Monday 11 February 2008

Gilpin Lodge III

Sunday was our actual anniversary, so at breakfast I treated myself with strawberry sorbet topped with champagne. It was just wonderful, so I think that will feature every time I entertain in the morning from now on. A very good eggs Florentine and more of the wonderful coffee sent us out into the day.

We'd decided that we wanted to get to the coast, so we chose a point due West and set off. Landing in Barrow-in-Furness, which looked horrible and industrial, so we chose again. On the road to Ravenglass, we decided to stop for tea at Muncaster Castle. How beautiful! I wouldn't bother paying to go into the castle again, but I would be very keen to go back later in the year when all the rhododendrons were out. Amazingly, there were a few out already, so you just got a taste of what it must look like in about May. Having no self-control at all, instead of having a cup of tea and a scone, we were won over by bacon and cheese Aberdeen Angus beefburgers. Brilliant - the "barbecue sauce" on the side was the most wonderful thick, spiced relish - really tasty burgers.

Back at the hotel, we had a bottle of Tattinger sent up to our room and watched the news. How very sad to see the Camden markets burn - I can't believe they will ever recapture the character they had.

In the lounge I continued with champagne - I decided it was a bad plan to mix my drinks - while my husband decided to be daring and have Lagavulin instead of Talisker. The canapes were similar to the first night - cheesy polenta squares, and a very good smoked salmon mousse.

The wheels fell off the service a bit. We were led to our table before we'd ordered, and the waitress who showed us to the table felt herself inadequate to taking the order, so there was a minor delay. Probably a good thing given the size of the burgers at lunch...

We began with Morteaux sausage wrapped in puff pastry with apple chutney. I've googled, and as far as I can tell Morteaux sausage is very groovy in gastro-pubs and restaurants with pretention to excellence but hard to find otherwise. It isn't mentioned in Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, but the American Airlines website (?!) says it is traditional in Lyon. Makes a bloody good sausage roll.

We both chose big, gutsy, red meat dishes, so it was much easier than the night before to choose the wine - a Warwick Trilogy from Cape Town. It's a classic claret blend - cab sav, cabernet franc and merlot - but much heavier and juicier than the French do it. It was very nice, and hard to believe it had only had 2 years in the bottle.

My husband had squab with choucroute and wild mushrooms - the squab was lovely. Really well rested and perfectly tender. I had Jerusalem artichoke soup with autumn truffles. I was very pleased to see that they didn't take the easy way out - the truffle flavour was just in the shavings of truffle on the surface, hadn't been taken the whole way through with heavy-handed application of truffle oil.

For main, my husband had roasted loin of local venison with curly kale, chestnut foam and swede fondant. Surprisingly, he said the foam was really good, but he felt the chef should be banned from the demi-glace pot, because all of the sauces had the same texture. I had best end of Herdwick lamb with fondant potato, confit vegetables, shallot puree and rosemary jus. The Herdwick sheep is a weird looking beast for those of us who are used to cute, rotund Suffolks but the hard life on the Cumbrian hills makes for some delicious meat.

The pre-dessert wasn't very successful - Consomme of winter fruits with Stilton biscuits sounded promising but the consomme was too sweet and the garnish of pineapple salpicon wasn't really seasonal.

I decided that I had to take advantage of the kitchen's expertise with a souffle and have the prune and armagnac with its own icecream. Again it was of extraordinary lightness, but the chocolate that the dish was brushed with got in the way of the flavour somehow, instead of melding unctuously with the prunes the way it usually does. The icecream was magnificent, and I would happily have foregone the souffle for a couple more scoops of that.

My husband came out of left-field and ordered a dessert. I almost died of shock. He had Szechuan pepper rum baba with roasted pineapple and buttermilk icecream. Unfortunately the bite he gave me had the only peppercorn in it - so I got a wonderful explosion of flavours and he just got sweet, plain syrup. He said the pineapple could have been turnip for all he knew - it clearly wasn't ripe enough. I thought it was a very nice dessert. He would have been happier with a glass of armagnac.

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