Cumbria has always been a destination for avid adventurers and (weather permitting) sun-seekers looking to escape to the Lake District’s scenic national parks and peaks.
Perhaps lesser known of this rural haven is its abundance of fine restaurants. More notably, following the 2023 edition of the UK’s Michelin Guide, it now counts some thirteen Starred eateries– the most in the country outside of London.
Of those, The Forest Side takes pride in place as the crown jewel and is set against the rural backdrop of Ambleside.
Surrounded by 43 acres of luscious woodland, this gem was once the home of English poet William Wordsworth and today offers the perfect spot for a sojourn amongst the fells of the Lake District alongside a destination restaurant with renowned chef Paul Leonard at the helm.
No stranger to fine dining, Paul’s track record is impressive, with stints previously working under Marcus Wareing and retaining the Isle of Eriska’s Michelin Star.
Always one to champion local produce, it’s no surprise the majority of The Forest Side’s dishes are created using Cumbrian suppliers alongside ingredients from the restaurant’s garden.
Paul and his team typically centre the seasonal menus around the nutrients grown onsite. Everything from microgreens to herbs, fruits and vegetables is within arm’s length and ethically produced before being picked daily and used in the kitchen.
The Farm to Fork concept is echoed throughout the innovative menu, showcasing British flavours and the local tastes of the region.
Served as either four or eight courses over dinner (or four and six courses for lunch), Paul’s flair for cooking is embodied through flavoursome dishes of Poached North Sea Code in a sauce made from Solway Brown Shrimp and tasty snacks to start – think Cured Ham Fat Broth and Aged lakeland Dexter with a serving of Caviar.
The menu itself is printed on a card depicting the forestry of the region, which elevates the whole experience – the array of cutlery (and its snazzy presentation in a leather roll) is of particular note, too….it all adds to a subtle sense of theatre – one amplified by the faultless service and glimpses into the kitchen which is within eye’s reach.
Dishes devoted to the garden include the Beetroots, cooked all day to perfection in their own juice and then plated up. The cheese is bought over on one of those fancy trolleys in a very Instagrammable fashion. It comes courtesy of The Courtyard Dairy – a supplement, but if you do have the space (which, granted with eight courses, is a big ask), its worth savouring the unique creaminess they offer.
Not to mention, if you do decide to go ahead with the full wine flight, you can expect to enjoy another glass of wine – and with such an expertly paired choice of fine wines (and commentary on all the history behind each one), what more excuse do you need?
Make the most of your visit to this hidden oasis by staying the night too – not far from the neighbouring villages and a stone’s throw away from the magical sights of the lakes, the rooms are situated within the building, which formerly served as a private home.
Designed by James Mackie, the twenty guest rooms here are contemporary and range in size from cosy, superb, and spacious masters. Comfy beds, tiled bathrooms (some with freestanding bathtubs) and shelves stocked with Bramley products set the tone for the homely rooms, many of which overlook the grounds. Six of the rooms are also dog-friendly, allowing canine friends to enjoy the fun too.
Perfect for avid walkers and those just seeking a countryside escape, The Forest Side offers the ultimate staycation easily reached by train from London and exceptional dining that is second to none.
Text by Jaz Grewal.