Located at the heart of the Lake District amidst forty-three acres of lush gardens and grounds, Forest Side Hotel is the perfect escape for city dwellers looking for an idyllic spot to unwind and indulge in. With fantastic staff, elegant rooms and a Michelin-star restaurant, we couldn’t ask for much more.
There is something about a long driveway that creates a sense of occasion. We’re in no rush as we potter along the drive, stopping to point out the sheep that call the hotel grounds their home and marvel at the dewy splendour of the plants. As we continue, the path opens up to reveal an impressive 19th century mansion. We amble up to the entrance and are greeted by friendly concierge, Helen, who take us on a whistle-stop tour before showing us to our room.
High ceilings and large windows together with leaf green walls, a welcomingly fatigued leather sofa and rough-hewn timber desk give the reception a bright and fresh feel.
Designer James Mackie has captured a warm and comfortable country aesthetic that is refined and contemporary. The Drawing Room combines French grey wood panelling with scuffed metallic panel-effect wallpaper. Chesterfield-inspired armchairs are arranged by large bay windows and inviting sofas surround the open fireplace.
Next door, a bar is covered in songbird wallcoverings and is furnished with plush sofas upholstered in crushed velvet and richly printed fabric.
By contrast, the restaurant is simple and rustic with white walls, potted trees and wooden tables made from the estate’s old floorboards.
We are led upstairs to our room – the door of which is labelled with a wooden sign spelling out “Mulberry”. The décor is soothing and light. The bed is placed against an eggshell blue feature wall. A simple but elegant piece of lightweight fabric flows from the panelled headboard to the ceiling to create a canopy. A flat-screen TV is mounted opposite the bed next to a chic, French-style desk. From the windows, we can survey the gardens below and the hills beyond, breathing in that intoxicating freshness of greenery just after rainfall.
The bathroom is a real selling point, charmingly designed around the building’s architectural quirks. A huge rain-shower begs to be used as do the organic bath products, which we are encouraged to take with us as a memento.
We unpack our suitcase, making use of the hidden clothing rails, spend far too long enjoying the power shower, don our fluffy dressing robes (these things must be tested) and flop onto the very soft bed. Once fully settled in, we ready ourselves for dinner and make our way downstairs.
It would be rude not to stop by such a pretty bar and we find ourselves sinking into a comfortable armchair overlooking the gardens and perusing the cocktail menu. We settle on a Sweet Thyme Negroni. Whilst Danny mixes our drink, Scott the Bar Manager explains that it comprises thyme-infused gin, rose vermouth, Aperol and orange bitters. An initial sweetness is followed by gentle bitterness from the Aperol and vermouth. Rose lingers on the palate along with the lemon-y, herbal and lightly bitter thyme. All-in-all, it is a light and refreshing Negroni.
As we sip on our cocktail, the Restaurant Manager, Gareth, and Assistant Manager, Kosmin, come strolling over and explain that there are three dinner menus each day – a three-course à la carte (“the Reet L’al Un’), 6-course (‘the L’al Un’) and 10-course (‘the Grand Un’). We naturally opt for the 10-course and are given a nod of approval. We continue nattering with Danny and Scott who, like all the staff at Forest Side, are amiable and relaxed. Once our Negroni has found its way into our belly, we follow Kosmin to the restaurant.
Forest Side received its first Michelin-star in 2016 and has retained it ever since. Martin Finkel, the Sous Chef, says that they use local produce, supporting the farmers and growing a lot themselves in the hotel’s gardens as well as incorporating a lot of foraged ingredients. He goes on to explain that Head Chef Kevin Tickle and a lot of the kitchen team grew up picking blackberries and seasonal produce with their families so the menu naturally continues this tradition and practice. The result is a uniquely creative yet authentically Cumbrian suite of menus that changes frequently. Martin says:
“We pick a lot in summer when the ingredients are in abundance, then freeze them for winter or pickle them. Our menu is still pretty seasonal but there are also a lot of vinegar at the beginning of the menu. We like big flavours and even though the size of the dishes, the strength of the flavours hits you.”
The restaurant received 4 Rosettes at the end of 2017 to complement their Michelin-star and the plan is to “just keep going and constantly improve”. Martin states:
“We got a Michelin-star after only a year of being open, which is amazing but we aren’t cooking for stars. We get to enjoy what we do and cook the food we want to. Our goal is to be the best we can be.”
After a deep and luxurious sleep aided by our full bellies and peaceful surrounding, we roll out of bed and into the restaurant that has been transformed by dappled sunshine streaming through the glass doors.
We plonk ourselves down at the same table that we had dinner at, which after only one day has somehow become “ours” in our mind, and are greeted by Alex, one of our waiters from the previous evening. He presents us with the breakfast menu and we wrestle with the delicious-sounding options, finally settling on Porridge with Whisky & Honey to start (because why not have whisky for breakfast?!) followed by Wild Mushrooms on Toast with Poached Egg and Old Winchester Shavings.
The porridge arrives in a rural and homey NÔM bowl that has been made especially for the hotel. Deliciously warming and indulgent, we savour every spoonful.
As he places our next course in front of us, Alex explains that the mushrooms have been foraged from the surrounding forest. The yolk is vibrant in colour and perfectly cooked. The shavings of cheese add a nutty, saltiness to this simple and honest dish.
A Reluctant Goodbye
After breakfast, we take a stroll through the gardens, soaking up the silence and basking in the bouquet of scents given off by the flowers. Begrudgingly, we return to our room, pack up our bag and grab one of the homemade biscuits from the Mason jar by the tea & coffee station for the road before descending the stairs and bidding the staff farewell.
It feels strange to us that we have been at Forest Side Hotel for less than 24-hours as we feel completely and utterly at home and know full well that we will miss it.
The setting is beautiful, the rooms comfy and well-appointed, the drinks intriguing and the food exceptional, however it is the effortlessly relaxed yet attentive manner of the staff that make Forest Side something else. Here, we felt at once informally met and entirely spoilt. There was never any semblance of the sycophantic, which can sometimes seem smothering in luxury hotels and fine dining restaurants. Instead, we were treated as houseguests who were welcome to return whenever the mood struck, and because of this, we will certainly be back.
Forest Side Hotel is a luxurious, 20-room, 4-star hotel in Kewsick, The Lake District. Double room prices start from £229.00 and include a delicious, cooked-to-order breakfast.
Forest Side, Keswick Road, Grasmere, Ambleside LA22 9RN
To book a stay, visit the Forest Side Hotel website.