Monday 11 February 2008

Gilpin Lodge II

After a ruddy awful night's sleep (lovely comfy bed, new silk nightie, FAR too hot) we staggered downstairs to breakfast, where I regretted that I had not brushed my hair. A cafetiere of the best coffee I've ever had in a hotel made me feel a bit better, and then a compote of winter fruits (or, in fact, plumped up dried apricots, figs and prunes) with lovely thick yoghurt improved things further. A main course of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (a 2 course breakfast! Oh my!) made me want to crawl back into bed to sleep it all off, but we had work to do.

First, a fruitless expedition into Bowness to buy a frock since I was desperately underdressed in the restaurant (I think that they should clarify on the website that "casual but smart" means no jeans). Then we hired a boat at Esthwaite Water Trout Fishery for my husband to have a bit of a throw. He's fished there many times with no success but it is just so stunning that we keep going back. If I am to be bored by fishing it is going to be with a book in my hand and a lovely view.

When the light started to go, we headed back to Gilpin Lodge to dress for dinner. I put lipgloss on.

The previous night I'd seen a couple served with "bellini's" which were completely clear. I decided to have a go with one for my pre-dinner drink and it was lovely. The peach flavour must have been from a peach schnapps or similar liqueur, because it was very strong and more alcoholic than your average glass of bubbly. Paul succeeded in getting his Talisker served with 1 cube of ice. The canapes were tiny chicken samosas with raita, more olives and a lovely gazpacho with basil oil.

Our introductory taste at the dinner table was a pumpkin veloute with roasted pumpkin seeds. The soup was perfectly smooth and creamy and so on, but it had really lost the pumpkin character and natural velvetiness that makes it such a winner. The pumpkin seeds were wonderful though, and provided a much-needed textural contrast.

The restaurant has a pretty wide selection of half-bottles of wine - a good thing, because there was no way we were going to be able to share a bottle. My husband had chablis with his red mullet with peppers, courgettes, goats' cheese tortellini and red wine jus. I ordered some Chorey-les-Baume to go with my hare faggot wrapped in Savoy cabbage with beetroot puree and baby turnips, but I got to do an interesting comparison when the 1/3 bottle of zinfandel that we'd left the night before was brought out.

The faggot was very good - rich and livery, with the mineral flavour of the Savoy cabbage wrapping really cutting through nicely. I couldn't say which wine was better with it, they were equally good but very different, but as a wine I preferred the Chorey-les-Baumes.

We've got a really good Italian restaurant just near us, and we nearly always order the sole meuniere. So seeing a main course of poached and roasted lemon sole with confit shallots, capers, flat-leaf parsley and roast chicken jus, my husband decided he had to see how a properly posh place does sole. And he announced that poaching and then roasting and adding a sticky jus was a waste of a good fish. He even went so far as to say it lost the soul of sole, but I wish he hadn't.

I was tempted by the pot-roasted pig's head, because I just couldn't imagine how they would present it, but I went for an easy option and chose assiette of veal with wild mushrooms and Madeira sauce. The 3 cuts were poached fillet, slow-cooked shoulder and tongue. I've never had tongue before, but it was delicious. The meat was served with some of the most magnificent mash, quite heavily infused with rosemary. It was interesting having the mash provide seasoning to the dish, instead of being a bland, filling cop-out. I did think that having 3 cuts all cooked quite slowly with moisture didn't really show the versatility or different characters of the meat very well. I think a little piece of saltimbocca or a grilled cutlet would have been a better option than poached fillet.

The pre-dessert was lemon cream with a compote of forced rhubarb, which was gorgeous. The delicate, pale pink rhubarb was hidden under a blanket of cream speckled with candied lemon zest. I suspect there may have been some limoncello in there too.

I still had quite a lot of my red wines left, so I decided to have the cheese platter. There were 7 cheeses, which I think is too many. Bigger portions of 4 would have been less confusing to the palate. None of them really floated my boat. Even the Stichelton, which was the it cheese at Christmas, wasn't what I want in a stilton-style cheese.

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