We last ate Hrishikesh Desai’s food on our 45th wedding anniversary. Five years later, to the day, we were back for the “big one”. It was a dinner that promised to be exciting . Desai often takes local ingredients and presents a dish that, at first, you think is going to be a prime example of Modern British cuisine. But, skilfully and confidently, he weaves an Indian spice or flavouring into the food. It could all be a bit fusiony and a bit of a “show off” but it isn’t and it really works.
The eponymous restaurant is the main dining experience at the Gilpin Hotel and it’s spaced over several rooms in the main house. This gives a feeling of small scale intimacy – there were only five other tables in the room where we were seated. There’s a nice bar and lounge but it was a lovely evening and we took aperitifs on the terrace.
The tasting menu kicks off with a couple of snacks. A single bite pastry case, filled with Cumbrian beef tartare and topped with a potato foam. And a tiny “cornetto”, filled with a goat’s cheese mousse and topped with a ball of red pepper gel. Yes, it looks exactly like something you’d get off the ice cream van.
The first starter was our favourite course. Isle of Wight cherry tomatoes had been semi-dehydrated to concentrate the flavour and were dressed with a coriander oil. A delicious gazpacho was poured around. And, as a centrepiece to the plate, a spoonful of tomato sorbet – not something to die for, but a recipe maybe to kill for. This plate was a stunner. That was followed by duck liver parfait which was as rich a flavour as you’re going to want to come across. There’s a little jalapeno and cherry compote to cut through it. And two mini brioche on the side – and not just any old broche. These have been flavoured with masala spices from the classic Mumbai street food, pav bhaji. My wife has an aversion to liver, so was served a vegetarian alternative – a concoction of aubergine and mushrooms, both cooked and raw. Also excellent.
The fish course featured perfectly poached lobster tail. There’s also shredded lobster meat. It’s dressed with an excellent, and very refined, sambar sauce – a very rustic version was last seen in one of our favourite Indian restaurants, accompanying a dosa. Lamb “laal maas” was a new dish on the menu. There was lamb loin and a croquette of long braised lamb neck fillet – both absolutely delicious. Different preparations of carrot came together in a very elegant preparation, bringing a sweetness that contrasted nicely with a perky laal maas sauce. Apparently, Desai had previously felt unable to prepare the dish because he couldn’t reliably source the traditional Mathania chillis used in Rajasthan
For the first dessert, there was a pastry case, filled with a passion fruit cream. That’s topped with alternating raspberries and mini meringues. Alongside a lovely yoghurt sorbet and, even here, Desai finds room for a little spice, incorporating just a hint of black pepper.
If the first dish of tomatoes was our favourite, our final dish proved to be the one that we felt just didn’t come together completely. There was a lovely chocolate delice, along with banana bread and pannacotta, with a milk sorbet on the side.
We finished with good coffee and petit fours.
Service throughout, both from the main server and the sommelier, had been excellent.
I rarely mention restaurant prices. They are what they are. But, at £95, this represents exceptionally good value.