Set in 13 acres of gardens and grounds, with hillside views of Lake Windermere, Linthwaite House offers gourmet cuisine to match its fashionably designed, contemporarily furnished accommodation.
Linthwaite continues to be garlanded with distinctions and awards. The coveted four AA red stars for accommodation and three AA rosettes for the restaurant make it one of the leading luxury hotels in the area. Not surprising, Conde Nast Johansen granted it the “Most Excellent Country House Hotel” award
More recently, Linthwaite has won the Cumbria Life 2015 award for Best Hotel Restaurant. This is a fitting tribute to Head Chef Chris O’Callaghan, his brigade in the kitchen, and the front of house team.
Chris, who came to Linthwaite in April 2012 from the Michelin starred Paris House, part of the Alan Murchison stable of L’Ortolan, Le Becasse and The Angel in which he spent nine years of his early career. He has had three years to develop his style of cooking. In talking to Fine Dining Guide, he stressed his style had become much simpler. Initially, he was out to prove a point which led to complicated, over wrought dishes. The emphasis now is on clean tastes and tidy presentation. Achieving a perfect custard tart on his dinner menu, for instance, is more important than over-elaborate desserts.
However, simple does not mean easy, hence alongside classical skills Chris has embraced current technical wizardry. Menu descriptions give no idea of the techniques used to enhance his dishes. Chris enjoys the freedom being Head Chef has given him. Creativity there is in abundance: consider, for instance, gin cured salmon, lemon purée, and tonic sorbet, or roasted Cod, cavolo nero purée, hazelnut orzo, artichoke, and prune on the dinner menu. Combinations of ingredients are sometimes unusual but always compatible.
Chris’ passion for seasonal British produce continues. Developing good relationships with top regional suppliers guarantees quality supplies. In line with the restaurant’s excellent reputation for its cheeseboard – Linthwaite has been previously won the Cheeseboard of the Year competition – he works closely with John Natlacen of Churchmouse Cheeses in Kirkby Lonsdale, the “Best Independent Cheese Shop of Great Britain”.
With a brigade of up to nine, Chris took pride in his recruitment policy, given the difficulty in attracting and keeping young staff. His links with the local college, facilitating the training of students for Level 4 NVQs, has resulted in two ex-porters now running sections in his kitchen.
Chris commented that the recent Cumbria Life award has helped boost covers at lunch. Although the priority of his kitchen is to please the guest, regardless of price or awards, he accepted that the attractive price point, £14.95 for two courses, £19.95 for three, helped to build up a client base who will return for dinner. Currently, some 80% of guests for dinner are residents.
Menu alternatives are three in each course for lunch and double that number for dinner, (plus a special each night). Dinner costs £52 whilst a tasting menu – a feature Chris introduced – is also available at dinner for an additional £10. These prices compare very favourably with the local competition.
A diversified, award winning wine list with plenty of Old and New Worlds – includes many vintages which match the food.
Although they lack lake views, the three dining rooms – one of which is small enough for private dining – have decorative mirrors, prints, semi abstract landscape photos and antiques which gain the attention of diners. In the main 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 shades, 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
Drinks in the spacious conservatory lounge, with roaring log fire, preceded a Saturday lunch in late March.
Delicious homemade breads – wild garlic focaccia, white and wholemeal augured well for the dishes to follow.
A starter of smoked salmon mousse was smooth and well balanced. Topped with salmon eggs, the gentle saltiness of which acted as a seasoning, it was dressed with crispy skin which added texture and crispy capers which helped to cut the richness of the mousse. The clean tastes and uncluttered presentation made this a delightful first course.
Equally accomplished was a generous cylinder of ballotine of wild rabbit. Flecked with herbs and well-seasoned, it was suitably moist with a light, gamey flavour. A chutney of butternut squash and cumin added sweet and spicy notes which worked well with the more subtle taste of the rabbit. Crisp seeded puff pastry wheels provided the necessary contrasting texture to this attractively presented dish.
A main course of accurately timed guinea fowl breast was elevated to stellar heights by a seasoning of pesto, hazelnuts and black fermented garlic. Tiny cubes of white balsamic jelly added a counterbalancing sweetness and marjoram gnocchi gave the dish a herbal lift. A rich madeira reduction brought the elements together in this innovative composition, embracing both classic and contemporary techniques.
The most inventive dish was a main course of roasted cod, the soft, translucent flakes of which glistened under shards of crispy skin anointed with nodules of lemon puree. Accompanied by quinoa which gave a contrasting firmer texture, the plate was finished with a flourish of roasted aubergine puree and balls of apple and sage. Visually stunning, with imaginative combination of ingredients that worked well together, this dish typified the attention to detail given to what, in essence, was a simple dish.
Desserts continued to show the versatility of the kitchen
A supremely light vanilla cheesecake came topped with an intense mango gel. A puree of mango and a quenelle of its sorbet piped with white chocolate completed this elegant, refreshing dessert.
Finally, an indulgent dessert featured rich but light salted dark chocolate mousse and a novel hazelnut aero. Orange ice cream provided a harmonious flavour combination and poppy seed Madeleine gave contrasting texture.
Overall, this was a most accomplished lunch made more pleasurable by the knowledgeable, attentive but unobtrusive service. Having enjoyed two previous meals at Linthwaite, this exceeded our already high expectations. Clearly, Chris O’Callaghan and his team deserve the acclaim they have already achieved and have the potential to go even further developing their adventurous cuisine.