Lakeside Hotel and Spa, Lake District – Review
By Paul Howard
Most people know Windermere for the tourist hustle and bustle of the lake resort towns of Bowness, Ambleside and Windermere itself. However, this is Britain’s largest natural lake and, in contrast, its southern end is an oasis of tranquility just twenty minutes from the M6. The local scenery here may be less dramatic than that of the mountains to the north, but it is still breathtaking.
The Lakeside Hotel and Spa is set on these southern shores. It was originally a 17th century coaching inn known as the Quay Inn, the origins of which can still be seen in the oak-lined panel bar. Much extended over the years as trade and tourism boom, today it is a multi-award winning luxury four star hotel with 75 individually designed bedrooms, including seven suites. A photogenic rambling building of cream stucco and lakeland slate, it overlooks nothing but the lake. Because it has grown over time it offers a variety of places to lounge in. There are bars, a library and – best of all – an airy conservatory that runs the entire length of the frontage.
We arrive at Lakeside early afternoon in bright sunshine for a two-night weekend stay. Despite the frequently awful weather of this English summer, the Lake District is faring better than many other parts of the country and fair weather lasted for our duration. Ironic when rain and swirling mist can be part of the lakeland’s attraction. However, Lakeside proves it has plenty of entertainment in store whatever the weather.
“Blends the traditional with the modern”
Our double room has a stunning view across the lake to the eastern shore, dominated by the fell of Gummers How under an azure sky. The room has been recently decorated and refurnished in a country house style, to a very high standard. Lakeside employ an interior designer and it shows. Rich fabrics in cream, pale green and plum add luxurious touches to a good size bedroom and well appointed en suite bathroom.
Every bedroom is different, and all are of the same high quality. They effortlessly blend the traditional with the modern. Some have a view of the garden and fells rather than the lake, others have private patios.
The first impression of Lakeside, which turns into a lasting memory, is one of relaxing high quality achieved through dedicated attention to detail. By the end of our stay I conclude that that is because the hotel remains under private ownership. There are no corporate chain values or brand sameness here. Neville Talbot, one of the two owners, is a frequent resident and he meets many of the guests. This is a sure fire way of ensuring excellence. Indeed, many of the staff are local and all are well trained and highly motivated. They are a model of discreet yet friendly service throughout our stay. Something which makes every guest feel both special and at ease.
After unpacking, it is time for a relaxing drink. Would it be a pint of local real ale in the bar, afternoon tea in the conservatory or a Pimm’s outside on the lake terrace? All are tempting, but as the sun is shining there is no contest. We took our quintessentially English summer drink on to the lawn, where we watch swans, swallows and a wedding. All very romantic.
“Boasts not one but two excellent and contrasting restaurants”
The superb conservatory is in many ways the focal point of the Lakeside. It overlooks the lake and gives easy access to the rest of the facilities. There you can take morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea, or just sip drinks. This was added in 1990, though its design is elegantly Victorian. Opening onto the terrace, it has commanding views, comfortable colonial-style seating and immaculate indoor plants. This becomes my favourite spot from amongst many other strong candidates.
One of those is the exclusive Aveda Spa, pool and gym, which we use a number of times. The pool is some seventeen metres long, with a Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms adjacent. This is a peaceful setting, with loungers grouping around the pool, glass etching decoration and is reassuringly spotless throughout. With a host of high quality treatments and massages available, Lakeside also offers Spa days and themed breaks for those in need of a little extra restoration.
Dining should be a special part of any hotel break and here again the Lakeside excels. It boasts not one but two excellent and contrasting restaurants. The modern and informal John Ruskin’s Brasserie and the more traditional Lakeside Restaurant. This means that it was easy to spend both nights at the Lakeside and compare them.
For our first night we choose John Ruskin’s Brasserie – a modern, informal dining room overlooking an English country garden. All wood, white paint and glass, with walls of blue slate, with a hum of conversation and relaxing atmosphere. There is also a private dining room called the Spice Room that contains the most magnificent modern glass chandelier I have ever seen. The menu here ranges from lighter bites and salads to full three courses.
“Spectacular sunset gives way to twinkling lights”
We are served homemade ciabatta with an olive oil dip made at our table. My starter of English Pea Velouté with crab salad features intense yet delicate flavours, nicely offset by a glass of Pio Cesare’s Gavi. My partner meanwhile finds her Tempura Calamari irresistible. Perfect strips of squid in a light batter with a mint and chilli dip.
The tour-de-force on this evening are the magnificent Galloway sirloin steaks, served juicy and rare. With marbling to perfection, they achieve a melting texture not easily found this far from Smithfield. These are superbly accompanied by a longtime wine favourite: Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 by Riccardo Falchini. An elegant structured red that is brilliant with steak.
