Archive for April, 2016

Hotel Review: Forest Side, Grasmere (April 2016)

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by Simon Carter

Forest Side Logo

Forest Side opened in February 2016. Within two months, this renovated hotel set back from the A591 Windermere to Keswick road and overlooking Grasmere was awarded: Best Newcomer in Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards, 2016

forestRuth Davies for Fine Dining Guide gives her impressions of Andrew Wildsmith ‘s third and most stylish hotel.

Forest Side is a triumph. Set back from the road and built on the first rise of a hill below Alcock Tarn, it detaches itself from the bustle of Grasmere, and offers a truly luxurious haven for the traveller. Initially, the grey slate roofed exterior gives a rather reserved impression and reflects its history as a hunting retreat built in the mid-19th Century for the Earl of Lonsdale. In more recent times it has seen service as a walkers’ hostel, but this year extensive refurbishment driven by the vision of its new owner, Andrew Wildsmith, has completely elevated its status to new and exciting heights.

Passing through the front door, the atmosphere changes seamlessly from bordering on the austere to understated contemporary elegance. With polished wooden flooring and willow baskets in reception, and the green Pendle Tweed livery of the staff, the hotel’s Lake District country house-party origins are cleverly referenced, creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Forest Side Bar

On the ground floor and leading off from the entrance hall is the bar. Comfortable plush sofas surround an open fire whilst the stunning wall paper featuring all manner of humming birds, parakeets and birds of paradise creates an exotic atmosphere in which to enjoy a pre dinner cocktail.

FOrest Side Lounge

Next to the bar is the sitting room, a public space of inspired modern stylishness. Wall paper simulating pewter tiles, a variety of sofas and wing backed armchairs upholstered in grey fabric, together with refined dark wood occasional tables all cleverly support the two foci of the room. These are the extraordinarily beautiful mirror over the fireplace which I instantly coveted, and of course, the magnificent Lake District views from the two huge floor to ceiling windows, one of which opens onto a newly refurbished sheltered terraced area. Champagne here in the summer is a must! It is not until one is leaving the sitting room that one notices the unobtrusive partition doors which on special occasions open to reveal the dining room.

Forest Side Restaurant2

The dining room in contrast provides a cleverly pared down backdrop to showcase Kevin Tickle’s wonderful food. It is full of light, informal yet chic, decorated as it is in natural shades. Reflecting the countryside which can be seen from the large bay window, there are arboreal references throughout. The ivory wall covering has a subtle design depicting slender stems, accentuated by the white woven willow wall panels and on the central table stands an impressive arrangement of horse chestnut branches. The dining tables themselves are a particularly interesting feature of this room, crafted from polished recycled floor boards and left bare, perfectly complementing the informal variety of stoneware tableware. Open to view, the service area completes this very appealing contemporary interpretation of a traditional dining room.
Forest Side Bed

Commitment to the Lake District is also evident in the use of wool from local Herdwick sheep in the carpets of the main staircase. The bedrooms, not numbered but named after trees, are individually styled in delicate muted shades and offer restful luxury for the tired traveller. The windows are dressed with both blinds and heavy sumptuous curtains whose fabric design is echoed in both the wall coverings and the signature canopies over the very comfortable, locally made beds. The bathrooms are superb. Push button showers, large deep baths and high quantity luxurious toiletries are guaranteed to revive weary spirits.  The attention to detail, from the stag motif on the draw liners to the tray of refreshments on theside table, is remarkable, and indicative of the ethos of the whole establishment.


An amble round the kitchen gardens is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in ‘growing your own’. The greenhouse provides the micro leaves and herbs for the kitchen. Its benches are laden with trays of a large variety of seedlings at various at ages of development, whilst to one side a line of large tomato plants soaks up the warmth of the sun. Baskets of oxalis hang from the roof and in the floor trays of more mature seedlings await planting out. Outside raised beds offer everything from soft fruits to herbs, and deep grow-bags of potatoes are lined up against the retaining walls. The care and enthusiasm of head gardener Catherine, ably assisted by Adam, is unmistakable, and are of critical support to the kitchen. However, no garden is exhaustive, and there are also opportunities aplenty for additional foraging in the surrounding 40 plus acres of forested hotel grounds.

