If you’re a foodie – you MUST tick off this Lake District restaurant: Inside the Michelin-star eatery that’s as mouthwatering as the Grade I listed 13th-century building that houses it
- Ted Thornhill checked in to Askham Hall near Penrith and dined at Allium
- He discovered that it is a thoroughbred restaurant. Here’s his review…
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The awards form a guard of honour in the lobby of the Lake District’s Askham Hall.
For the hotel, near the northern tip of Ullswater, there’s a VisitEngland Small Hotel of the Year 2023 trophy, a Cumbria Tourism Awards 2022 Small Hotel of the Year Winner trophy and a wall-mounted certificate for being Good Hotel Guide 2022 Country House Hotel of the Year.
Then there are the awards for Askham Hall’s restaurant – Allium. They include a Michelin star, a plate from the AA declaring it the recipient of four Rosettes, and awards for the wine offering, from an award of excellence from Wine Spectator to another trophy from the AA for ‘Wine Award England & Overall 2023’.
The acclaim is justified on all fronts.
Ted Thornhill checked in to Askham Hall and dined at Allium (above), which he discovered is a thoroughbred restaurant on all fronts, from the nibbles to the main courses and wine pairing
The Lake District’s Askham Hall – the VisitEngland Small Hotel of the Year 2023
Ted was spellbound by the Grade I listed 13th-century property’s ‘grand yet homely fairytale environs’
Upon arrival, we fell completely in love with the hotel around 10 steps beyond the trophies, instantly spellbound by the Grade I listed 13th-century property’s grand yet homely fairytale environs.
The bewitchment continued the following evening when we descended the main staircase for our £125 six-course evening meal at Allium.
Proceedings began in one of the beautiful drawing rooms, where there’s an impressively stocked honesty bar, bookshelves lined with ancient tomes, epic oil paintings, dramatic exposed stonework and richly upholstered armchairs, arranged around a wood-burning stove.
As we gazed into the flames, gin and tonics in hand, enveloped in contentment, Frenchman Nico Chieze, the affable ‘Maitre de Maison’, arrived with delectable pre-dinner nibbles from head chef Richard Swale – one comprised mackerel tartar, cauliflower puree, dashi jelly and nori seaweed; the other was a delectable Montgomery cheese gougeres, with ‘mushroom ketchup’.
Nico also deployed the wine list, so enormous that at first I thought it was a book of spells. Or perhaps the Magna Carta.
The hefty tome – beautifully bound by master bookbinder Glenn Malkin, the introduction reveals – lists the restaurant’s sensational varietals, with the cellar stocking between 10,000 and 15,000 bottles, from a wine from 1893 to a £32,000 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru by producer Henri Jayer.
There are plenty of enticing modest options, but feeling slightly daunted by the sheer length of the list, we opted for the £95 wine pairing.
Frenchman Nico Chieze, Askham Hall’s affable ‘Maitre de Maison’. He revealed that the hotel’s cellar stocks between 10,000 and 15,000 bottles
Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles took place in one of Askham Hall’s stunning lounge areas (above). There Nico presented the restaurant’s epic wine list
Gin and tonics dispatched, we were warmly greeted for our tasting menu odyssey in the delightfully boutique-y dining room on the other side of the building, which overlooks a finely sculpted garden.
The kitchen is in the corner in a room within the room, encased by a thick stone wall, with a window providing diners with a tantalising glimpse of Richard and his team rustling up what proves to be a culinary tour de force, with salute-worthy wines matched to perfection.
Much of what’s cooked here is grown in Askham Hall’s kitchen gardens and the surrounding fields, hedgerows and farms, so it’s fresh, and cleverly assembled.
Food highlights included ‘ravishing’ roasted Isle of Man scallops (above) – ‘with a heavenly smoked cod roe sauce’
A ‘quince, fermented honey and creme fraiche creation presented with dinky little edible flowers on a honey tuile’
Food highlights included ravishing roasted Isle of Man scallops (with a heavenly smoked cod roe sauce); shorthorn beef tartare with truffled egg yolk; North Sea cod with a peppers emulsion and a mixed herb and anchovy sauce; and Whinfell partridge with a truffle sauce so tasty it was almost overwhelming – I had to put my fork down and try to process what my taste buds were experiencing.
There was no dip in standards for desserts.
A quince, fermented honey and creme fraiche creation presented with dinky little edible flowers on a honey tuile, however, perhaps had the edge, marginally, over the denouement – Richard’s sticky pudding tart with fig leaf cream.
Much of what’s cooked is grown in Askham Hall’s kitchen gardens (above) and the surrounding fields, hedgerows and farms
Allium has one Michelin star and is the recipient of four Rosettes (above, a stock image of an Allium dish)
Allium’s head chef, Richard Swale, who has made a huge success of Allium
One of the ‘knockout’ red wines in the wine pairing
Each course, meanwhile, was delivered with a soupcon of panache by waiting staff who clearly believe in the Askham mission, which I’m guessing is to send every guest home with a burning desire to come back at the earliest possible opportunity.
The sommelier was on board with this, too. She was very knowledgeable and confident, deftly answering questions and obviously proud of the pairing list.
Two of the reds, a French and an Italian, fell categorically into the knockout category – a rustic 2018 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon and a beautifully fruity 2010 Lungarotti Rubesco Vigna Monticchio.
We also adored the Maury 1928 Solera from Roussillon in France. This sweet wine is made from old Grenache bush vines and was aptly described by the sommelier as ‘Christmas pudding in a glass’.
By the end of the meal the dining room was buzzing with banter, every table enjoying the offerings from this thoroughbred restaurant.
Any criticisms? Nothing beyond quibble territory – perhaps there was a longer wait between some courses than you might expect at a Michelin-star restaurant.
But it only remains for me to conclude that I’m sure that awards ‘guard of honour’ will be even longer when I next visit…
Ted was hosted by Askham Hall, where rooms start from around £150.
This year, Askham Hall is offering a foodie Twixmas escape, ‘so guests can while away the time between Christmas and New Year with award-winning home-grown food and walks right from the door in a laid-back country home-from-home’.
A tasting menu at Allium costs £125 per person, the wine pairing £95 per person.
An Avanti Pendolino train crossing the Docker Viaduct in Cumbria
Rating out of five: 4.5.
Avanti West Coast
Ted used Avanti West Coast to reach the Lake District from London. The nearest stop to Askham Hall is Penrith, around a 15-minute drive away. Visit www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk.
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