On this evidence, the desserts have to be tried. Vanilla panacotta is served on a slate slab, cleverly offset with poached apricot. The Lemon Tart has superbly light pastry topped with almond foam. Both could handle a glass of dessert wine and an orange-topaz coloured Tokay Aszú has the sweetness and smoky fruit to go well with both. Lingering over coffee on this balmy summer night, a spectacular sunset gives way to twinkling lights entwining around the branches of the trees outside in the garden.
This Ruskin’s experience set high expectations for the Lakeside restaurant the following evening, which are well met. Head Chef Richard Booth ensures fine cookery fully deserving of their two rosette standard. Indeed, at least a couple of dishes would not be out of place on the menu at nearby Michelin-starred L’Enclume. The style is modern British, featuring wherever possible local Cumbrian produce. The menu offers plenty of choice, with three courses for a set price of £39.
“Desserts do seem to be a speciality”
The wine list meanwhile is an enthusiast’s joy, with interest at all levels and reasonable markups. It is particularly good at the Rhône (reflecting the owners’ own tastes) as well as providing fine bottles from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italy and Spain. There are plenty of good representatives of the new world too.
We mull over the menu and the wine list in the conservatory before being asked to the Lakeland dining room. This is oak panelled, with rich gold, green and plum fabrics and furnishings. Candlelight and Riedel wine glasses hint at the ambience.
First, a wide selection of breads are served, with so much choice they need their own trolley. Then we choose a starter of golden sautéed girolles and tofu, the delicate savoury flavours set off by samphire and an exclamation mark of pea purée. A glass of Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas branco works well with this sensational dish and this Portuguese white wine is exclusive to the Lakeside.
To accompany our main courses we choose a New Zealand Pinot Noir, Instinct “vine velvet” 2009 by Kate Radburnd. This kiwi red has balance, violet perfume, silky mouth-feel and red berry fruit undercut with autumnal notes and pairs both dishes well. Mine was Cumbrian lamb loin, superbly pink with choucroute and a piquant redcurrant sauce. My partner relishes a duck confit, which comes served with cassoulet and cubes of quince paste. Both dishes have excellent flavour and careful presentation.
Desserts do seem to be a Lakeside speciality; a baked vanilla cheesecake is soft and luscious with its delicious bilberry compote, making a classic summer dish. However the star turn is a mousse of Michel Cluizel dark chocolate, surrounded by a chocolate sauce that contains sea salt and butterscotch. Bravo!
“Plenty of good walks directly from the hotel”
Dining verdict? Lakeside provides a great choice in dining that can match your mood and appetite. The Lakeside restaurant cuisine is special, but so too is the ambience in Ruskin’s Brasserie. So plan on trying both. A final note on the food. Breakfast is often overlooked in reviews, but these are special too. Eggs Benedict, Manx kippers and Cumberland sausage are just some of the highlights that will set you up for the day.
Tearing yourself away from the hotel is both difficult and hardly necessary for this weekend break. However, this marvels location means that there are plenty of attractions and activities with access from the doorstep. These include regular boat trips to Bowness and Ambleside and various lake cruises. There are also plenty of good walks directly from the hotel on National Trust protected land.
One such excursion is to cross by ferry to the delightful Fell Foot Park on the opposite shore, a short trip before ascending Gummers How. At just over 1,000 feet, it isn’t a mighty peak but the 360-degree view from the top vies for the finest in all lakeland. The Langdale Pikes and Skiddaw rise majestically to the North, there is the birds-eye view of the Lakeside hotel on Windermere directly below and Blackpool Tower can be seen to the South, over 35-miles distant.
“A wealth of country houses are nearby”
Alternatively, take a boat or jet-ski, go fishing on the nearby River Leven or ride the steam train south courtesy of the restored Lakeside and Haverthwaite railway. On wet days, the Aquarium opposite the hotel is great for children of all ages, while a wealth of country houses and the picturesque village of Hawkshead are nearby.
Over the years Lakeside has received awards aplenty, including Condé Nast Johanens “Most Excellent Waterside Hotel Award 2009” and the recent “Best large hotel in the Lake District.” All are fully deserved. Many guests return regularly and we plan to join them! There are themed events in every season including Christmas and New Year. There’s even a new conference centre called the Windermere Suite opposite the main hotel for lucky business people. Check out the Lakeside website, Twitter and Facebook. They even have their own App for Apple and Android.
Lakeside is a luxurious treat that comes warmly recommended. We thought we already knew Windermere. Lakeside made us think again.
Lakeside Hotel & Spa, Lake Windermere, Newby Bridge, Cumbria, LA12 8AT