Hipping Hall, Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale,
- Credit: Archant
This 15th century manor house hits just the right note with fabulous food and luxurious rooms, writes Roger Borrell
I was once frightened by a tasting menu. It was created by a Michelin-starred clever clogs and the dishes he produced seemed to take several days to eat.
Parts were wonderfully delicious and some were, frankly, odd to the extent that when a shot glass of something hot and soupy arrived with a hypodermic syringe we had to admit defeat and ask the waiter what we were meant to do.
‘Zat,’ he told us curtly, ‘is for sir and madam to discover for zemselves.’ He then gave a Teutonic click of the heels, spun around and marched into Poland (or maybe it was the kitchen). If I’d wanted my dinner to be a puzzle I’d have brought a pencil and The Times crossword.
So when the menus arrived in the stylish and cosy lounge of the cosy and stylish Hipping Hall my heart sank a little to discover it had a tasting menu. Panic over – there was an a la carte that looked very tempting with sumptuous sounding things like Cartmel Valley rabbit and Lakeland beef fillet seductively whispering: ‘Eat Me.’
I was almost hooked when I heard someone say the London food mafia now considered tasting menus to be a trifle (sniff) passé. Never one to slavishly follow fashion, I hitched up the red braces on my moleskin flairs and went for it – the tasting menu, that is.
Do you ever order in restaurant and then spend the time it takes for the chef to work his magic wishing you’d asked for something different? Well, I did as I sat down in Hipping Hall’s remarkable dining room, sipping something nice from the hotel’s top class wine list.
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It’s just how you would imagine a restaurant created in a 15th century manor house – a baronial hall in miniature complete with hammer beams, inglenook fireplace, minstrels’ gallery and wall hangings. Impressive without ever feeling you’re eating in barn.
Then, the first of seven courses arrived and my fears were allayed. In fact, I just chuckled to myself and didn’t really stop until bedtime (laughing not eating). I like a chef that can make you smile and this one certainly did that with Jerusalem artichoke custard. Rich and earthy like a potato that’s won the lottery yet the image of something your mum made from a tin with Bird’s written on the side. Brilliant.
From then on it was Hipping Hall’s Greatest Hits with beautiful poached cod cheeks, finely sliced cured venison, roast halibut, pork loin and two outstanding little desserts to end a meal that was fun, full of flavour and clever but not in an irritating, needs-a-slap way.
No wonder Jamie Oliver was full of praise after a recent visit. ‘In terms of a combination of room and meal, it was the pinnacle of class and attention to detail – it was extraordinary,’ he raved.
Hipping Hall was originally the home of the Tatham family, blacksmiths who took in pack horse travellers resting from their journey when they arrived in the Lancashire hamlet of Cowan Bridge.
The hospitality has gone up a notch since then, particularly under the inspired ownership of Andrew Wildsmith. In ten years, he has taken this ancient property and turned it into something which is luxurious and relaxed with an accomplished kitchen brigade that has earned three AA rosettes and a friendly, well-informed front of house team.
It has had some significant upgrades recently and more developments are on the cards. Despite the constraints of such an old building, our bedroom was large, peaceful and light-filled with high grade fittings, a blissfully comfortable bed and natural stone bathrooms. The locally sourced breakfast comestibles didn’t disappoint although, thankfully, there weren’t seven courses.
It’s no wonder comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan stayed here to film an episode of The Trip, a programme which allowed them to eat the finest food and sleep in the most luxurious beds while being paid for the pleasure. Still, ahem, people in glass houses.
Hipping Hall, Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, LA6 2JJ. 015242 71187. www.hippinghall.com