[Ambleside, Cumbria] Lake Road Kitchen

I can’t recall a meal where the front of house staff have shown so much enthusiasm for the ingredients or have knowledge of them. There’s an air of the Scandi about the Lake Road Kitchen – the walls lined simply with planks of unfinished wood; the menu having a strong element of the foraged and the preserved. When we booked, we were offered the choice of a five or eight course tasting menu. Although there’s a now also a short carte, we stuck with the eight courser. It starts with home baked sourdough which was an absolute belter. They’ll sell you a loaf for around £7.50, although we heard one customer trying to bargain it down to a fiver. An offer which the chef rightly rejected, saying he’d rather crumb it than sell at that price.

Next, there’s some finger food. In this case, braised snails, with a miso reduction, along with nasturtium leaves and flowers. We’ll never be the greatest fans of snails, but these were OK. They were followed by a single perfectly cooked scallop in a sunflower seed dressing and a fennel salad. A little scrambled egg follows, enhanced with the last of their preserved winter truffles and the first of the summer truffles. Perfectly balanced.

Roasted beetroot chunks form the main part of the next dish, along with a mild soft goats curd, acting almost as a dressing. There’s contrast from roasted pear, together with foraged wild watercress and sweet woodruff. A fish course features turbot, perfectly cooked with just a tad of the translucent in the thicker parts. There’s shaved raw asparagus giving a crunchy texture contrast.

The restaurant buys in whole lambs from a local farm, butchering it themselves. The current beast was a milk fed lamb – the last of them before they go out to pasture. Our portions are presented as a rack which is then taken away to rest and be plated. It comes back with girolles and a broad bean puree. I mentioned that they are big on preserving and these broad beans are last years crop, frozen away and now being finished off before a new crop starts.

And then it’s on to desserts. Unusually for us, we find them to be the best courses of the meal. First up is a buttermilk ice cream, a compote of last year’s gooseberries and a linseed crispbread. It’s suggested we get a bit of everything on the spoon, as they reckon that’s the best way to enjoy it. And, yes, it is – rich creamy ice cream, sweet yet sharp berries and the savouriness of the seeds.

And, finally, a crème fraiche tart encased in buckwheat pastry. It’s topped with a raspberry gel made, now unsurprisingly, from last year’s berries. The plate’s decorated with new season berries and there’s a smear of a not too sweet caramel dressing brushed across the plate.

They’re trying hard here. And getting it right.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold