Great cooking is, in my opinion, an art form – possibly unique in the fact that to be truly great it has to work across nearly all of our senses at any one time. Thus it is that when you are trying to assess an excellent meal, you have a certain amount of responsibility to try and separate the subjective from the objective. Except that when it comes to Lake Road Kitchen, I’m having real trouble because I loved it so much. It was one of those occasions where I felt that the chef and I obviously shared a sensibility with regards to food which meant that, with the exception of one dish which happened to be based around an ingredient that I don’t much like (sweetcorn), I adored everything – and even the exception I appreciated and admired.
The owner and head chef James Cross, as appears to be de rigueur these days, did a stint at Noma and the influence is exceedingly apparent: the ingredients are as local as possible with many coming from the restaurant’s own kitchen garden, others foraged from the local countryside (which, given that the place is in the heart of the Lake District is both beautiful and bountiful). The restaurant’s interior has a stripped back, Scandi feel – clean lines, pale colours, plenty of wood. But although the dishes often appeared to be similarly simple and even ascetic in their presentation, this was entirely deceptive and most ate as well as any food you will find in this country at the moment.
Hard to pick highlights, but I would walk back to Ambleside to eat the slow cooked octopus again. I have never had octopus like it – the slow cooking had enhanced the firm, meaty quality of the flesh before it was brought to life by a robust searing on the outside to give it texture and smoke. The fermented wild garlic puree accompaniment had us both swiping our finger around the plates to catch every drop.
I need to mention the lamb as well because I have genuinely never, ever had lamb like it. It was stunning. Herdwick, a local breed had been dry aged for 50 days (a technique more commonly applied to beef) to give a depth of flavour that I have simply never encountered before, not to mention a texture as silky as butter. The couple at the table next to us sent it back for being undercooked and, yes, the rack turned up at the table far rarer than is, perhaps, commonly seen but one mouthful would have confirmed to anyone that not a further second of cooking was required. It was utterly magical.
I’m often a bit anti modern puddings, being firmly of the opinion that the sticky toffee has yet to be bettered. But even here I was to be confounded – the buttermilk pannacotta with blackberries and foraged herbs was a perfect marriage of dreamily soft, barely set cream and the deep, darkly sour punch of fruit with sorrel, lemon verbena and chervil adding a completely new note that spoke of the autumn and the damp, delicate scent of the hedgerows. This almost has me convinced that pannacotta is a dessert worth ordering.
Lake Road Kitchen are only open Wednesday – Sunday and they only offer a tasting menu (five or eight courses with cheese supplement available). The menus change to make the best of the ingredients on offer, although we were told that they keep a note of what customers have eaten to ensure that when they return they get an entirely different set of dishes. This strikes me as above and beyond the call of duty, but is in keeping with the charming and extremely attentive service that we received throughout out time there. I honestly can’t recommend this place enough – the Lake District has always been somewhere to go to seek out culinary gems (L’Enclume, anyone?) and this is one of the shiniest that I have encountered so far.
Lake Road Kitchen