Forest Side is a venture of which Andrew Wildsmith and his team can be justly proud. The commitment of the staff is evident everywhere and this, together with such elegant surroundings and the wonderful food of Kevin Tickle, make a visit a must.

Restaurant Review: Forest Side, Grasmere (April 2016)

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by Simon Carter

This article comprises three elements: An interview with owner Andrew Wildsmith (Below at Forest Side), an interview with head chef Kevin Tickle and an extensive restaurant review of a signature tasting menu.  Interviews took place in April 2016 and were conducted by Daniel Darwood, the food review is also by Daniel Darwood.

Andrew Wildsmith

Andrew Wildsmith at Forest Side photo courtesy of Jenny Heyworth


Fine Dining Guide had the pleasure of  interviewing Andrew Wildsmith at the award winning Forest Side in April, 2016.  This hotelier extraordinaire embarked on his journey into hospitality almost by chance. After finishing his PhD in Chemistry at Cambridge, uncertainty regarding a long term career and the on line search for a house near his native Lancaster – he is an alumnus of Lancaster Royal Grammar School – resulted in the purchase of Hipping Hall. In his own words, “the joy of procrastination and the internet” combined like serendipity to launch him on a highly successful, if unanticipated, career.

Not that his interest in food was anything new; indeed the chemistry of food as well as the pleasures of the table were key interests amongst his student fraternity. Luckily, his deep love of food, wine and service was further nurtured by his two key advisers at Hipping. Running a hotel without any professional training, including acting as a barman and waiter, proved a steep yet valuable learning curve.

The logical thinking and organisation needed to see a scientific research project through has now been applied in his pursuit of excellence in the hospitality industry. Andrew’s personal qualities have also proved invaluable as he enjoys talking to staff and guests and is able to read people quickly, appreciating their individual needs. At the heart of his philosophy of hospitality is “discovering, exceeding and managing” the  expectations of his guests. Seeing things from the customer’s point of view, especially in levels of pricing, is more important than mere accounting formulae.

Unlike many proprietors who remain anonymous and at arms-length, Andrew is fully immersed in all aspects of the hotel’s life, from the overall design concept to recruiting key staff. His priority in taking over Forest Side was to restore the bedrooms to their original size, as many had been split in two with false ceilings. Much of the design of the spectacular dining room was his own input. Indeed, Forest Side has seen considerable investment in its re-modelling as a high end country house hotel, with a hallmark of understated luxury and comfort.

Ideally, Andrew views each hotel as an “island” utilising the bounties of nature to be as self-sufficient as possible. The sourcing of local food and materials is fundamental. The development of a kitchen garden is also a high priority, hence the employment of two full time gardeners. The 46 acre forest in the hotel’s grounds gives ample opportunity for foraging. All the carpets are made from the wool of local Herdwick sheep, whilst the rustic wooden tables in the restaurant are made from the floorboards of the original dining room.

Forest Side Restaurant2

In relations with chefs, there has to be mutual respect even if there is an occasional healthy difference of opinion . It is important also that proprietors know how to cook, so they can liaise more effectively with chefs.  A recent visit to Albert Adria’s Tickets restaurant in Barcelona revealed how food could also be fun and playful, which is evidenced in some of his own chefs’ dishes.  Andrew loves being in the restaurant and kitchen, relishing the adrenalin rush of service. He not only dines in his hotels – he was hosting a lunch at Forest Side on the day of our visit – but may also help serve the guests, as witnessed during our meal at Hipping Hall.

With typical understatement Andrew says his proudest achievement at Forest Side is the “nice level of pleasure” it provides. Nevertheless, there was no denying his delight at achieving two awards after just two months of opening: Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards: Best Newcomer and Hotel Restaurant of the Year. Positive reviews in the nationals and recent feedback from the AA have also been encouraging which bode well for the hotel’s prospects in the highly competitive market of luxury Lakeland hotels.


Head Chef Kevin Tickle was born and bred in Cumbria and has spent all his professional life in some of its most celebrated kitchens: Sharrow Bay, Gilpin Lodge and L’Enclume where he spent nine years, rising to sous chef for Simon Rogan. Lured from his positon as Head Chef at Rogan and Co. in Cartmel, he took up his current post.

