It was our anniversary this weekend, and we decided to have a FTE (f*** the expense) weekend up in the Lake District. We got a booking at Gilpin Lodge - a country house hotel and restaurant near Lake Windermere. We didn't really want to eat at the same place every night, but for some reason Dinner, Bed & Breakfast came in £200 cheaper than B&B for 2 nights and DB&B for 1 night.
Gilpin Lodge has just lost a Michelin star, but we still had high hopes for excellent meals based on the sample menus on their website.
On arrival we had a bottle of Taltarni brut & tache bubbles brought to the room. One of my friends once pronounced it "the perfect brunch bubbly" but I see no reason to limit it like that. It is fine at any hour of the day! Much drier than many pink champagnes and sparkling wines, it was very nice to relax with after a long drive, but we probably didn't think our timing through properly - I was half cut and the bottle was still half full at the time we had said we'd go to the lounge for pre-dinner drinks.
In the lounge I ordered a glass of sherry - I was offered dry, medium or sweet, and I asked for medium because I always worry that I will be given a bone-dry fino, which I really don't like. As it happens I was brought something slightly drier than Harveys Bristol cream, so I should probably have just had a G&T. My husband asked for a glass of Talisker with 1 icecube. It came well and truly "on the rocks" so he had to drink fast before it was too diluted but it had just the right aroma of smoke and cold weather that he'd been hoping for as soon as we got out of the car and smelled the coal fires.
While we explored the menu, we were brought canapes - little crisp cubes of tender cheesy polenta, with a little mustard mayonnaise, some marinated olives and shotglasses of a crab cocktail, disconcertingly topped with whipped cream. The canapes were a very good size, not too big or too numerous.
At just the right time we were led to our table.
Our waiter won't win any awards for charm or affability, unlike the rest of the staff at Gilpin Lodge, but he was efficient enough as he offered bread and brought little shot glasses of celeriac veloute with truffle. I'm not - I am truly not - a butter snob, but I do feel that if you are going to serve unsalted butter with bread, it needs to be one of the European-style ones with a strong lactic character. The celeriac veloute was very good. It still tasted of celeriac and the truffles added very good things to it. I think next time I am planning to make the truffled rice salad, I will save a few truffles and add them to a celeriac mash the next night.
As a first course, I had ravioli of lobster with wilted spinach and a lemongrass and lobster veloute. The single, fat raviolo was wonderfully light, but the mousseline didn't taste distinctively of lobster, just generically seafood-y. And I couldn't find any lemongrass flavour in the veloute. Oh look, there it is, in my husband's sausage of river pike with watercress and freshwater crayfish. I think someone got confused by the saucepans and switched the pale coral sauces on our dishes. The pike sausage - a take on the Lyonnaise pike quenelle with crayfish sauce - was gorgeous; more of the divinely ethereal mousseline, with chunks of crayfish through it.
For main we had roasted Goosnargh duck coated in honey and cracked black pepper with red cabbage, baby turnips and cassis sauce for two people. Only the breasts were served carved thickly from the carcass, so I was sort of expecting to see something with a duck jus or duck stock turn up on the menu later, but there was nothing obvious. The waste in a kitchen at this level must be astonishing. The duck was very good, perfectly pink and tender, but I do love the contrast of a crisp skin with tender duck meat and the honey coating lost that contrast. The duck was just perfect with the zinfandel we'd ordered, although the wine was too heavy and almost syrupy to have alone once we'd finished eating.
A pre-dessert of passionfruit jelly with cardamom and gin was magnificent: couldn't taste any cardamom or gin, but the passionfruit was so powerful any more delicate flavours didn't stand a chance. The jelly could possibly have been less firmly set, if I must quibble.
On our wedding day, I had ordered a passionfruit souffle for pudding - only to be told that the oven was broken and I couldn't have it. Two years later - almost to the day - I got my passionfruit souffle. And no offence to the Bayswater Brasserie where we had dinner after our wedding, but I am convinced that they couldn't have produced a souffle of such perfection. So light, so strongly perfumed with passionfruit, so perfect with the glass of Hungarian tokaji I had with it. The chocolate icecream that was served with it was exquisite, but I really don't think chocolate goes very well with passionfruit. We eavesdropped on the couple next to us, who asked how to achieve such a perfect souffle, and they were told that the key is to brush the ramekin with melted chocolate, and to use upwards strokes of the brush. That way the mixture climbs the ramekin. Amazing, but I will leave that sort of thing to the experts, I think.