Cumbrian Hidden Treasures.

When driving through the Cumbrian lake District there`s normally somewhere to eat at every turn.It might be a corner chippy, a village pie shop , a cosy country pub or a fine dining Michelin starred restaurant. I was rather amazed at just how many country houses there were around the Windermere area during my drive through there last weekend.There was a country house restaurant almost every hundred metres or so along the 11 mile Lake side road stretch….so much food , wow.
My weekend got off to a real bad start as far as calorie overload goes.It was a bit of a “Man v Food”  moment on the way home from work…why ?  I`ll never know. I ended up pigging out on the largest Mc Donalds burger going……Double Mc Burger whopper with double Mc cheese bacon Mc buttie bap….and a bag of onion Mc rings…and chips……with  Mc milkshake….and more Mc chips after i ordered the Mc large size….Not my usual Michelin style weekend fest but Ohhhh so comforting after a days work.
I wouldn`t have bothered with anything else on that calorie laden friday apart from a couple of  pints of Bluebird bitter in the evening at a lake district pub but while i was in there I made the dreaded mistake of looking at  the specials board…. Fillet of Rose Veal , slowly cooked with bacon , Chestnuts baby onions and red wine…..Ohhh dear.I really wasn`t hungry at all but i found myself turning around to look again and again at the eye catching special on the blackboard. I asked the landlord what time he stopped serving bar meals. I got the answer ” Hurry up and order mate….5 minutes “. So i really wasn`t hungry, this was simply a case of `mind over belly` and im soooooo weak willed.Within minutes of ordering i was face to face with this gorgeous casserole , rich and unctious , i devoured the lot and that was actually my finish…..straight to my bed , face up like a stuffed sealion.
Back up in the morning and a good Cumbrian bacon butty set the standard for the day.I was dining out that night in Grasmere so something light for lunch would probably suffice.We ended up having a 3 course Italian at a little family bistro in Preston and once again it filled us to the max.Problem was though we were going to be sampling a 10 course tasting menu at the Oak bank hotel in Grasmere in 5 hours time….would we manage ? bet your life we would. So back home…shower n change and onwards, upwards and a drive to the Oak bank hotel , and this is where the magic starts. We take a 40 minute drive from Kendal to Grasmere , it was dark but in daylight hours its a stunning trip through the national park and into the heart of Wordsworth country.Lakes , mountains , waterfalls and streams – everything that normally graces the front of the picture postcards was here in the area.Then on to Grasmere, one of those villages that serves as a treat to get away from lifes pressures for a few days and a perfect base for lovers of the outdoors, big daft romantics….and pub dwellers alike.
In the heart of the village there`s a nice little hotel , quiet and set just off the road. It`s typical of all the other hotels in the area and built using the local Honister slate. I noticed the restaurant whilst flicking through the pages of the AA guide that arrived a few days earlier.I`d never heard of the place ( like many others in the lakes ) so i looked over their website , liked the look of the food and decided to email the owner and give it a whirl.The website photos looked really good and i was pretty well impressed at what i seen…but would it be like that in real life ?

We were met by the owner Simon and Glynis his good lady wife in the bar and shown through to the lounge with a copy of the menu.It sounded marvellous on paper but i wondered if it delivered on the plates. It was going to be a busy night at Oak bank , i was informed that the restaurant was full that evening. I could hear  chef in the kitchen and commented to the young waitress if  the boys were ready  to commence battle in there .”Oh…there`s only two of them in tonight…one does mains and the other does desserts” ….Ahhhhh ok , so one chef does main courses for a full restaurant ? ” yes , that`s right , and they both help each other with starters ” …..Could i expect anything other than normal food here ? i doubted seriously that i would be getting the food that i`d seen on the hotel website but oh boy was i wrong.
Little paper parcels arrived at our huge sofa in the lounge…”small wrappers of Cumbrian fish n chips”  something to nibble on whilst we looked over the menus.They were piping hot and filled the room with aromas of  salt n vinegar that were soaking into the newspaper….i could have eaten a plateful but after only a couple of bites they were gone.

 Little shooter glasses of Pea and Ham textures arrived next.Topped with baby shoots and a soldier of melba toast to dip in.Tiny cubes of Ham in its jelly served as our treat at the bottom of the glass – beautiful  and very dainty
with attention to detail  – just the way i like it .
Goats cheese mousse , Beets , Tapenade , dried olive crumb , spiced bread , Balsamic .This was a very generous Cumbrian portion and one of the highlights of the meal for me…simple but delivered on flavour.

Salt cod , pea , crackling dust , bacon. A little taster and palate cleanser.A soft and delicate cream mousse of salt cod, pea sorbet and a bacon crackling foam.

Salmon ballotine , Cauliflower 3 ways ( Silk , pickled, dabs ) Crispy capers , dill….Beautiful.

Ham hock , soused vegetables , crackling, cox`s puree , bread , mustard….Wow , how good does this one look ? Definitely one of those dishes that need hung on a wall.

Goosnargh corn fed duckling , Roasted breast , confit leg, scratchings , fondant potato, red cabbage , kohlrabi , quince duck and port jus. Good accurate cooking and delivering well on flavours.

Assiette of Cumbrian dry aged beef – Seared fillet , slow braised feather , tortellini , pommes puree,
Onion textures, root vegetable gratin, beef and red wine jus.
A 10 minute break before the sweet treats arrived allowed me to pop into the kitchen to meet the chefs and get a couple of pics of them in action…thanks guys. I also witnessed the proof  that there was really 2 chefs actually in there……2 chefs knocking food like that out ….HOW ON EARTH ?- Imagine the level of cuisine  with a team in there doing the business ?
John Cook – Oak bank head chef and Dexton Gooden second chef.

Lemon meringue , lemon tart , glazed meringue , lemon sorbet , lemon gel , curd and shortbread crumb….time for my favourite part of the meal.

Chocolate with Strawberries , White chocolate mousse , Parfait , strawberry delice , strawberry sherbet , macaroon , streusel….what can i say ? Everyones favourite combinations…white chocolate , milk chocolate and strawberries….i would have this one every day for breakfast.

A selection of 6 Cumbrian cheeses .

So as far as hidden treasures go then Oak bank hotel definitely hits the mark for me.Tucked out of the way in the centre of the lakes in a little village where time stands still…. but the food doesn`t. I`d like to think that the chefs can keep the pace up and the restaurant can go from strength to strength.Oak bank has started to hit the 2012 guidebooks and is now firmly placed in the top spots to eat in the North this year so fingers crossed they get their much deserved recognition….Well done guys.

Oh and as for the prices ,i think you should know that you can eat here for – £28 x 3 courses , £ 49 for 6 courses and £ 62 for 8 courses.

All of the pics from the meal are on flickr , Please just click HERE to view.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Keith Sutton says:

    I hope the food is as good as your photos: thanks for the recommendation and I hope to sample Oak Bank as early as possible in 2012

    1. It was wonderful Keith , you`ll love it….lovely people and as i wrote in the blog…. A little jewel hidden away. Cheers and happy new year. Alan.

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