A forager of the Cumbrian coast and forests since childhood, often with his friend now sous chef Martin Frickel, Kevin took up preserving, pickling, fermenting, curing and distilling to maximise the potential of his kitchen larder. The development of a kitchen garden has been essential to his style of cooking which demands the freshest of ingredients

Undoubtedly, Simon Rogan has been the biggest influence in terms of ethos and style of cookery. The focus on seasonality, regionality, sustainability, organic husbandry and self-sufficiency in the sourcing of materials and produce, with the added benefits of foraging, has produced in Kevin’s cooking’s a natural food style. The French might call it a Cumbrian cuisine terroir that captures the culinary essence of the Lake District.
With dishes having relatively few ingredients, the treatment of each has to be finely judged. Precision in timing, harmony of flavours, textural interest and clean presentation are key features of Kevin’s cooking. Foraged items appear as integral parts in most dishes, not mere decorative flourishes. He shuns fancy techniques in favour of classical skills. Presenting his food on regional stoneware, slate and wood also helps to encapsulate the Lakeland feel.

Options at dinner include a three course a la carte menu, ‘The reet l’al yan’; a six course tasting, ‘the l’al yan;  and a ten course tasting menu, ‘The grand ‘un’.  At lunch the ten course tasting is available alongside a four course set menu, “The bait” These give ample scope for Kevin’s creativity in which he is assisted by his brigade of 12, especially sous chef Martin Frickel.

Forest Side Kitchen Pass

Fine Dining Guide sampled the “The grand ‘un'” on a Friday evening in April.

Seductive cocktails were prepared by Bruno Vilas whilst Dion, the sommelier was on hand to advise on the all organic and biodynamic wine list. In the end were opted for the matching wine flight.

Two amuse bouches demonstrated the precision and invention evident throughout the menu.  Celeriac cracker with apple puree and black pudding and  Ruscombe cheese cracker with “snow” playfully teased the palate and eye.

A warm country loaf had crisp crust and exceptionally light crumb. We avoided  with difficulty the temptation of eating too much which would reduce out capacity to tackle the ten courses to come

The first course featured tiny confit Jersey Royals that burst with creamy flavour. These were served with an oyster emulsion, tarragon oil, borage leaf, crispy pig’s ear and caviar. A small serving, this was a tantalising composition of contrasting textures, earthy and herbal flavours and humble and extravagant ingredients.  Wine: Sottoriva, Malibran, Veneto, Italy.


Mild, sweet salt baked kohlrabi and soft, chewy surf clams worked well with the gentle saltiness of the seaweed broth poured at the table. Foraged scurvy grass and sea lettuce added a peppery dimension to this delicate, nourishing dish. Wine: Roditis, Jason Ligas, Pella, Greece, 2014  dry, fruity, delicate.

Forest Seaweed

The next course played tricks with the eyes and taste buds. Venison Pastrami – the best I’ve ever tasted of any meat – had an enhanced gamey flavour. Enveloped by thinly sliced swede which looked like gruyere cheese,  the nutty cheese flavour was in fact provided by shavings of cora linn made from ewe’s milk. Smoked juniper yoghurt which had a strong affinity with the venison acted as a creamy base and pickled allium flowers gave a zesty lift this intriguing dish needed.


Additional theatre was provided by service at the table of homemade Forest Gin and Artemisia Tonic spiked with sea buckthorn jelly
Matching beverage: Forest Gin and Artemisia Tonic

Next, a fat hand dived West Coast scallop had a properly seared crust and soft, succulent flesh. Served with a transparent slice of “our Guanciale”, a home cured pig’s jowl, this could be seen as a playful take on the British classic scallops with bacon.  New season’s green, and scorched white asparagus, gave bold and smoky notes, whilst the dish was bought together by a conifer Douglas fir consommé.  Wine: Limney Estate, Horsemenden, Davenport, East Sussex, 2014  Dry white, aromatic.

Forest Side Scallop

The sweet and sour taste of pickled Pablo beetroot and its syrup worked well with the lactic notes of a creamy Ragstone cheese puree. Lemony fragrance was added by Sunset Velvet and hazelnuts gave crunch. Perhaps the most accomplished element on the plate was a delicate, curled sourdough crumpet, looking like paper thin melba toast with holes! The piney character of spruce pale ale, created by Catherine the head gardener in Forest Side’s own brewery, was an inspired matching beverage.

