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The Samling Hotel and Restaurant - review

Lucy Tomlinson gets a reception free, Michelin starred stay in the Lakes

Written by . Published on August 13th 2010.

The Samling Hotel and Restaurant - review

Not many people rock up to the Lake District praying for rain. It’s as Cumbrian as sheep, sausages and dashing off a quick sonnet. However, The Samling, one of the Lake District’s ritzier establishments, is offering £100 back to guests if it rains during a stay in its plush hidey-hole overlooking Lake Windermere.

The suites are named after the Cumbrian system of counting sheep, Yan being one, Tyan two, Tethera three and so on. Room five has been given the more discreet title of Pym, rather than the traditional Cumbrian Pimp.

A sunny Cumbria seems all wrong. To me, a lovely summer’s day in the Lake District is a light drizzle. Holiday fun is tramping up the side of a fell and desperately wishing to be back in the warm embrace of a family car. Luxury is getting the chocolate-covered kind of Kendal Mint Cake. Ever the pessimist, I’d packed a bikini and hoped for the worst.

A quibble. When you get to the hotel there is no reception desk. This is part of The Samling’s “Hey, we’re no stiff country-house hotel. We’re fun-loving, relaxed kind of place!” approach.

Sometimes though, this becomes a bit funky dad and you want to yell “stop letting me smoke in the house and trying to be cool in front of my friends. I just want some structure and boundaries, goddammit!” before flouncing off to your room.

Unfortunately, getting to the room, in a strop or otherwise, is delayed by standing around awkwardly and wondering what the hell you are meant to be doing with yourself.

Luckily, a bit of shambling around looking useless eventually caught the attention of Atilla, who herded us up to our room.

The suites are named after the Cumbrian system of counting sheep, Yan being one, Tyan two, Tethera three and so on. Room five has been given the more discreet title of Pym, rather than the traditional Cumbrian Pimp, perhaps as not to offend (or disappoint) certain guests. Thank goodness the number of rooms does not go up to 15 - Bumfit in Cumbrian - an even greater challenge to finesse.

We were staying in Tyan, a decent-sized room whose main features are an incredible view and the fact that it is covered in an intensely patterned wallpaper. If you want to know what it is like to sleep inside a giant Ming vase, this is the room for you. It felt like Laura Ashley had had her Earl Grey spiked and decided to throw a blue-and-white disco.

Actually this country rave-up decor is a welcome relief from the endlessly tasteful sand and beige and mouse with accents of torpor, sorry I mean taupe, usually found in luxury hotels.

The Samling won its first Michelin star this year, joining Sharrow Bay, L’Enclume and Holbeck Ghyll in making the Lake District a destination for those in search of the sublime, in the gastronomic as well as the scenic. It’s not exactly cheese sandwiches wrapped in foil, a thermos of coffee that tastes suspiciously of soup and a couple of custard creams, all consumed while perched on an open car boot, but it’ll do.

Seated in one of the lounge’s shabby-chic sofas, which are more over-stuffed than a Flopsy Bunny after an eating competition in the organic lettuce section of Waitrose, we enjoyed a quick G&T with some canapés that seemed to be a cocktail sausage on power upgrade and olives before dinner.

I began with scallops served with three kinds of pea. I’ve a bit of thing for peas and was hoping to be blown away by this dish, but found it quite ordinary, though the scallops were well-cooked. The other starter of woodpigeon with foie gras, spiced bread and borscht dressing was delicious, rich and Christmassy in its flavours, with distinctive spicing that was complemented by a glass of not-overly-sweet Sauternes.

The mains really shone. Hawkshead venison with butternut squash, pinenut spatzle and osso bucco was deliciously tender, with none of the graininess of older meat. Salt marsh lamb with summer beans and caramelised sweetbreads, done into crispy fritters, was also a great locally-inspired dish. The wine list is extensive and the Shiraz we had was decent if not madly exceptional.

Despite having a major sweet tooth, restaurant puddings don’t often do it for me. By that time I’m really more interested in cheese/drink/a nap, or all three. In the interests of rigorous reviewing I ordered the trio of rhubarb desserts, which consisted of a little boat-shaped pastry shell carry a cargo of gently stewed rhubarb, a pressed vanilla cream and a rhubarb ice-cream which managed to be tangy, biting and smooth all at the same time. The cheese board featured 10 types of cheese, with a good representation of sheep’s and goat’s cheeses, only one being too bitter for my taste.

And after the post-dinner nap turns into something longer, the best place for breakfast is of course bed, or at least set up in your room. Sausage (Cumberland of course), black pudding eggs, fried bread, the works.

Now for that view. Long and slender, slicing through a curving backdrop of fells, Windermere uncurls towards you like a beckoning finger. If I was disappointed by the beautiful early-morning sunshine, there was always the bikini I’d packed and the hot tub that can be booked out which overlooks the lake in all its splendour. There is more than one way to get wet in the Lake District after all.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8/10 food
3/5 service
5/5 ambience
Address: The Samling
Ambleside Road
Cumbria LA23 1LR
01539 431 922.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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