Restaurant with rooms tucked inside the hilltops of Whinlatter Forest
The Cottage in the Wood gained its first Michelin star in the 2020 Michelin guide under the head chef Ben Wilkinson, a long-time resident and chef of Cumbria. There is pride in the local produce and the menu was skilfully designed, no question. The value for money here is spectacular – circa £265 for two included a night’s stay, dinner for two and breakfast for two which I thought was pretty amazing, especially now I know what level the cooking is at. We upgraded for an extra £20 each for the 7-course tasting menu which proved to be worth every penny. I would strongly recommend this venue as the journey there will make sense when you visit and the meal has done the talking.
This restaurant with rooms is nestled in the huge Whinlatter Forest which is in the north of the Lake District. It is quite a journey from virtually anywhere and you will need to make sure your map reading / route is prepared as you will lose signal from most devices following GPS to get to the spot. Full COVID measure were in place including controlling the seating, staggered timings, hand gel available everywhere, lounge sealed off, all menus within each room and staff all wearing masks – credit to them, all seemed very well done.
The 7-course tasting menu started with nibbles of light and fluffy cheese gougers and breadsticks with yeast powder. The canapes that followed were duck fritters with an apple-vinegar and mustard emulsion; duck liver parfait on rye crackers (which were super) and fermented turnip inside beef tartar in rye bread. A pleasant way to start any meal.
Because we arrived much later than wished, we hardly had any time to look at all the menus in the room on checking in. When perusing the winelist for the first time in the restaurant I was quite amazed at the reasonably priced selections. We opted to have a bottle of Pol Roger Brut to enjoy through our meal and even though this was non-vintage, its price at £65 was hard to miss as this is very pleasant champagne and this is barely 0.25 of the mark up. In London you can expect to pay at least double this for this bottle and in many places such as Mayfair, three times as much easily. The wine list changes frequently and reminds me of the same magnificent value you get for this at The Sportsman. It is rather incredible what happens when you venture out of London.
First course up, this was tomatoes in tomato dressing with prawn tartare. The herb oil and tomato consommé were beautifully done and didn’t detract the sweetness of the fish – if you are going to have raw prawn, this is a very good way of doing it and a delightfully fresh start. Homemade Black treacle bread and sourdough were good to have as well.
Cured chalk stream trout with oyster cream, dill oil, compressed cucumber & seaweed came with very thin breadsticks to add a crunch that it needed and this was another very pleasing dish to have. The additions to the trout were classic and with a very well-judged flavour of the oyster running through and the acidity of the compressed cucumber balanced the cream nicely.
Next up was seared venison served in thin slices almost resembling carpaccio. These slices of almost raw venison came with sour fennel, cabbage, caper jam, pine nuts and glorious smoked emulsion. This was a star dish if ever there was one and was not a surprise to be me to discover that it had evolved as a signature dish over many years. The venison had great flavour and married beautifully with its smoked emulsion. You really could have two or three of this course alone.
My other half had hand-dived scallop, celeriac, truffle and lovage oil and I had the same but with wild turbot from a 4.5kg fish owing to avoiding scallops at the moment. The sauce to go with both was not my favourite in its yeast-like flavour from the lovage oil, but it was executed as well as one can and the cut of turbot was warmly received.
Herdwick Hogget is a prized Cumbrian lamb that has a distinct grey coat and white face. This course was the loin served with peas, fermented turnip and a side or braised shoulder of the lamb with red cabbage. The main loin was succulent and delicately presented – not too much of anything else and its quantity of bed of mash and reduction was judged perfectly as was the cooking. I actually thought that the shoulder was in danger of out-shining the loin however, and this had an intense flavour and marriage of the pickled cabbage with the reduction and mash again.
Being in the forest that we were, Douglas Fir is abundant all around and the chef has used as much of the locality as possible. A sorbet of Douglas Fir with panna cotta, lemon & yoghurt was an absolutely cracking dessert – the fragrance of the Fir, complemented by the freshness of the lemon, the rich crumbs and panna cotta came together brilliantly. It was hard to say whether this was a pre-dessert or just one of two small desserts, but this was knock out regardless. The final dessert of dark chocolate mousse & almond frangipane with cherries was agreeable with a luxurious feel to the mousse and a pleasant way to finish off the meal.
Service in the restaurant was absolutely delightful – warm hospitality and genuine care for the experience. Chef Ben Wilkinson afforded his time to us at the end of the meal which had been superbly delivered by the floor manager Monique and her sommelier as very good hosts all round. Staying at the venue allowed me to enjoy glasses of champagne throughout the evening and I would say if you do not live locally, then this is clearly the no brainer way forward to enjoy it properly.
I am still pinching myself slightly at the outstanding value of this night’s stay to include the accommodation, Michelin starred tasting menu and a fully cooked breakfast of several choices for two people for circa £265 (prior to any supplements). This is rock solid 1 Michelin starred cooking and was a genuine pleasure to experience. Well done the Cottage in the Wood.
Food Grade: 81%
Location (Click google logo for directions)