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Review: We visit Gilpin to try their Michelin-star Restaurant

Wall, Hexham, Northumberland
February 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

A night spent on the fells above Windermere is the perfect chance to try Gilpin's Michelin-starred Source restaurant

Down a narrow, twisting road between Kendal and Windermere, the sort in which the Lake District seems to specialise, a pair of black gates welcome us to Gilpin Lake House at Knipe Tarn.
Dining Room at Gilpin
Michelin-starred food at Gilpin

We’re greeted at the door and shown straight up the galleried staircase to our vast and comfortable room. Through windows on two sides we can glimpse trees decked in golden leaves, and the dark waters of the tarn itself. In the corner, a small and mysterious doorway turns out to lead to another gallery above the entrance hall, which can only be accessed via our room and is really a very pleasant place to watch the comings and goings below.

We’re here for just one night, so we’re keen to explore before it gets too dark. A quick whizz around the grounds reveals hot tubs, lots of secluded seating areas overlooking the water, and a rather unexpected swimming pool in the basement/ground floor. A small staircase offers a shortcut back to the bar on the ground floor (via reception). This is a hugely welcoming space with an open fire, plenty of squishy seating, lots of reading material and a bar in one corner. I could hardly be happier as we take a seat by one of the large windows, framed in leaves and vines in russet and red, and enjoy a quick pre-dinner drink.

While we’re staying in the Lake House, we’re actually at Gilpin to try Source – the hotel’s much-lauded Michelin-starred restaurant. Source is at the main hotel, but we’re ferried up the road and promptly delivered to the door (a journey of about five minutes). It seems the team at Gilpin specialise in welcoming, cosy spaces where you can relax and feel at home, because the lounge here offers more of the same. (If you want to know more about the hotel’s history and development, and how they’ve come to achieve this feat, I can recommend reading Slightly Perfect. Owner John Cunliffe’s memoir is no staid official history, but an honest and funny look at the challenges which come with running a hotel of this sort, and family businesses in general).

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Guest room at Gilpin

The restaurant here is split over a few rooms, and we’re shown through to the conservatory and seated by a window overlooking the garden. Given Source’s reputation, we can’t wait to see what’s on the menu, and the first wine of our pairings (a sparkling English Blancs de Blancs from Gusbourne) sets the tone nicely.

Early last year Source welcomed a new head chef, Ollie Bridgwater, who previously spent almost a decade at Heston Blumenthal’s much-garlanded Fat Duck. The first course we’re presented with, called ‘Our Gin and Tonic’, smacks of Heston – a round blob of gel in vibrant green perched on a silver spoon, which slides into your mouth and pops wondrously on the tongue – it really does taste of the most refreshing gin and tonic you can imagine, with a hint of fresh cucumber.

There’s plenty more drama to come across the next nine courses, but little else that’s so overtly scientific. Instead, what follows are fabulous quality, innovative and precise dishes which make the most of the seasonal, sustainable local produce the Lake District is known for.

Our next course is a great example – a simple wooden bowl of game broth, deeply flavoured, with specks of bone marrow and braised shiitake mushrooms. Having finished our fizz, our next wine is a fabulous Domain Road pinot noir from New Zealand’s Central Otago region (one of my favourite reds). Next up we’re presented with a plate of roast quail on a bed of braised spelt, chestnut truffle and celeriac, covered in what I think I’ll call gravy – such is its gorgeous simplicity. Alongside this, a small and shiny loaf of soft bread with fermented garlic honey and sage, which doesn’t sound like it should work, but obviously does. It’s soft and almost brioche-like, but without the over-sweetened finish (my partner chooses it as one of his highlights of a meal with many more highlights than most).

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A pleasingly stodgy dish of St James cheese dumplings with potato, mustard seeds and roast chicken juices follows (and I really do mean stodgy as a compliment), and then we’re onto something lighter with a plate of delicious butter-poached cod, which sits on a sort of deconstructed Waldorf salad with candied walnuts, and is topped with a light buttercream and vermouth sauce. This is served with a glass of Attis albarino from north west Spain, which has a slightly salty note thanks to the Atlantic valleys it is produced in. The last of the savoury dishes is a loin of venison with spiced beetroot, endive, kampot pepper and parfait – the delicate yet strongly-flavoured venison is the perfect vehicle to bring together each element of the rich dish.

Our sweet dishes include an olive and liquorice concoction which sounds weird but really works, and a pretty dish of English strawberry with lavender, Earl Grey and reduced milk, which is slightly reminiscent of Eton mess but not too sweet and certainly not a mess. A sour jelly and stupendous handmade chocolates (which taste almost exactly like sticky toffee pudding) round off the 10-course extravaganza.

Hot tub over looking a lake dusted with snow

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We’re visiting midweek, but the atmosphere is good and the staff are outstanding. Nothing is too much trouble, but nor is the feeling overly formal – they take the time to chat, and go the extra mile. Speaking to one of the restaurant managers after our meal, we mention that we particularly enjoyed the Attis wine – he soon returns with another bottle for us to try from the same producer, talking us through the unique process they follow.

We also get the chance to have a few moments with chef Ollie. He had not long since arrived at Source when the Michelin inspectors came calling and he was able to retain the restaurant’s Michelin star, but it’s obvious that after his experience at the three-Michelin star Fat Duck, Ollie’s ambitions are much bigger. He’s introduced regular development lunches (some of the dishes we’ve eaten tonight were born of these) and clearly has big plans. If what we’ve experienced is just a starting point, we can’t wait to see what’s next – and we’ll be keeping an eye on Ollie’s achievements at Gilpin.

Gilpin Hotel & Lake House
Crook Road, Windermere

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