Forest Beetroot

An accurately timed fillet of beautifully fresh line caught halibut had a caramelised crust and firm flakes of opaque flesh. Steamed mussels added a deeper flavour of the sea and soft dawn radishes, nasturtium leaves all  and an oil from cuckoo flowers gave delicate peppery notes which complemented  the mild flavour of this luxurious fish.  Wine: Chablis, Cahteau de Beru, Burgundy, France  dry white, mineral finish.


Next came a carnivorous show stopper. A piglet’s jowl (and cheek), cooked sous vide then finished on the plancha had a meltingly soft texture and unctuous porcine flavour. The super-thin crisp skin was the ultimate in delicate cracklings. Fennel pollen curd gave freshness to balance the richness of the meat.  Celery and fennel stems added a slight aniseed note and birch sap – from the hotel’s own trees – save a muted sweetness. This was another innovative dish in which all the elements worked well together in an effusion of tastes, textures and temperatures. For pork lovers it was an orgasmic delight! Wine: Barolo, Sandri, Piemonte, Italia, 2008

Forest Jowl

Saving ourselves for dessert, we declined the offer of cheese but were impressed by the variety offered. Sourced from Courtyard Dairy in Settle, the all British and Irish selection were described in impressive detail by the young lady who served us.

A playful pre-dessert featured sheep’s milk ice cream, dehydrated frangipane, frozen rowan shoot, Sunset Velvet flower, and slow gin syrup, all combining to give the taste of  Bakewell tart . The plum sake liqueur was another inspired if quirky pairing which seemed to emphasise the almond flavour. Matching beverage: Plum Sake liqueur, Umeshu, Amami-Oshima.

Forest Sheeps

A dessert of scorched pear with spiced walnut cake, ginger beer jelly, beurre noisette cream, and malted tuile was a textural and taste delight, appealing to the eye as well as the palate. A technically demanding dessert, the combination of flavours worked well together, in particular the pear and ginger. Matching beverage: Homemade ginger beer

FOrest Pear

Textures of rhubarb featured the stems softly cooked sous vide, a silky smooth ice cream and an icy granita. A burnt butter tuile added a rich crispness and Sweet Cicely leaves gave a gentle aniseed flavour which enlivened the composition. A cocktail of rhubarb puree and Cremant de Loire was another harmonious match. Matching beverage: Rhubynni cocktail.

Forest Rhubarb

Delicious petit fours  which ended the meal included fudge set in small pieces like bark on a forest floor, and Douglas fir Turkish delight on a litchen base.

In just two months the kitchen and restaurant at Forest Side are operating like a well-oiled machine, but one with personality and humour. The cheerful, informative and accommodating service is overseen by the engaging Joe Thomasin and his deputy Gareth Newton.

Overall, it is clear that Kevin and his team are firing on all cylinders, with strengths in all sections of the kitchen. The invention, precision and attention to detail sustain the diner’s interest and appetite throughout the tour de force of ten courses. Given this abundance of talent, perhaps it is not so surprising that Cumbria Life awarded Forest Side the Best Hotel Restaurant of the Year so quickly. But regional awards are the first step to national recognition which will inevitably come given the progress so far. Kevin Tickle cuisine is as accomplished as that of other Michelin starred chefs in the area and beyond, so it will only be a matter of time before he achieves equal recognition. The elite corps of Lakeland chefs now has a new member!

Restaurant Review: Hipping Hall, Lune Valley (April 2016)

Posted on: April 23rd, 2016 by Simon Carter

Oli Chef b&w

At the age of 28, Head Chef Oli Martin has developed a distinctive style of cuisine that reflects his unusually wide experience. After his first position at a one rosette restaurant (four years), cooking in a French village restaurant taught him the importance of shopping in local markets for the freshest produce. Returning to England, his skills were sharpened in the kitchens of Northcote Manor and Gilpin Lodge where he spent three years.

Time out in Asia and working in Sydney for a year expanded his culinary horizons, and a period in outside catering also helped  prepare him for his current role. Amazingly, in just three months after taking up the post in January 2015, his cooking was awarded three rosettes by the AA guide, confirming Hipping Hall’s position as a destination restaurant with rooms.

Oli particularly enjoys cooking with fish and vegetables, especially roots, which offer greater outlet for his creativity and which feature heavily in his menus.  He is in the early stages of developing his own kitchen garden, already achieving self-sufficiency in herbs and berries. Not an expert forager, he uses what is easily available and forages himself on Sunday afternoons.

