With a Michelin star and four AA Rosettes to its name, The Forest Side is one of the best-known hotel restaurants in all the Lake District, making it a destination in its own right. The hotel is on the outskirts of Grasmere, a far quieter, more peaceful part of the Lakes compared to some of the busier parts around Windermere. No wonder William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for a good 14 years, calling it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. The village itself is indeed lovely and there are some extra-specially fantastic walks in the area – head up to the Easedale Tarn from the village and you won’t regret it.
The grey, faintly gothic looking old 19th century hunting lodge that houses The Forest Side looks fairly austere as you approach it for the first time – but as you get closer the beautiful surrounding gardens and kitchen allotment begin to soften the feeling that a scary witch might live here. Inside it’s all cosy and comforting of course and the staff are ready with a warm welcome. It’s worth highlighting right at the start in fact, that the service at The Forest Side was pretty impeccable from start to finish, making it feel more like a home than a hotel.
There are just 20 rooms at The Forest Side across three categories (cosy, superb or master) so you can choose according to budget and how much space you need. With a boutique hotel such as this there are no bad rooms of course, so you’ll have a great experience whichever you choose. All rooms have been designed by James Mackie and feature Farrow and Ball colour shades, super comfortable beds made by Harrison Spinks in Leeds, textiles and wallpapers by Zoffany, deep pile Herdwick carpets by Wools of Cumbria, and natural bath and body products handmade by Bramley. Then there are the little touches like the cakes that were sent up to our room after check in – see, we told you the service was good.
The hotel is great but of course everyone staying has come for the food too. Headed up by chef Paul Leonard, the kitchen offers a 4 or 8 course tasting menu for dinner, and the choice of 4 or 6 courses at lunch. We of course had to go for the full 8 courses because we don’t like to feel as if we’re missing out on anything – and we’d suggest you do too, as Paul’s cooking is hugely impressive.
Cumbria is a veritable natural larder of amazing produce and the kitchen makes the most of local producers and foraged ingredients as well as all the seasonal fruit and vegetables they grow themselves in the kitchen garden. The first two dishes showcased this perfectly, beginning with a warm salad of fresh broad beans with smoked eel, and crisp grilled garden leaves served with curds and whey.
Things got even better from there – a lobster tail grilled over pine was infused with the smell of the forest, and served with a rich flavour bomb of a sauce made from the head of the lobster (the tastiest part as everyone knows). ‘Beets cooked all day in their own juice’ perhaps wasn’t giving much away as a dish title but might just have been the highlight of the meal, the beautiful sweet beetroot paired with a tangy cultured sheep’s yoghurt.
Next was North Atlantic cod, enlivened by a thin, translucent sliver of cured pork jowl and a creamy, sharp sauce. Finally we finished the savoury courses with aged shorthorn beef, served with hen of the woods mushrooms and smoked bone marrow. And for dessert? Well it had to be a ‘Forest Side’ Gateaux, a more than acceptable pun and an even better pudding.
With fantastic service, a great location and one of the region’s finest restaurants, The Forest Side has got pretty much every box ticked.
Keswick Road, Grasmere, Ambleside LA22 9RN