Richard McComb joins gastronomy’s comedy trail at Holbeck Ghyll in the Lake District
I wonder what Alan Partridge would have made of the view we encountered as we looked out from Holbeck Ghyll over Lake Windermere.
The grand vista from this splendid former hunting lodge has been rated by one guide as among the top 15 in the world. I don’t doubt it is because my wife and I had a similar outlook, albeit from a hotel nearer the lake, on the last night of our honeymoon.
This was the first time we had re-visited the area to stay in a top rung hotel since that night in 1994 when the sunset seemed to last forever. This time round, we could see all of 50 yards in front of our mist-dampened noses. The Lakes were fog-bound. “Ah-haa,” as Norfolk’s most famous DJ might say.
Were we disappointed? Not really because the pleasures of staying at Holbeck Ghyll mitigate against the vagaries of Mother Nature. When you’re in this part of the world, you go with the flow. The ex-pad of Lord Lonsdale, of boxing fame, may be set in a beautiful location, far above the bustle of Windermere’s tourist beat in a secluded fellside spot, but don’t worry if the weather turns bad outside: there are plenty of pleasures that lie within.
The Alan Partridge reference is apposite because Holbeck Ghyll was one of the restaurants Steve Coogan, the fictional presenter’s creator, visited for his latest TV comedy outting. The Trip featured Coogan playing himself, sort of, during a riotous gastronomic journey across Northern England.
The comedian had supposedly been commissioned to fill in as The Observer’s food critic and dragged along Rob Brydon as a dining companion. It was a bold move by Holbeck Ghyll to allow the BBC to set a large chunk of one of the episodes in its splendidly English oak-panelled restaurant. Contracts were no doubt examined by lawyers but you can never be sure how things will turn out in the final cut.
As it was, the gamble clearly paid off, several times over. When we visited on a Wednesday, the restaurant was full. A member of staff told me the hotel restaurant has now become part of The Trip circuit.
Committed diners follow in the elbow prints of Coogan and Brydon, working their way through the half dozen places featured in the show.
Is the food worth the hype? Totally. Head chef David McLaughlin has successfully retained a Michelin star for 11 years. The food is modern, reassuringly English with French flourishes, and it’s consistently good. There wasn’t a duff dish among those we tried between the four of us.
Yes, four. Children are now in tow. The honeymoon may be truly over, but the accommodation at Holbeck Ghyll ensures privacy all round.
We stayed overnight in The Shieling, a private suite just 50 yards from the main house (25 doubles). It is one of five luxury accommodations of its type, which sleep between two and 12 people.
Love-birds should swoop on the Miss Potter Suite, which has a lake view, private terrace and sunken hot tub.
The two well-sized bedrooms at The Shieling are on the ground floor, with their own bathrooms, and the well-lit first floor offers a good-size sitting room, kitchen and a small balcony, from which you can see the lake and the Langdales, or possibly just mist. It’s a very peaceful, stress-free arrangement.