Rothay Manor Hotel, Lake District – Review
By Karl Hornsey
For the first night of a two-night stay in the Lake District we decided to try something different. Ambleside is a popular tourist haven that needs little or no introduction and is awash with eating establishments, B&Bs and hotels, but none, I would wager, quite like Rothay Manor Hotel.
After a three-hour drive and a brief stop in the even more densely packed tourist metropolis that is Bowness-on-Windermere, we were ready and expecting to relax, unwind and be treated to an evening of luxury. And that is exactly what we got. The hotel is situated on the outskirts of the town and still within easy walking distance, but once you pull into the private grounds, you immediately feel far from the madding crowd. The historic building and beautiful gardens wouldn’t look out of place in an Agatha Christie murder mystery, and there’s decadence to be found at every turn.
We were greeted on arrival by the friendly receptionist, who showed us to our Classic Plus room on the first floor, with one of the two window seats offering a fine view over to the nearby mountains. The bed was enormous, the room well-equipped and spotlessly clean, and the walk-in shower was huge, although sadly our particular room didn’t come with a bath as well. For anyone wishing to escape the confines of their room, there are several beautifully furnished seating areas downstairs and, in brighter and warmer weather, the opportunity to sit out in the sprawling gardens.
Not feeling the need to venture out into Ambleside, we rested ahead of our evening meal, knowing that the reason many people choose to stay at Rothay Manor is for its promise of a fine dining experience. Offering such a menu sets the hotel apart from the vast majority of others in the town, while still giving guests and patrons the option of a simpler restaurant selection or lighter meals. At £42 for two courses or £49 for three courses, this is in the special occasion category and, while I’m more of a pub grub connoisseur, this was too good an opportunity to miss.
“Creamy and decadent”
As well as the advertised two or three courses, there are canapés, an amuse bouche, homemade breads and a pre-dessert to sample throughout the course of the evening, with the whole experience set in the elegant and spacious Regency-period dining room. While munching on the canapés, which included delicious tiny packages of lamb and oyster, the thing that struck me most was the waiting staff’s knowledge of everything on the menu, whether that be reeling off the list of ingredients in each dish, or which of the large wine selection to try, their attention to detail was superlative and throughout the evening ensured a pleasant dining experience.
Following an amuse bouche of langoustine foam with shrimps, we tucked into our starters of pigeon with beetroot, liquorice and hazelnut, and the scallops with butternut squash, fermented strawberry and coriander, helped along the way by some quite phenomenal treacle bread that was unlike anything I’d ever tasted before. The quality of the starters was a sign of things to come, and I followed mine with venison loin with red cabbage, kale, pomme mousseline (a ridiculously creamy and decadent version of mashed potato) and a venison faggot.
“Spoonfuls of delight”
The venison simply melted in my mouth, the mash was light, yet still maintained a firm texture and the faggot was packed with flavour, so much so that any more than the small portion would have overpowered the rest of the dish. My wife’s choice of duck breast, chard, chervil root and sorrel was equally tasty, especially the duck, which surpassed anything we’d ever tasted before from that particular bird, and from thereon in, the meal just got better and better.
The pre-dessert (no, I’ve never had a pre-dessert before either), featuring effectively all of the ingredients of an apple crumble, was another winner, but even that couldn’t match the quality of the desserts that ended our meal on a high. My deconstructed blueberry cheesecake consisted of seven or eight elements, each of which when combined created several spoonfuls of delight, and I’m not sure my wife will ever remember a dessert with greater fondness than the gooseberry soufflé with elderflower sorbet that simply blew her away. As fine dining experience go, this one lived up to its billing and more.
At breakfast, we eschewed the extensive range of homemade cereals, yoghurts, breads and fruit on offer, and kept it simple with the Full English, which is always to my mind an essential test of any establishment’s mettle. Flying colours were the order of the day once again, with quality local ingredients on offer, and a small amount of all of the requisite components made for a hearty and enjoyable breakfast, although it still beats me why hot food is served on cold plates when it’s a relatively basic thing to get right.
Despite that pet quibble, the full package on offer at Rothay Manor is impressive. From the well-trained and friendly staff, to the quality of food on offer and the beautiful house and grounds, this is an impressive place to eat, drink and relax. It may be at the top end of the scale price-wise, but as a one-off treat or special occasion, it’s well worth sampling.
Rothay Manor, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0EH
Room prices (including breakfast) can start from £150 upwards per room
Room prices (including dinner) can start from £238 upwards per room.
Telephone: 01539 433605