Having built up good relations with established suppliers of core ingredients, and benefitting from specialist produce such as locally shot venison, Oli has developed seasonally changing tasting and a la carte menus, catering for a maximum of 32 covers.

There is healthy take up on the tasting menus, with the shorter one at lunch being more adaptable, allowing greater scope to experiment with dishes. Saturday and Sunday lunches are extremely popular with locals – the term includes those from a wide radius, this being a rural area – whilst those from further afield often return to enjoy the tasting menus.

Oli is refreshingly hesitant in giving his cuisine a distinct label other than “flexible.”  With its roots firmly in the classics, his cooking shows innovation and a degree of playfulness. Menu descriptions are terse, listing the few ingredients but giving no idea of cooking methods. This results in a less cluttered, cleaner approach, with the main ingredient taking centre stage.  Contrasting textures and strong flavours to are fully evident. Not that the dishes are easy to execute, as their essential simplicity offers no room to hide, requiring accurate timing, harmonious combinations and attractive, often rustic, presentation.

Fine Dining Guide sampled Oli’s eight course tasting menu on a weekday evening in April

Pre-prandial cocktails with canapes and a dainty amuse bouche served their purpose in stimulating the taste buds
Spent bread which accompanied the tasting menu was exemplary in texture and had a pleasant slightly sweet and malty flavour.

The first course of marinated trout was lively and vibrant, the rich flavour and firm texture balanced by the acidity and softness of a yogurt dressing. Wine: Chablis, Chateau Beru, France, 2013.

Hipping Hall Trout

An innovative dish of aged duck partnered thin strips of salted and air dried Lancashire duck breast  – a process over thirty days long  – with beetroot which added sweetness and grapefruit which gave a gentle bitterness to cut the richness of the duck. Again, textural complexity came first, then the taste combinations which worked well together. Wine: Dry-Furmint, DOBOGO, Tokhai, Hungary, 2013

Hipping Hall Duck

A Dover Sole fillet was precisely timed to capture its delicate taste and the firm texture of the flesh. Diced rhubarb and homemade lardo added harmonious sweet and savoury notes that did not overpower the fish. Wilted chard completed this simple yet elegant dish.
Wine: Lugana Ca L’Orjero, Veneto, Italy, 2014.

Hipping Hall Sole

A medium rare pigeon breast benefitted from being cooked sous vide then finished in the pan. Succulent and gamey, avoiding the livery texture inferior cooking brings, it showed skill in timing and seasoning. Hazelnut butter provided a complementary earthy note, wild leeks gave texture and elderflower gel added the sweetness the dish needed. Overall this was another well balanced, precisely executed and beautifully presented dish. Wine: Barbera D’Alba, Ciabot Contessa, Umberto Fracassi, Piemonte, Italy 2011

Hipping Hall Pigeon

A moist, sweet tranche of monkfish had been lightly seared then marinated in lemon juice. Its robust qualities, both in texture and flavour, were complemented by an intense aerated fish bisque. Strands of monk’s beard added a spinach like taste to dress the fish.
Wine: Nebbiolo, Costa Bassa, Marco Fay, Lombardia, Italy, 2014

Hipping Hall Monk Fish

Loin of venison was another masterclass in game cookery. Seared and properly rested, it was a triumph of gentle gamey flavour and buttery texture. A pepper crumb added a contrasting crunch, shitake mushrooms an earthy richness, whilst wild garlic puree gave a herbal lift.
Wine: Cru-Elles, Ludovik Engelvin, Languedoc, France, 2014

Hipping Hall Venison

A refreshing pre dessert provided a veritable explosion of tastes, textures and temperatures. Salted yoghurt, puffed wild rice and mint and cucumber granite worked well together in cleansing and enlivening the palate.

The menu description for the next course, Lancashire Cheese, Spiced bread  totally understated  the playful invention of this unique dessert. The slightly salted, silky ice cream was sandwiched between biscuits made with the spices used in Eccles cakes and given sweetness with the addition of golden sultanas. A smoking cinnamon stick dipped into iced tea proved a novel twist to this delicious, witty version of afternoon tea.

