Editor's note. In early 2017 a new head chef was appointed: Jake Jones, formerly of The Grand in York and The Talbot.
Holbeck Ghyll is a boutique country house hotel and restaurant set on a hillside overlooking lake Windermere. Originally a 19th century hunting lodge, it became a hotel in the 1970s. In case you are wondering, a ghyll is an old name for stream. The ground floor dining room has plenty of wood panelling, and dispenses with tablecloths altogether; one side of the room looks out over the lake itself. The menu is unashamedly classical, with dinner at £68 for three courses and à la carte choice at lunch.
The wine list had around 300 labels, with markups that were less rapacious than Londoners are used to. Examples included Irvine Estate Merlot 2010 at £38 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £20, Unus Mendel Malbec at £78 for a wine that retails at £34, and Etienne Sauzet Les Combettes Puligny Montrachet 2007 at £156 compared to a shop price of about £103. For those with the means, some relative bargains lurk at the upper end of the list. Lafon Montrachet 1996 may not sound cheap at £990, but this is a wine that currently costs £1,720 in a shop.
An amuse-bouche of butternut squash and Gruyere cheese was very pleasant, the flavour of the cheese meaning that the over-sweetness that often afflicts butternut squash was avoided (easily 14/20). Bread was made in the kitchen, a choice of white or brown rolls, black olive bread or walnut and apricot. The best of these was the final one, the walnut and apricot flavour coming through nicely. The black olive bread for me lacked enough olive taste, while the white and brown were pleasant enough and clearly fresh, but a bit light on flavour. Still, at least the kitchen makes the bread, which is more than many high profile London restaurants can be bothered to do (14/20 average).
A trio of Scottish diver scallops (£20) were paired with celeriac in the form of both puree and crisps, with a balsamic vinegar dressing. The scallops themselves were excellent, sweet and plump, lightly cooked, and were palpably fresh. The celeriac puree was fine but the crisps were, er, not crisp all (14/20 only due to the slightly flawed celeriac garnish).
Fillet of beef (£25) came from Aberdeenshire and was aged 21 days, cooked medium rare and served with a selection of wild mushrooms, spinach, truffled pomme puree and red wine sauce. The beef had good flavour and the mushrooms were excellent, with very good girolles amongst the mix of fungi used. The spinach was cooked carefully and it was nice to see a proper pool of sauce rather than the artistic smear beloved of so many modern chefs; this could perhaps have been more intense, but certainly had reasonable flavour. Seasoning was also spot on (16/20).
For dessert, creme brûlée (£9) came with apple sorbet, spheres of poached apple and cider sauce. This was very enjoyable, the acidity of the apple nicely balancing the richness of the creme brûlée, which itself had good texture (16/20).
Service was friendly, though do not be surprised to be asked to take your bill into the reception area to pay - the thick walls of the old house make it difficult to get a signal for the credit card machine. It was nice to see the head chef in the kitchen too, rather than on some PR related activity. With just still water to drink my bill at came to £56, though if I had chosen differently it would have been possible to eat for £35 for three courses. In the evening, if you shared a modest bottle of wine, then a typical bill might come to about £100 all in. Holbeck Ghyll is not the place to come if you are after cutting edge cuisine, but that is hardly the point. It is a country house hotel serving food suited to its audience, and that audience would probably balk at dishes using foraged local weeds and tweezer-plated displays of unfamiliar ingredients. This is old fashioned classical cooking using good quality ingredients, and long may it continue.