During a recent trip to the Lake District (click here for my blog post on the Lake District for non-drivers) with the lovely people at Visit England I was lucky enough to be invited to check out Gilpin Lodge, a hidden gem in the South Lake District, situated not far from Lake Windermere. Driving through the gated area into Gilpin Lodge’s Lake House we felt incredibly important as we had to be specially let in. It was if we had been invited by Royal appointment, and what I saw on arrival was undoubtedly fit for a Queen.
There are two parts to the Gilpin House Country Hotel, which was voted AA English Hotel of the Year 2011-2012. First of all you’ve got the main country hotel, which has 14 rooms and includes use of a nearby spa. Then there’s the Lake House, a mile down the road, which is even more exclusive and consists of six rooms set in 40 hectares of grounds complete with its own private lake, swimming pool, hot tub (and garden gnome).
Guests can opt to have dinner as part of their package and for those staying at the Lake House there is a free chauffeur service to take them to and from the restaurant which is housed in the main hotel. Another option is that the Lake House can be used for exclusive use, it’s an idyllic setting for a private dinner or a wedding reception as cocktails and canapés are served outdoors by the jetty, overlooking the lake.
I was lucky enough to be invited by the Cumbrian tourist board to have dinner with the owners – Gilpin Lodge is a family affair, run by husband and wife team Barney and Zoe (and Barney’s mum). What is clear from chatting to them is the attention to detail that goes on behind the scenes. At the start of dinner Barney was alarmed to discover that a perfectly delicious amuse-bouche of poached pear in red wine with smoked cheese mousse and crunchy candied walnuts was being served without his prior knowledge – he insists on rigorous taste testing of the dishes before they are allowed on to the menu.
As it’s five courses dinner at Gilpin Lodge is a set menu but any dietary requirements are catered for if you let them know in advance. My starter of crispy salted cod, big flaky pieces of white fish encrusted in a light crisp batter, was served with al dente crunchy pickled cauliflower and sweet onion rings, saffron aioli and parsley purée.
The main course was a generous sized main of halibut (minus cockles for me as I don’t eat shellfish) with sea herbs, wild garlic mayonnaise and layered potatoes similar to dauphinoise except they had been cooked in butter instead of cream. The fish was beautifully cooked as was the wonderfully salty samphire that came with it.
Next up we were presented with a cup of orange granita and grapefruit foam that looked remarkably similar to a cappuccino in appearance but taste wise couldn’t have been more different, chilled and refreshing like an orange ice lolly, the perfect palate cleanser.
This counteracted dessert, a scoop of rich and velvety white chocolate and mascarpone on top of pieces of shortbread and accompanied with poached pineapple, fennel and anise. And a tray of petits fours followed, fortunately for me these consisted of macaroons of which I’m not a fan, as I doubt I could have fitted much more in.
As you might expect, a stay at Gilpin Lodge isn’t cheap, rooms start from around £320. But although this might sound steep, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you were to go to Gilpin Lodge just for dinner (£58 per person for five courses) then £320 for a night’s stay at the hotel really equates to about £200 for a couple, including breakfast. Given the location in Windermere it’s not excessive, especially if you’re looking to treat yourself to a stay somewhere special, and Gilpin Lodge is undoubtedly a hidden gem that’s ideal for a romantic getaway in the Lake District.
But if a stay is a bit out of your price range then you could always pop in for a spot of afternoon tea or even dinner which is still pretty good value for the quality of the food and level of service. The restaurant has three AA rosettes, in itself quite an achievement, and from our meal I’d say these are fully deserved. The aptly named Gilpin (which means trusted) Lodge is one of the Lake District’s hidden gems and I trust if you’re looking for a special stay you’ll definitely find it here.