Hipping Cheese

A signature dessert of Chocolate sphere, mandarin, truffle  has become so popular is stays on the menu from September to March. Vanilla and chocolate  custard encased in the delicate tempered sphere was dressed with  hazelnut  praline; caramel and feuillantine pastry. Truffle shavings running through the dish gave a heady fungal earthiness to balance the sweetness of the dish.  Mandarin sorbet of velvety smoothness and deep intensity gave contrasting taste, texture and temperature. This original, beautifully presented composite dessert, demanding a high degree of technical skill, confirmed the strengths of the pastry section.
Wine: Voudomato, Hazidakis, Santorini, Greece, 2007

Oli Chocolate Sphere

Coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal. This was enhanced by a judiciously chosen flight of wines to complement the savoury and sweet courses In particular, the Umberto Fracassi with the pigeon and Santorini with the chocolate sphere were inspired choices.

The welcoming, engaging and knowledgeable service, especially that of Clare Duthie who presented the dishes and wines, showed the front of house, ably  organised by restaurant manager Rob Scott, was on top form.

Overall, the meal we enjoyed at Hipping Hall was an unpretentious virtuoso performance showing consummate skill and mastery of a variety of techniques which do full justice to high quality ingredients. Yet, at just 28, Oli Martin has clearly has not reached the peak of his powers and has so much more to give. Having elevated the cuisine of Hipping Hall to lofty heights in so short a time, further accolades are well within his grasp. Fine Dining Guide will follow his career with interest and awaits the publication of the food guides, especially Michelin, in eager anticipation.

Hotel Review: Hipping Hall, Lune Valley (April 2016)

Posted on: April 23rd, 2016 by Simon Carter

Hipping Hall Exterior2

Hipping Hall is three miles from Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, a short drive from Junction 36 of the M6. As its owner Andrew Wildsmith is keen to emphasise, its location in the Lune Valley, with easy access to the Yorkshire Dales to the east, the Lake District to the west and the Eden Valley to the north makes it an ideal one stop venue for those with limited time to explore the region.  Many repeat guests also use it as an restful half way stop en route to Scotland.

Hipping Hall ExteriorOpened in 2005, Hipping was the first of three Wildsmith hotels, the others being The Ryebeck, which Andrew took over from his father, and the more recently acquired Forest Side, both in the Lake District. He opened Hipping without any experience of the hospitality industry and is largely self-taught. Learning on the job with the aid of trusted advisers has proved to be the most effective way of offering high quality accommodation, food and service. By 2010, so distinguished was Hipping’s reputation that the BBC chose it as one of five locations for the series The Trip, in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reviewed restaurants in the north of England. Each course was turned four times in a six hour service for filming. Andrew remembers vividly how “intoxicating” two days’ of filming were, despite it being edited down to ten minutes for television.

Ruth Davies for Fine Dining Guide gives her impressions of this AA five star / three rosette restaurant with rooms.

Hipping Hall is a delight. Tucked away behind trees and at the end of a winding drive, the first-time-guest discovers this treasure gradually. Winding its way from the cleverly disguised parking areas, the path crosses Broken Beck whose original stepping or ‘hipping’ stones gave this beautiful sandstone and slate roofed building its name. From the bridge a tiny 19th century Grade 2 listed wash house, now the wood store, can be seen perched on the bank of the stream, and behind this can be glimpsed the newly refurbished stable blocks which are an altogether different lap of luxury.

Continuing across a small paved courtyard, guests enter the spacious reception area where another reference to Hipping Hall’s historic past presents itself: a well in the centre of the floor! Fortunately for the unwary it is now stylishly planted with ferns and covered by glass.

An unassuming door to one side of the reception area hides Hipping Hall’s spectacular secret, the dining room. Having seen life over the centuries variously as a blacksmiths forge and a village meeting place, this room has been lovingly stripped back to its bare walls and rafters, and is nothing short of a 21st century interpretation of a medieval ‘Great Hall’. Referencing the one remaining 13th Century wall, it is a triumph which provides a magnificent backdrop for Oli Martin’s delicious food.

