[Grasmere, cumbria] Forest Side

We’d spotted this place in the last Michelin listings and thought it just had to be worth a try as it’s only a couple of hours drive away. There’s a short “a la carte” menu but their main “thing” is the tasting menu – offered at either six or ten courses. That’ll be the ten, please.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that tasting menus are not our preferred way of eating these days – they just seem a bit Noughties. And it’s always a risk that there’ll be something you’re not that keen on. So, it ended up being a bit of a dinner of two halves. I was fine with everything but, for my partner, there were a number of courses that ticked the “not keen on……” box. Unusual and a bit of shame to have the box ticked that often, whether it was an ingredient (goats cheese or sweetbread), a texture (pig ear terrine) or a cooking method (very, very rare lamb). But, to quote the words of the Johnny Mercer song, you’ve got to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative……and don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” And I suppose the main positive is that it meant I got a number of “seconds” of things the partner was passing on.

And the next positive, in my book, is that they don’t call canapes, “canapes”, but “snacks”. All single bite, there’s a soft cooked egg yolk and ham on a crisp of some sort or another. Also on a crisp, is black pudding. There’s also a little hen of the wood mushroom, served raw and dressed with a smoked oil. It’s fab. Maybe even more fab that the squirrel bon-bon – a crisp coating round the meat and a lightly spiced dab of mayo to dunk it in.

A basket of bread is brought – slices of sourdough and, I think, a rye wholemeal. And two butters. All really good. Which is as well, as these will be your carbs for the evening.

For the first course listed on the menu, there’s the crisp of toasted quinoa surrounding charred cauliflower. It sits on a Dale End cheddar puree. Dale End is made in North Yorkshire by a community of people with learning difficulties. Well, they know how to make a damn fine tangy cheddar. On top, there’s bitterness from Douglas fir.

Then there’s the pigs ear terrine. A bit chewy and gloopy at the same time. I can see why the partner might not have been keen on it but it tasted fine. Came with a welcome astringency from kimchi.

Venison pastrami was probably the partner’s favourite dish – and I can see why. There’s the usual sweet pepperiness that you get in a pastrami cure. There’s a yoghurt dressing heavily flavoured with juniper – a perfect accompaniment to venison. And cheese as well playing a supporting role – in this case Cais Na Tire from Tipperary.

Both of us were underwhelmed with a crayfish dish. Neither the celeriac nor the pigginess from a home made guanciale really added anything to lift it.

On the other hand, a dish of baby onions slow cooked in dashi were a triumph (assuming you don’t have an issue with goats cheese). There’s black garlic and a sage & onion stuffing had been dried out and turned into a powder to scatter across. The cheese is Ragstone and the partner has an antipathy to all goats cheese and, particularly, as here, when it’s a flavoursome one. Me? My normal moan about goats cheese is that it’s mild and bland – so I loved this.

A fish course next. Cod. Just cooked and still translucent. You really wouldn’t want it any less cooked. It’s flavoured, very lightly, with dill and decorated with crosnes (like tiny Jerusalem artichokes). The cleverness here is that, whilst the accompaniments contributed towards making it a complete plate, nothing fought with the simple flavour of the fish.

Herdwick hogget was the final savoury dish. Now Herdwick is our favourite sheep to eat. It’s always packed full of flavour and, even more so here, with the extra aging of the hogget. There’s a slice of shoulder, perfectly tender and another slice of the aforementioned very rare lamb. I’ve no real problem with lamb this rare but even I would agree it’s better when a little more cooked. But I was chuffed to get the “seconds” here. A charred spring onion made a minimal contribution to the “five a day”. Served separately in its own bowl, a perfectly tender sweetbread with a set smoked potato custard.

The first dessert was, I think, my favourite dish of the evening. Sweet cicely had been juiced then frozen into pea-sized balls by liquid nitrogen. I don’t think we’d ever tasted this before but you look at the peas and are then disconcerted by the sweet aniseed flavour which lingers through a sheep’s milk curd. Next there’s very seasonal rhubarb, not overly sharp, with a duck egg custard. And, finally, a concoction of dandelion root and a powerful flavour of coffee. A highly appropriate way to end a meal, as it was just led into an espresso and a couple of petit fours.

It’d been a well designed and well executed meal that had given us plenty to chat about, in spite of not everything ringing a bell for both of us.


Thanks for the vivid description.

I tried to look up a picture of cicely, didn’t seem to remind me of anything, I assume that I had never tried it before. The desserts were unusual.

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Jay Rayner does Forest Side.

But you read it here first.

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Thanks for this! Great write up; I hope to get to some of these places one day.

I’m sure it must be possible to get a bad meal in Cumbria - but I’ve never had one.

My bet is for Lake Road Kitchen at Ambleside to get a Michelin star this year, or next year (*). Local Cumbrian produce cooked in a Noma-esque foraging way.

(*) You may wish to ignore that prediction. My past guesses for stars for Manchester places have been so dire that I’ve given up - although I may change my mind after a meal later in the week at the Midland French.

Hardens reports that the chef, Kevin Tickle, is to shortly leave the restaurant.

It’s difficult to guess what will happen next, as Tickle was very much the driving force. He is Cumbrian and his menus reflect the local produce. If the hotel can attract a chef with a similar committment then all may be well. But, if not, the South Lakes area is awash with good restaurants, several of them also Michelin starred (or knocking on the door of stardom), and competition is tough. I’m thinking of places like the Samling at Windermere. … gets a star one year, loses it the next, gets it back two years later, loses it again…

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