Ravenstone Lodge, Keswick – Review
By Paul Howard
On the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake and nestling into the foot of the mighty Skiddaw mountain range in the northern Lake District, some five miles north of Keswick, Ravenstone Lodge occupies five acres of beautiful countryside. Formerly a Victorian coach house, today it is a three star hotel. It has joined a select few in the area after being awarded an AA Rosette for its cooking. Owners Michael and Jane Cornish took over the hotel in December 2007 and planned to create a place that they would want to stay themselves. They have achieved their aim admirably.
There are nine comfortable ensuite rooms. Ours hosts a four-poster bed and a spectacular view over grounds gently falling towards the lake shore. The rooms are tastefully furnished and don’t skimp on modern technology. There is WiFi and an iPod dock for those that feel lost without them. For those preferring silence, this was broken only by the chattering of swifts nesting in the eaves above our window. All this adds to the feeling of tranquillity.
Bassenthwaite Lake is perhaps one of the less well-known and visited of the Lakes. Therein lies its advantage. Away from the tourist bustle Mother Nature shows her abundance. There are stands of old oaks and Scots pine, a haven for rare red squirrels under the bare magnificence of Skiddaw. Each summer the Lake District’s only breeding ospreys fly 7,000 miles to nest just a mile or so away at Dodd Wood. If that’s good enough for them then it’s good enough for me. The ospreys are a must see. The RSPB observation post is nearby and they can also be seen fishing in the lake or close-up on webcam at nearby Whinlatter Forest Park.
“Carefully executed cooking”
If all this scenery and calm isn’t enough to tempt you, then the cooking at Ravenstone Lodge certainly should. Guests can choose between dining in the informal Stables Bar and Bistro or the slightly more formal but no less friendly Coach House Restaurant. We, of course, chose both.
The Stables Bar and Bistro is converted out of the original stable block. The stalls and other fittings are retained, which creates an unusual and relaxed space. The menu here is honestly British and hearty. Beer batter haddock vies for your attention alongside steak and ale pie and Cumberland sausage. Just the thing after a day out in the country air.
The cooking is excellent. As is the carefully executed but unpretentious presentation and the generous portions. Neither do vegetarians miss out. The spinach and ricotta tortellini is as good as I’ve eaten. There are a range of starters and daily specials and an award should be given to the delicious homemade bread that comes spiced with saffron, cumin or rosemary. Desserts include generous portions of sticky toffee pudding or local ice cream. With mains priced at around £10 this is real value too.
“Ambience is relaxing”
Meanwhile, the well-stocked bar features local ales or you can choose from around fifty reasonably priced wines. We select Le Bastide vermentino/roussanne, which proves a good match for the creaminess of both the batter fish and an excellent turbot risotto. Afterward, the vast choice of single malt’s will satisfy any whisky connoisseur. My locally-made Langton’s gin comes with Fentiman’s tonic — showing careful attention to detail.
The Coach House Restaurant offers a deliberately different dining experience for up to twenty covers. You can decide to choose from the bar menu here too,. But the restaurant menu is more ambitious for a modest price increase. Whether you bag a window table for a stunning view across the terrace, or take a corner seat to admire the owners’ photographs of the lakes, the ambience is relaxing and enjoyable.
Starters are excellent and worthy of a far more upscale establishment. The beetroot tarte tatin with goats cheese mousse and a balsamic reduction is deceptively simple yet smart and chic. The sweet potato and pepper soup is deliciously savoury and light. Main courses are again generous and artfully presented. My roast breast of duck is mouthwateringly pink. It comes on a bed of colcannon with a wild mushroom jus. Even better is the asparagus, blue cheese and wild mushroom Wellington. The melting pastry and mix of flavours is leavened by sage cream and boulangère potato.
A raspberry-ish pinot noir from kiwi favourite Mud House washes these dishes down superbly. There is still enough room for dessert. A chocolate delice with orange ice cream and raspberry coulis is exceptional. It will satisfy any sweet tooth. I prefer the slightly lighter baked meringue with vanilla cream and a berry compote. To round off, we take our coffee and digestives out into the airy conservatory and slump into comfy armchairs. On a warmer night the outside terrace would be a lovely location.
For both the bistro and the restaurant Head Chef James Cooper prepares and cooks each dish to order using local and seasonal produce. It’s clear he has the skill to produce some very special food that focuses on flavour. Yet prices for the main courses are modest for the quality on offer. They range from £14 to £20. On this evidence, promotion to a second Rosette surely isn’t far away.
The impact of these surroundings and the cuisine would be sullied if the service didn’t match these standards – a common failing of many an establishment. This is why I commend the hotel particularly highly. Service was both faultless, friendly and enthusiastic. A special mention of thanks then to the manager, Rachel and those staff we met, namely Martin, Antonio and Sharon. Our feelings are also shared by the other guests I met during our stay. I know, because they told me!
“Gentle stroll to the lake”
Breakfasts are of equally high quality and will set you up for the day ahead. Full English is available of course, but other choices included eggs Benedict, kippers and vegetarian options.
At Ravenstone Lodge there really is no need to venture far given the surroundings, the food and the hospitality. It is perfect for naturalists, photographers and perhaps, even, lovers of poetry. Tennyson was a frequent visitor in these parts. Those looking to slough off the calories could ascend Skiddaw from the front door if feeling energetic.
Or do the same as us and take a gentle stroll down to the lake, through fields of trees and bleating lambs. That will lead you to St. Bega’s, a picturesque Celtic church sat in isolation on the lake shore. While skimming stones out across the lake I realise that I have finally found the peace I crave.
Ravenstone Lodge, Bassenthwaite, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 4QG
Open to non-residents
Prices are from £75 for for a standard double room to £120 for the luxury room