Review: Cottage in the Wood, Cumbria

It looks like red squirrels are making a comeback – we saw signs up all over the Lake District telling us to watch out for the little nut-munchers as we drove about, although the only place we actually saw a red squirrel was in the garden of The Cottage in the Wood. That’s because this little restaurant with rooms is exactly what it says: a cottage in the middle of the Whinlatter Forest, described as England’s only true mountain forest. It’s a beautiful setting, with views of the brooding Skiddaw mountain across the valley and the nearest village back at the bottom of the mountain. That view, through big terrace windows, is the only thing the dining room particularly has going for it – on a nice summer evening that’s all it really needs. Service was attentive throughout.

We tried the tasting menu. It began with a very smart little “crab caesar salad” with a surprisingly flavourful lettuce foam to go with the quenelle of delicate white crab meat. Next was a sturdy terrine of duck with a neatly matched apricot and vanilla puree. Nowt wrong with it, but nowt to really fall in love with. Seared scallops were bound to be in here somewhere, but I’ll admit I’ve never had them in a satay sauce before. It worked, though other flavours work better. Perhaps if the satay had been sparkier?

Next up, the main event: a piece of belted Galloway fillet served pink with a caper puree and some pieces of local blue cheese (the name escapes me, but in the same ballpark as Stilton). Not the greatest ever bit of beef, but it did the job. I think it might have scored more flavour cooked the old fashioned way rather than water-bathed, but I admit I’m no expert! Good sauce, good gravy and the cheese paired well with the meat.

We cleaned our palates with a rum and mango trifle pre-dessert, tasty stuff, topped with a mint granita. But then finished with a pud that involved a coffee-flavoured marscapone mousse that scored nil points for flavour or texture accompanied by a block of aerated chocolate that was in effect a petit four. The bitter chocolate brittle was good.

I always have to be carefully of my conclusions when the final course is a bit disappointing – it really colours recollection of a meal. But really, this was good cooking, just nothing spectacular. For £60 I’d definitely like more fireworks in front of me. If I found myself staying here again – and I would stay here again, it’s a lovely B&B and the breakfasts are fantastic – I’d probably just eat a la carte. I don’t think I’d ever make a special trip to eat up here in the mountains if I wasn’t already coming to see the squirrels.

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