Holbeck Ghyll, with its striking Arts and Crafts interior and views of Lake Windermere, is one of the few hotels in the Lake District that can be termed ‘luxury’, and with the addition of an exemplary restaurant, serving modern and innovative food, the like of which wouldn’t be out of place in London or Paris, it doesn’t get much more enjoyable for a countryside jaunt…
The former hunting lodge of Lord Lonsdale in the 19th century, Holbeck Ghyll is something of a legend in these parts, having opened as a hotel in 1973 it quickly gained a reputation for gourmet cuisine, something then out of the ordinary in so remote a location. The restaurant acquired a Michelin star in 2000 and was featured in the 2010 BBC comedy The Trip starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who, as fictionalised versions of themselves, embarked on a restaurant tour of the north of England. The addition of a spa has further helped to raise Holbeck’s game and the hotel currently have 23 rooms and suites located in both the main house and cottages.
Whilst the hallway boasts original Arts and Crafts wood panelling and stained glass, the hotel had a lot more space devoted to dining than ‘lounging’ during our visit and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to sit in a hallway, which is where guests are currently directed when the drawing room gets overcrowded, particularly when their popular afternoon teas or pre-dinner drinks are being served. The hotel should perhaps consider freeing up the room located next to the drawing room, which is currently being used for overflow and private dining, as this would make a very pleasant lounge area due to its lovely lake views.
Located on a hill-side between Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside, although the property doesn’t boast a position right on the water’s edge, many of the rooms are elevated enough to offer good views of Windermere, something which will enhance any stay. Our lake view room, number 23, was located in the original lodge, and whilst extremely comfortable, was not especially large or luxuriously furnished, with a busy floral fabric partnered with clubby leather armchairs. In future I’d upgrade for one of the airier suites, particularly for a special occasion. It also makes sense to book one night on a dinner, bed and breakfast rate as the dinner inclusive rate is only £100 more than the b&b rate; making dinner for two effectively £50 each. For full board guests wishing to upgrade to the Gourmet Menu a supplement of £38 per person is charged.
The receptionist’s offer to send a complimentary tray of tea or coffee up to our room on arrival was a welcoming touch and one especially appreciated after a long journey, as was the decanter of local Lyth Valley Damson Gin. However, it would be nice to see the hotel elevate their overall service to match that experienced in the fine dining restaurant, for example, Holbeck currently have an efficient but small team of staff, but there was no sign of a designated doorman/porter to attend to luggage or valet parking (although help was available on request). That said, Hollywood actress Renée Zellweger chose Holbeck as her home-from-home during the shooting of Miss Potter, the film about Beatrix Potter’s life, with her suite now bearing the same name. Make sure you find time to visit Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s Lake District retreat, now owned by the National Trust and just a 25-minute drive.
One example of the hotel succeeding in going the extra mile for guests (and quite literally too) is the fact that owner, Stephen, who is a qualified pilot, offers hotel residents the chance to take a spin in his helicopter free of charge. Perfect for the more adventurous traveller or if it is your first time visiting the Lake District, the experience offers unparalleled views of Lake Windermere and the surrounding fells. Just check with reception on arrival to see if the weather is suitable to fly and they will put through a request.
But regardless of the helicopter rides, the rooms with a view, the spa or the stunning scenery, the food is what will make you return to Holbeck again and again – and I’m not talking about the English Breakfast, however excellent that may be. Newly appointed head chef Darren Comish, who made the finals of BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals 2014, and also happens to be a local lad, is currently cooking up a storm with some of the most exciting dishes I’ve tasted all year; ‘Teriyaki mackerel with marshmallow and peanuts?’ I repeat in horror on the fish course being presented to me, before going on to eat my words.
From a wonderfully refreshing first course of hand-picked crab with brown meat panacotta and textures of cucumber, a sumptuous main of Cumbrian beef fillet with oxcheek lasagne, smoked potato and oyster mushrooms, all drizzled with a sexy red wine jus I wanted more of, to a mind-blowing chocolate orange dessert inspired by the humble Jaffa Cake, each course was partnered with exceptionally well chosen wines by the sommelier and showcased a restaurant team determined to be put back on the map.
If the thought of a bum-numbing six course gourmet marathon usually fills you with dread, I can assure you that the minutes and mouthfuls of each and every dish will fly by all too soon (a bit like Holbeck’s helicopter), nor will it be long before Comish succeeds in getting back the third AA Rosette which Holbeck lost earlier this year, along with the Michelin star the restaurant was stripped of in 2014, after a decade. Perhaps then the dully entitled, ‘The Restaurant’ might be more prestigiously renamed ‘Restaurant Darren Comish’. This is one of the hottest chefs around right now and is one of the main reasons why the hotel is buzzing regardless of the season. Yes, you’ll have to go a long way to dine here, but then again, you’ll have to go a long way to find a better chef.
Holbeck Ghyll, Holbeck Ln, Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1LU. From £185 per night b&b. For more information and to book visit the website.