Hipping Hall Restaurant3

A large heavy wooden refectory table, featuring a splendid floral display resides in the centre of the room underneath an impressive stained oak chandelier. This is balanced perfectly by the elegant, white table-clothed individual dining tables which are arranged towards the edges of the room. One side wall features large mullioned windows which flood the room with light and are dressed with sumptuous heavy curtains hanging from wrought iron curtain poles. The equally sumptuous woven fruit design of the material echoes the fabric of an impressive tapestry on the end wall. Featuring medieval nobility on horseback and engrossed in pursuit of falconry, it would thrill the heart of any Gothic revivalist. If this were not sufficient, the opposing minstrels gallery seals the dining room’s warm historic atmosphere. The old and the new are perfectly balanced in this room and reflect the attention to detail manifest throughout Hipping Hall.


Leaving the reception area on the opposite side to the dining hall, the guest enters the sitting room and bar. As the living rooms of the original house, and with lower ceilings, they provide a cosy contrast to the grander dining room. The bar leads on from the larger sitting room and features at its centre a low upholstered coffee table surrounded by four comfortable red leather winged back chairs. The sitting room itself is calm and relaxing, and on chilly days, has a very welcoming open log fire. Subdued lighting, and comfortable arm chairs and sofas upholstered in a variety of fabrics and designs, but all in shades of aubergine, caramel and cream are arranged in small groups and  encourage the visitor to linger a while. It is now that one notices the low window seats and the garden beyond. Drinks on the lawn in the summer are a must.

Opposite the sitting room an unusual staircase with the leather handrail detailed in Hipping Hall’s Listed Building documentation, leads to a spacious landing and the bedrooms. Luxuriously comfortable, each room has its own distinctive character save for the signature patterned voile canopy over the bed. Restful shades of cream and taupe dominate with differing accent colours for each room featured variously in the plush throws or floor coverings. Large sash windows are dressed with both soft velvet blinds and floor length, heavily lined slubbed silk curtains, which most definitely keep any adverse weather away. Andrew Wildsmith’s attention to detail is evident everywhere. Bottled water beside the bed and fruit in a bowl refresh the traveller as a prelude to an indulgent wallow in a large, deep bath with a plentiful supply of decadent toiletries. And afterwards, hurrah, the oft neglected full length mirror to make sure all is in place before dinner.

Hipping Hall Exterior4

The refurbishment of the adjoining Stables is adding a very exciting new dimension to the accommodation offered by Hipping Hall. Ideal for a celebration weekend or a house party, this self-contained facility is beautiful, and with the signature attention to detail one has come to expect from Andrew Wildsmith and his team. The large central communal area of the Stable building itself is on the first floor and divided into two, a very comfortable sitting room with sofas and arm chairs upholstered in locally sourced fabrics together with oak coffee and side tables, and next to it, a dining room. This room is nothing short of inspired. A beautiful table, which extends to seat up to 14 people, is its centrepiece, and is indeed a work of art. Crafted in wood, a herringbone inlaid pattern covers the surface and immediately demands ones attention. It is beautiful. If I had to stand up to eat at this table, I would not complain. Fortunately the diner is provided with a comfortable leather chair on which to sit! Overlooking is a mezzanine which can easily be pressed into service as an area for children, as behind is an additional bedroom which I presume was once a hayloft. The Stables has its own fully equipped kitchen, staffed by a private chef, and leaves the guest to enjoy the lawns both back and front where there are ample opportunities for dining alfresco, or just the enjoyment of a preprandial drink. The bedrooms also display great attention to detail. Decorated in restful shades of cream, grey and grey-blue, and referencing the colours of the hand woven Herdwick wool throw at the foot of the bed, comfort and style are hand in hand. The baths are large and deep, and the walk-in showers offer ease of access for those of more limited mobility, with opulent toiletries aplenty.

Hipping Hall makes me smile. It is old yet modern, stylish yet relaxed, and with Oli Martin’s food, a perfect place to rest, unwind and indulge.

Restaurant Review: Bistro Provence, Leith (April 2016)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by Simon Carter


The once declining area of Leith, Edinburgh’s port, is now bustling and thriving, with an embarrassment of choice for the well-heeled diners of  Scotland’s capital. Discerning foodies need not just seek tables at the Michelin starred restaurants in the area to satisfy their gastronomic cravings. A variety of British, European and Asian cuisine is now available with highly competent cooking and prices to suit all pockets. Perhaps none gives better value for money than Bistro Provence.

