An hour-and-a-half from Manchester is a bit of an oasis. Treatment rooms that hang, floating, over the lake. Scandi-style wood and glass spa lodges with their own hot tubs.
A secluded Lake House. Three restaurants, all in the Michelin guide. Llamas, alpacas and pet pigs – called Salt, Pepper and Mustard, and who presumably give the whole kitchen prep area a wide berth – roam about the place.
The Gilpin Hotel has been in the same family for six generations. In recent years, it’s become a go-to for food folk, never more so than after its flagship dining room, SOURCE, spearheaded by chef Ollie Bridgwater, secured a coveted Michelin star earlier this year.
Along with The Savoy, it’s one of only two properties in the UK that has three restaurants that feature in the Michelin Guide.
SOURCE sits alongside Gilpin Spice, formerly star chef Hrishikesh Desai’s HRiSHi, now run by his former sous Aakash Ohol, and the Nordic-inspired Knipe Grill at Gilpin Lake House.
Gilpin Hotel sits sandwiched between Windermere to the west and Kendal to the east, in the heart of the Lake District.
Its 100 acres estate sprawls in between the main hotel, with its scattering of luxury lodges, and a bracing half hour walk away to the Lake House, a stone pile originally called ‘Knipe Tarn’, with its own viewpoint ‘Cat’s Crag’, which offers up a 360 degree perspective of the Lakes.
In the summer, you can swim in the lake, or just mess around in a boat if that feels a bit too much like wild swimming.
Manchester’s Finest took all this in on a recent visit, holing up for a weekend to take it all in.
Combining the best attributes of a small, boutique hotel, and adding a little scale – but not too much, there are 30 rooms in the main hotel, five spa lodges and then another six rooms in the Lake House – service here is calm, collected and seamless.
The first night’s dinner was at Knipe Grill at Gilpin Lake House. Embracing its Nordic-heritage – ‘Knipe Tarn’ in Old Norse means ‘small lake on high rocks’ – chef Tom Westerland is all about the fire and knives, the menu inspired by his love of cooking over flames.
Fun entrees make this feel unlike high-end dining – the tiger bread with branston pickle butter was a twist on fond childhood memories. Kentucky Fried Pheasant pulled on those same strings, marinated in buttermilk, deep fried and served up with punchy pickled cucumber and smoky chorizo ketchup.
The main event, a Cumbrian chateaubriand straight from the charcoal oven, is a stunning piece of beef cookery, served up with bone marrow and a complex beef gravy, and homely mac and cheese.
Aakash Ohol’s Gilpin Spice has had the bar left high by the departure of Hrishikesh Desai, earlier this year.
Now the offering is a broad, thrilling fusion of the Far East, encompassing flavours and techniques from India to Japan, via influences from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and China.
A thecha – a pounded chutney usually made with green chillies and garlic – comes adapted to the edamame bean, and combined with sub-continental mango chutney and a kick of Japanese togarashi seasoning, before being stuffed into a crisp puri shell, and showered with jewels of pomegranate.
It was the glorious Hong Kong-inspired pork belly which still lingers in the memory, curls of rolled Cumbrian saddleback broken down over 48 hours of cooking. A sticky slick of classic sweet & sour sauce and crumbs of crisp crackling brought texture.
At SOURCE, Gilpin’s flagship dining room, chef Ollie Bridgwater’s tenure with Heston Blumenthal at the triple-starred Fat Duck is front and centre, notably with the experimental ‘gin and tonic’ which opens the proceedings of his tasting menu.
It’s a green bubble, sitting proudly on a spoon, which explodes in the mouth, flooding your senses with echoes of heady juniper and cucumber. It’s a G&T, but not as we know it.
What follows is a dizzying journey. There is fresh, stiff-off-the-boat mackerel, with Peruvian ‘tigre de leche’ – Tiger’s Milk. It’s not as fearsome as it sounds.
There’s an impossibly pretty dish of lobster, cod served with delicate crab, Herdwick lamb, plumbs and strawberries. To detail the process and the presentation would be spoiler-ish. This is a journey best taken without glimpsing the destination first.
Much like Gilpin itself. This is a special place. Don’t find out too much. The surprises are half the fun.
Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, Crook Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3NE
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