughtful manner is reflected in his quiet, firm but fair management of his brigade of eight. Whilst his pastry chef has worked at Holbeck for 17 years, five more than himself, other members average two years service which he stresses is good for the restaurant industry. He accepts that whilst beautiful, the area offers a limited range of diversions for younger chefs in their spare time.

Dave describes his cooking style as “classical with modern twists.” Conscious of the need to appeal to a range of guests who dine, often for more than one night, he needs to keep his seasonally changing menu suitably varied, whilst avoiding outlandish yet fashionable combinations. This is partly why he eschews the excesses of molecular gastronomy and the faddishness of movements such as foraging. The main reason, however, is his love of classical cuisine.

Dave has neither a signature nor a favourite dish, but admits a preference for cooking fish dishes. His natural modesty means he dislikes being filmed, although he admires TV chefs who have previously made a success of their restaurant careers. He has little time for mere celebrity chefs with no real experience in the industry.

Asked what the unique selling point of his cooking would be, Dave emphasizes its consistency, which has been recognised by a Michelin star for twelve years running. This contrasts with other notable hotel restaurants in the area which have won then lost their stars.

As for the future, Dave is philosophical and takes each day as it comes. He is not complacent about his success but clearly enjoys being at Holbeck Ghyll.

In addition to its Michelin Star and three AA rosettes, the restaurant at Holbeck Ghyll has been awarded a host of accolades. With regular high marks in the Good Food Guide, this publication also named it Cumbrian Restaurant of the Year in 2010 and ranked it 23rd best in the country in 2011. In the same year, the Sunday Times Food list placed it 41st out of the top 100 restaurants.

The menu structure features a carte of five starters, mains and desserts plus the cheese trolley. A tasting menu of four savoury courses plus cheese and dessert can be taken with an optional flight of wines.

Our dinner on a Tuesday evening in late July began in the lounge with pre prandial drinks and well made canapés. Amongst these, a disc of duck boudin was well flavoured, its richness cut by a tiny quennel of fruit chutney. The white crab meat mayonnaise in a filo pastry case was sweet and fresh. A crumbed salmon goujon retained is fish’s moistness. And a deep fried risotto ball was both crisp and soft. The attention to detail here was impressive, auguring well for the rest of the meal.

Holbeck Canapes

A selection of breads – walnut and apricot, brown, white and cheese – were all well baked, with crisp crusts and firm textured crumb.

An amuse bouche of smoked chicken and celeriac veloute was pleasingly light with good depth of flavour.

With preliminaries over, the two starters immediately impressed.

Three large hand dived scallops from the west coast of Scotland had been seared to produce a caramelised crust and sweet, succulent flesh. Resting on a smooth puree of spiced cauliflower, and interspersed with tiny beignets of deep fried florets, the delectable bivalves were lifted by a puree of apple and raisin which added the citral note the dish needed. Whilst not original in its combination of ingredients – scallops, cauliflower and raisins have been used and abused by lesser chefs – the quality of the main ingredient, coupled with precise timing and clean presentation, made this a dish which could not be improved. The matching Chardonnay wine had an elegant minerality, a little citrus and oak which added roundness and pleasant mouth feel. (Wine: Macon –Solutre, Caves, Auvigne, 2011, Burgundy, France)

Holbeck Scallops

A warm mousse of foie gras had a good balance of liver, cream, egg and cognac, producing a light but rich “flan” poached to a gentle wobble. Now rarely prepared in all but the most classical of kitchens, this was a delightful way to enjoy the unctuous offal. Braised Puy lentils and tiny girolles provided a warm earthiness, whilst crisp pancetta and deep fried leeks added contrastingly crisp textures. The crowning glory was a simple pea foam which gave a lively freshness and vibrant colour to this well executed, visually stunning dish. The clean, crisp qualities of the accompanying Chenin Blanc, with its low acidity and minerality, provided an excellent foil to the essential richness of the mousse. (Wine: Rudera Chenin Blanc, Stellenboch, South Africa 2009)

Holbeck Foie Gras

A main course of roasted wild turbot amply demonstrated the chef’s skill in fish cookery. The dense firm flesh of the brilliant white fillet was perfectly cooked to retain its delicate sweetness. Creamed leeks, trompettes de mort, crisp ham and cubes of potato fondant were flavoursome, well judged garnishes, whilst the whole dish was brought together by an intense but not over reduced rich wine sauce.

Holbeck Turbot

Best end of Cumbrian lamb with a herb crust was cooked to a blushing pink which maximised its rich flavour and tender texture. The vegetable garnishes – olive gnocchi, confit peppers, sauted courgettes and aubergine caviar  – evoked all the summery flavours of the Mediterranean. Again, the refined red wine saucing of this dish was major strength. The full bodied Cabernet Shiraz with its ripe plum and berry bouquet and spicy notes was another well chosen matching wine. (Wine: Cabernet Shirax Explorer; 2010, Langhorn Creek, South Australia)

Holbeck Lamb

Like the turbot dish, the lamb course did not experiment with unusual combinations or faddish modes of cooking, but used tried and tested combinations and techniques to produce a highly accomplished finished product, exemplifying the best of classical cooking.

An impressive trolley of nine British and four French cheeses, soft and hard, mild and strong, goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s, offered an embarrassment of choice. Thankfully, the restaurant had a cheese menu, the tasting notes of which greatly aided the final decision. The three chosen, Epoisses; Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Wigmore from Berkshire were all in perfect condition.

For desserts, the favoured approach is the assiette, which gives full scope to demonstrate classical techniques. Lionel, the pastry chef, has seventeen year experience at Holbeck, so a highly polished performance was anticipated and received.

A lemon plate featured a light mille feuille of lemon mousse; glazed lemon tart; rich lemon crème brulee; iced lemon parfait and a refreshingly intense lemon sorbet. Frankly, the assembly, a tour de force in itself, did not need the passion fruit sauce, except, perhaps, for colour contrast.

Holbeck Assiette

The other dessert chosen was equally accomplished and more inventive. Vanilla poached pineapple, velvety smooth coconut sorbet and tangy cubes of passion fruit jelly were set against deep fried banana beignets. This comprised a highly satisfying juxtaposition of flavours, textures and flavours which worked well together.

The selection of petit fours: chocolate truffle, orange tuile, Turkish delight, pistachio macaroon and salted caramel were all models of their kind. The only weakness in the whole meal was the blackberry jelly, which had too much gelatine. This is a tiny criticism in what proved to be a memorable meal, one that fully justified its Michelin star.

Food service was young, accommodating and knowledgeable. Being thoroughly professional, it avoided – thankfully – the relaxed casualness and over familiarity that can blight even the best restaurants.

Wines were expertly chosen by sommelier Stefan Lydka, who chose from a lavish and evolving list dominated by France which was awarded the Good Food Guide Wine List of the Year for 2009.

Stefan Lydka Sommelier

Stefan Lydka Sommelier


Given the skill of cooking, the distinguished wine list and the seamless service in the celebrated surroundings of a top country house hotel, it is little wonder that many diners return. They can be assured that their meal will be produced to a consistently high standard, using top quality ingredients, the sine qua non for a Michelin star.