Adventurous food and wine at The Forest Side...
The Forest Side restaurant
Keswick Road, Grasmere
- Rating: 8/10
- Open every day for breakfast and dinner.
- Dinner bed and breakfast from £299 based on two people sharing.
- Locally foraged tasting menus available from £35 lunch / £60 dinner
- Wine to try: 2015 Domaine Roquemale Meli Melo
8 o’clock on a Thursday evening in Grasmere and a large party of diners is eating squirrel croquettes and drinking Georgian wine. Not exactly what you’d expect in the genteel Lakes, where just down the road coachloads line up to enjoy the warm fug of the Grasmere gingerbread shop and file past Wordsworth’s tomb.
Cosy tea rooms aside the Lakes has always been a bit of a gastronomic mecca – spearheaded these days by Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume at which both Forest Side’s chef Kevin Tickle and head sommelier Charles Carron Brown have worked. It’s an ambitious, no expense spared make over of a traditional Victorian hunting lodge but still retains a traditional Lakeland feel despite the on-trend Scandi-influenced locally foraged tasting menu – hence the squirrel which is somewhat unnervingly coated with grey ash. (Surprisingly good actually.)
Dishes from the somewhat tweely monikered menus – “The Grand ‘Un”, The L’Al ‘Un and the Reet L’al ‘Un – are brought to the table and explained in detail of which you catch the occasional word or phrase – “curcubit relish”, “sunset velvet”, “garden shenanignans”, that doesn’t leave you much the wiser but that said the food and the flavours are seriously impressive.
Dishes I’d happily go back for included a hearty bowl of ‘campfire chanterelles’ cooked in bone marrow with brisket and a deeply savoury mushroom broth making the accompanying wine (the aforementioned Rkatistelli from Pheasant’s Tears almost redundant.) North Atlantic cod with oyster and dill was a faultless seafood dish while the smoked potato custard that accompanied some perfectly cooked Cumbrian rare breed pork was one of the best things I put in my mouth last year. There’s a lot of sprouted tendril action due to the abundant harvest in the greenhouses in the walled garden alongside, no doubt one of the reasons Michelin gave it a star eight months after opening.
We went for the recommended wine pairings which are commendably original and adventurous. Forest Side has comprehensively embraced natural wine a fact which may deter some readers but is at least consistent in philosophy.
If you’re pushing the boundaries with food to see what the chef is capable of why not expose yourself to unfamiliar and possibly challenging wines to see what the sommelier can do too? Even my natural wine sceptic of a neighbour liked the opulent Samurai free-run juice Chardonnay (spot on with the crayfish) and 2015 Domaine Roquemale Meli Melo from the Herald which was perfectly paired with the pork.
All in all Forest Side ‘vaut le detour’. The grounds and the surrounding countryside are enchanting – at breakfast I saw a rare red squirrel gambolling on the lawn outside. The hotel is clearly doing its bit to protect them by popping those predator greys in those croquettes.
Fiona Beckett is a Decanter contributing editor and chief restaurant reviewer. To get the first look at her bar and restaurant reviews from all over the world, subscribe to Decanter magazine