This wasn’t the first time eating at Gilpin. We came for a very enjoyable lunch back in 2010 and decided that we’d return to stay at the hotel. It’s taken those years for a suitable event to arise in our lives that justifies the cost of a stay.
There’s now two restaurants. There’s the original Modern British in the main hotel, now renamed “Hrishi”, after the Head Chef Hrishikesh Desai. It was awarded a Michelin star last year. And, in a separate building, there’s the new informal “Gilpin Spice”, which Desai also oversees. We were staying two nights so were able to eat in both. And both are good, in their distinct ways, and deserve to be treated as separate restaurants in their own right.
“Spice” is a contemporary space, with open kitchen – a world away in atmosphere from the classic country house hotel set-up of the main building. It offers a pan-asian menu, with small or large plates, designed for sharing. There’s also a tasting menu, also designed for sharing, which is what we went with on the basis of “in for a penny, in for a pound”. And, speaking of money, it proved to be a bargain at £70 for two people. We weren’t convinced that the fusion across Asian cuisines would work offering, say, an Indian spiced minced lamb dish, along with a Thai inspired pawpaw salad. But it does work. The dishes themselves were faultless and one worked with the next. Food came in three waves.
The first brought a lightly spiced tomato soup, packed with flavour and tempered by coconut milk, along with the very citrusy pawpaw salad and a version of bhel puri. Now, OK, the latter might not have had the vibrancy of the best versions we’ve eaten, but it was none too shabby.
As we were finishing off these dishes, the next wave arrived. There’s soft shell crab with slaw and chicken satay with peanut sauce and cucumber. Both pleasant enough but not “WOW!” dishes.
So far, these have been well portioned dishes. Not the tiny offerings you often get with a tasting menu, but not full-size. So, it was a bit of a surprise just how generous the main course servings were. You’re not walking away hungry. There’s a bowl of keema and peas, nicely spiced with nothing too aggressive. There’s a bowl of very simply stir fried vegetables – plain except for basic seasonings. That was a good idea as it contrasted with the keema and the final dish – a fillet of mackerel in a poky Thai green curry sauce. And good, slightly sticky, rice.
We were full but greed got the better of one of us, ordering an Alphonso mango kulfi. Absolutely delicious in itself and topped with candied fruit for great texture contrast. Just lovely.
We could barely wait for the second night. That started with nice canapés in the bar – particularly tasty arancini and slightly weird curry flavoured popcorn. The latter seems typical of Desai’s cooking here. At first glance, you see a fairly typical high-end Modern British menu. But read through the description again and you’ll see most dishes include an asian flavouring somewhere along the way. There’s subtlety in this with none of the predominance you could get with the likes of chilli and coriander. The amuse was a good start. Cauliflower pannacotta with pickled cauli, cashews and wine soaked raisins. Great balance of flavours and textures.
A crab starter wasn’t such a success. There was a crab cannelloni that was underseasoned, and a nice crispy soft shell crab. But the delicate flavour was overwhelmed by cubes of melon and a cold melon soup, slightly spiced with cumin seeds. I could see what Desai was getting at here, but it seemed a way off the finished article. The other starter was a sort of “textures of tomato” affair – wine vinegar marinated toms, a tomato sorbet and a cold tomato “essence”. There’s bit s and bobs of other stuff, like an olive oil jelly. And a goats cheese mousse that packed a flavour punch, unusually for goats cheese, this was actually pretty goaty. Light, and very summery.
There’s perfectly cooked fillet of Buccleuch beef, sprouting broccoli, asparagus, a red wine sauce – all fairly classic accompaniments. What was not classic was a shallot stuffed with curried beef. Great idea but the curry flavour tended to detract from the flavour of the fillet. After the first nibble, it was left until everything else on the plate had been eaten, before it could be properly enjoyed in its own right.
The other main course was a version of “lamb three ways”, featuring the very local, very tasty Herdwick lamb. It gets its flavour from running up and down the fells. There was perfectly pink fillet, a little braised neck in Indian spices and a mini shepherds pie. There’s crushed peas and asparagus to complete a very summery plate.
Pre-dessert was a delight – raspberry mousse and mint sorbet – the sort of flavour combination that’s going to work in any dessert.
We both fancied the same dessert. It proved to be quite a busy plate but one that worked. There’s slices of slightly softened apricots, cubes of pistachio sponge, candied pistachios, raspberries and a white chocolate mousse. Really good.
As mentioned, “Hrishi” got its Michelin star last year. Now, I understand that, at one star level, Michelin only looks at the food and doesn’t consider service. Which is probably just as well. The food was excellent - creative and generally successful. But there were gaps in the service and, for once, I don’t think the kitchen was the main problem. It took an overly long time for orders to be taken in the bar and there was another overly long wait for dessert orders to be taken. When you have gaps like this, it does nothing for the flow of the meal and its enjoyment.