Open six days a week – closed Mondays –  it offers all day dining either from the “Nibbles and light bites” menu (available from 12pm to 5pm), the “Menu du Midi” (two courses £12.95, three courses £17), or the dinner menu (£22.50 for two courses, £27.50 for three). Prices like these are rare in any part of the capital and are more surprising given the quality of the ingredients and the confidence shown in the cooking. Little wonder that Bistro Provence attracts a mixed clientele of tourists, locals and civil servants from the Scottish government buildings opposite. On the night we visited, there was a strong French contingent of diners, not just, one suspects, because of the France v Scotland rugby match the next day!

Located in a converted whisky warehouse in Commercial Street, on the site of previous French restaurants, the small wine bar by the entrance leads to a steel and glass conservatory like-dining room which is bright, airy and spacious. Echoes of industrial chic are seen in the tubular air conditioning vents and bare bricked walls of the original building.  Lighting is not too dimmed and tables are well spaced with high backed leather seating for a maximum of 30 covers. A lively buzz of contented diners adds to the relaxed, informal feel.


Multi-faceted chef patron Michel Fons leads both the kitchen and front of house teams. His extensive experience in noted Edinburgh establishments such as La Garrigue, The Plumped Horse and Kitchin, and most recently as Restaurant Manager at Gidleigh Park, has stood him in good stead for the exacting demands of restaurant life. After opening in 2013, success came early with the award of an AA rosette, recommendation in the Michelin Guide and a finalist in  the prestigious CIS excellence awards in the Newcomer of the Year category.


The Team at Bistro Provence, Sampled from on 02/04/2016


Michael has designed a menu reminiscent of his native Provence, from where he sources most of his olive oil, herbs and spices. The March dinner menu comprises a choice of five in each of the starters, mains and dessert sections – wide enough to give a real choice, but not too broad to ensure consistency of cooking by a brigade of up to four. Accuracy in timing, clarity of taste, robust flavours, harmony of textures and temperatures, and attractive but not contrived presentation are key features. Seasoning and saucing are also strengths, allowing the main ingredient to shine. Portions are large, reflecting the generosity of spirit often found in regional French bistros.

A select wine list, many available by the glass, is suitably French, and again very good value for money by avoiding excessive mark ups. We chose appropriately for this Provencal menu a  rose wine – Cuvée des Lices, Provence 2013.

Our evening meal began with crutons of sausage and red onion and cheese with walnut dressing. These served their purpose in teasing the palate but not stealing the thunder from the main event.

Sampling the Traditional fish soup was essential in this southern French restaurant, and it did not disappoint in its degree of colour and depth of flavour. Classic garnishes of rouille, crutons and Comté added texture and helped to balance the piscine intensity of the soup.

Provence fish soup

A hearty Salade Paysanne of duck and chicken livers, accurately cooked pink, came with a parmesan tuile, sauteed onions, lardons, peas shoots and a port syrup. The contrasting soft and crunchy textures, warm and cool temperatures, and sweet and savoury flavours, so typical of French salades composées, made the dish a delight to eat.


A stuffed French rabbit main course saw the bacon wrapped leg and saddle precisely timed to retain their moistness and mildly gamey flavour. Celeriac fondant & purée gave a nutty, gentle aniseed sweetness that worked well with the rabbit.  A classic finish was provided by a flavoursome but not overpowering creamy Old Grain mustard sauce.


A duck main course burst with flavours of the Mediterranean. The thinly sliced breast, cooked to a blushing pink, was enlivened by the perfume of soft and sweet roast garlic and paprika infused ratatouille. A deeply reduced tapenade sauce worked well in this gusty, strongly flavoured dish.
Desserts at Bistro Provence were equally accomplished.


Bitter chocolate tart was suitably indulgent with it dense ganache and crisp pastry. Salted caramel ice cream complemented the tart well in terms of temperature and taste.


A special of individual blueberry clafoutis was well baked to produce a crisp crust and soft, bouncy interior. My only quibble about this delicious dessert – accompanied by a velvety smooth vanilla ice cream – was the portion being rather small.


Overall, this was a most pleasing dinner, enhanced by welcoming, knowledgeable service. Perhaps the most impressive feature about the food is its essential integrity. There are no gimmicks, no excesses and no faddish techniques. It is classic bistro cooking at its best. Fine Dining Guide will follow the progress of Bistro Provence with interest, and will no doubt return to sample other dishes from its carefully constructed seasonal menu.