Andy Mossack visits the banks of Windemere to sample the legendary delights of Rothay Manor.
Is it a restaurant with rooms, or a boutique hotel with a signature restaurant? Rothay Manor has, over the years, courted discussion on this subject. Well now, with the planned expansion of a further eight guestrooms for the new Pavilion building, perhaps there’s no further argument to be had.
At the end of the day, it makes little difference to me whatever you want to call it, because I was deliriously happy with it all, the room, the restaurant, and the location.
Ever since it opened in 1936, Rothay Manor has been the epitome of style and sophistication and the haunt of well-heeled visitors to Ambleside’s charms. Not quite within touching distance of Windemere but far enough away from the lake’s tourist centre, it embraces you like an oasis of calm.
The distinctive white walls of this 19th century Regency manor house, have graced the northern waters of Windemere since it was a merchant’s home in the early 19th century and even today the hotel still retains the period feel of a family house. Albeit through the interior design lens of Matt Hulme, owners Jenna and Jamie Shail have recently refurbished the restaurant and rooms into what I might term understated contemporary Regency chic.
My really spacious Superior Plus room, suitably entitled The Howk after a famous bobbin mill in Cumbria, was a study in soft cream accented by fragments of burgundy on the bed pillows and around the armchair and elegant three-seater couch. The four-post king bed was exceptionally comfortable with high-thread linen and a leather-bound bench seat at its foot. The doors opened to a balcony overlooking the garden and proved to be the perfect spot for an early-evening sundowner. The en-suite bathroom in an equally elegant soft grey tone was decorated with Metro wall tiling, bath, separate monsoon shower cubicle and Noble Isle toiletries. As refurbishments go, this one was impeccable.
I spent the afternoon ambling around Ambleside, just a few minutes walk away, and a stroll across the fields to the water’s edge at Windemere just in time to see one of the lake cruise ships steaming across to Bowness.
No time for dallying on the lake though as there was important eating to be had back at Rothay Manor, where Head Chef Dan McGeorge presides, the winner of the Great British Menu 2021 and Champion of Champions. I was excited about experiencing his cooking, particularly his winning dessert dish, Give A Dog a Bone, based on Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond’s pioneering dog-training techniques.
There is something quite wonderful in watching a restaurant service run like a well-oiled machine. Everything about Rothay Manor’s dinner service is akin to a Swiss timepiece, from nibbles and drinks in the bar to being seated and synced with the kitchen. The front of house team moves about the room seamlessly silent, as though mentally tuned in to each other’s duties. That said, once at the table, they are gracious, informative, and incredibly efficient. For me, it is a wonderful complement to McGeorge’s culinary magic and makes it even more special, thoroughly deserving its 3 AA rosettes for the third year running as well as a Michelin Plate in 2021.
Our three-course à la carte dinner began with a trio of extraordinary canapes: a melted cheese mousse tart, a beef and oyster tartare taco, and sea urchin custard in an eggshell and egg box. Three tantalising morsels for us to only imagine what was to follow. Then, right on cue, the bread arrived in all its crusty sourdough glory. There is something overwhelmingly sexy about just-baked crusty sourdough loaves and these two beauties were accompanied by an equally sexy duo of butter: a chive and chervil mix and the other cultured with cream.
While we were discussing the various virtues of butter mixes and sourdough, our forest-inspired amuse-bouche materialised: sauteed mushrooms with mushroom foam, truffle, and soft egg. I must admit here that at this point I broke a fine dining rule by clandestinely mopping this up with my remaining sourdough. What utter joy.
At the risk of overindulging, I paired back my starter to a simple but delicious summer salad of scorched gem lettuce with radish, cucumber, sweet pea, kaji and wild garlic caper. However, Mrs M got to experience Dan’s Japanese influences with her starter of scallops with kohlrabi, elderflower, dashi and sorel.
By now the restaurant was at full capacity, yet remarkably, the service remained resolutely oiled. Just as a neighbouring table was cooing over their just-delivered canapes our main courses triumphantly appeared with our waiter discreetly describing the culinary magic that lay on our plates. A perfect tube of halibut for Mrs M “how on earth do they do that?” she whispered, with mussels, alliums, burdock root and sea aster flower. While mine was a little less of a mystery, it was nevertheless another piece of edible artistry, Cumbrian Dexter beef with aubergines, sea beet greens and shallots. I held back as a marrow jus was delicately poured across my plate.
Another gasp ensued from a nearby table, at least a course or two behind us, yet equally under Dan’s spell.
Our finale had to be Dan’s prizewinning dish, a bone-shaped chocolate mousse with a miso caramel centre and served with miso honeycomb, salted caramel ice cream and yuzu. It was heaven on a plate.
Rothay Manor ticks every hospitality box for me. A gorgeous location, a thoroughly luxurious place to stay and a restaurant that would give any Michelin starred alternative a run for its money.
An unmissable place to stay in Ambleside.
All food and room images (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Rothay Manor Hotel in Ambleside
Rothay Manor, Rothay Bridge, Ambleside, LA22 0EH
T: 01539 433605 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms from £200 per night, including breakfast.
À la carte three course menu £60. Matched wines available.