Michael Edwards goes stomach-first into Rothay Manor, Ambleside’s legendary foodie hotel
First things first. Dessert. Let us get our priorities straight.
Rothay Manor’s quietly understated chef, Dan McGeorge has just beaten off seven other elite chefs to have his pud selected for the BBC’s Great British Menu.
Give a Dog a Bone is a tribute to the first four guide dogs and the handlers who trained them back in 1931. Showing his predilection for creative experimentation with Japanese ingredients, McGeorge designed a bone-shaped chocolate mousse with a miso caramel centre and served it with miso honeycomb, salted caramel ice cream and yuzu gel. Out of the box inspirational thinking, adding miso to a dessert, a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji and other ingredients such as seaweed, was the clinching flavour for the judges.
Although Give a Dog a Bone features in McGeorge’s Great British Menu at Rothay Manor, this dessert is child’s play compared to his spectacular Peach Melba which merges creativity with scientific precision. Caramelised sugar is rolled until delicately thin. Then air is pumped into the sugar until the perfect orb of a sphere rises. After it has set, the pud is filled with the chunks of peach, raspberry sorbet, almond sponge and vanilla cream.
“Crack the top as if it were a boiled egg,” the waitresses urges. Understandably, guests are reluctant to commit an act of wanton violence on such an objet d’art. Though as the courses of the a la carte menu arrive, guests are very grateful for the Damascene moment when McGeorge abandoned a law degree for a career of culinary creativity
There is a sense of quiet expectation, anticipating a meal that has brought Rothay Manor 3 AA Rosettes, as guests take pre-dinner drinks on the terrace of this impeccably presented Regency Manor House. Since the house was built in 1835, for a Liverpool Merchant seeking a more peaceful life, the gardens, approaching their third century, have matured nicely with their bluebells, magnolia, rhododendron and towering trees.
Rothay Manor’s dining room keeps the Regency theme alive but with a light touch, wood-panelled walls are the palest shade of pistachio, numerous windows light the central sunflower display, and as the sun sinks its light is replaced by the chandeliers.
Throughout the lounges, the Regency stripes are thinned and toned down to a contemporary grey with decanters standing on horizontal piles of books maintaining an aura of another age. An archive of 19th-century postcards, black and white Lakeland adverts, as well as pages from Victorian publications are framed to create a sense of Rothay Manor’s heritage.
But fine dining is undoubtedly the main event. Amongst the trio of canapés, there is more evidence of Japanese influences, delicate roses of wasabi top duck on lightly toasted fingers of brioche. It is followed by a delicate amuse-bouche of cheese and tomatoes decorated with white garlic flowers. When a tiny jug of an emulsion is poured, with the merest hint of garlic, like the ultimate dressing over the miniature salad, it is one of McGeorge’s trademarks.
There’s always a bonus. Stone-bass arrives with an oyster in its own dish, duck is accompanied by a lone tortellini, again in its own dish, which is then doused with duck consommé.
On the a la carte menu, it’s the courses between courses which help elevate Rothay’s restaurant in the direction of a Michelin star. A cheese board, offered either before or after dessert, usually of around 20 cheeses accompanied by chutneys and jams, is more like a cheesemonger’s market stall than a mere cheese board. Our pre-dessert, a cherry blossom ice cream, once again showcases McGeorge’s love of Japanese influences.
For visitors to the Lake District, Rothay Manor has a perfect location. A short stroll east takes you to the heart of Ambleside whilst an even shorter walk to the west takes you to the shores of Lake Windermere. Wild swimming is the latest attraction and you can book a course in Ambleside.
As parking in the Lake District can be challenging many guests park their car for the duration of their stay and head off for biking, sailing, walking or cruises on Lake Windermere. Soon, Rothay will open a boot room and dog wash to clean up after a day’s walking: an essential facility for a dog-friendly hotel.
As a 19-room boutique hotel, Rothay Manor ticks all the boxes for a luxurious base for exploring the Lake District. Rooms are generously sized, featuring big beds and plenty of storage room. Hidden away in the large wardrobes are a coffeemaker, kettle, fridge chilling the fresh milk and homemade cookies. In fact, with spacious bathrooms provided too, Rothay Manor offers everything you need to recover after busy days enjoying the Lake District.
Tell Me More About Rothay Manor
Rothay Manor, Rothay Bridge, Ambleside, LA22 0EH
T: 01539 433605
Rooms from £200 per night, including breakfast.