As promised here is a full review from our recent visit to the Old Stamp House in Ambleside and all I can say is wow… I wish we lived closer so that we could go more often!
Back in November 2014 we stumbled across a new restaurant in Ambleside called the Old Stamp House and both my Husband and I were wowed by the food. Sadly I never got round to writing up a review, but almost one year later we found ourselves back in the Old Stamp House. This time visited at lunch time and it would be a crime not to give this small family run business a few plaudits for their wonderful food and warm hospitality.
We’ve been lucky enough to eat in lots of great restaurants over the years in both the UK as well as some fabulous places in Vancouver, Victoria and Cape Town, but in terms of places close to home (well relatively) this intimate restaurant tops the list and is the best place we’ve eaten in when you compare the price, the atmosphere and the originality of the menu, which is inspired by Cumbria.
Last year we went in the evening and chose three courses from the menu, but this year we decided to be a bit more adventurous and order the tasting menu, which at £35 for five courses is exceptional value especially when you consider the quality of the ingredients and how inventive the menu is. I also appreciate a chef that fills their menu with locally sourced seasonal ingredients as it shows a moral integrity for the produce they’re working with.
Before our crab starter arrived we were offered three additional tasters to whet our appetites. The first came in the shape of a warm black pudding bon bon, which was sat on a bed of Cumberland sauce. We also had this on our previous visit and as someone who doesn’t like black pudding I again made an exception as this tasty treat just melts in your mouth and is so creamy and rich tasting. I loved the texture as the inside of the bon bon was like chocolate ganache, but the outside was covered with perfectly crisp breadcrumbs and the fruity Cumberland sauce complemented it perfectly.
After the bon bon we were treated to probably one of the most beautifully presented dishes I’ve ever seen. It was a shame that we had to eat it, but I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to try the hava bread, which was described as a cross between an oatcake and a flatbread, and topped with some of my favorite things – mackerel, beetroot and horseradish. Accompanying the hava bread was a stunning beetroot and horseradish mousse macaroon which was as light as a feather, but literally sizzled and exploded in your mouth at the same time.
Our final bonus dish was a small granary and beer roll, which although not as dramatic as the previous dish was still very much appreciated and enjoyed. The bread arrived warm and was both crusty and fluffy. It had a malty taste and was made with local beer, which you could definitely taste and we wolfed it down pretty quickly.
So on to our first course…
Avocado, pink grapefruit, radish and sorrel
I was really happy that this crab and avocado dish was part of the tasting menu as I had this on my previous visit and I couldn’t wait to try it again.
The crab was as delicate, light and refreshing as it was last time and the avocado ice cream was still the star of the show and as good, if not better than I remembered. I could eat a bowl of the avocado ice cream myself and will definitely have to try to attempt it myself. If I had to make any critism it would be that I couldn’t taste the grapefruit in the dish, but that’s only a minor point and didn’t detract from the dish at all.
Our second dish and my favourite was
West Coast scallop
Cauliflower cream, brown shrimps, marsh samphire and a spiced mead veloute
This was the dish that I was worried that my Husband wouldn’t be able to eat as he doesn’t like cauliflower and he would never choose shrimps or scallops off a menu. However, this ended up being the dish we enjoyed the most and it will probably remain the best plate of food we’re ever likely to eat and I’m sure everything else in future will be compared to it.
I can’t tell you how delicious this dish was, but even now thinking about it brings a smile to my face. If I had to describe it I would say it was like a bowl of layers. Sitting on the bottom of the bowl is creamy, velvet cauliflower cream which is covered by a very autumnal looking spiced mead veloute which is both rich, warming and full of flavour.
Hidden amongst the veloute is samphire, nuts and something fruity (which I couldn’t work out) as well as plump brown shrimps, which are my absolute favourite. Then the jewel in the crown was the succulent West Coast scallop, which was cooked to perfection and complemented and completed the dish perfectly. I can only hope that I get to eat this again!
Next up was…
Cartmel Valley partridge
Celeriac puree and pearl barley risotto with mushrooms
Out of all the dishes on the menu this is the one that I would least likely choose as I’m not a big fan of pearl barley or mushrooms. However, when you come somewhere like this you need to come with an open mind and if you still don’t like it after the chef has worked his magic then you know you never will like it. However, I love celeriac and so I absolutely loved this dish. The partridge was moist and luckily it didn’t have a strong game taste and the risotto was creamy and earthy tasting without being mushy. I even ate all the mushrooms so it must have been good. This is a great winter dish.
After three savoury dishes it was time for dessert.
Walnuts, poached pear, Jefferson rum ice cream and fig puree
When we go to a restaurant we rarely order a dessert anymore so I was looking forward to trying the desserts on this tasting menu. This dessert was full of textures and luckily for me it wasn’t too sweet. I was expecting the cake to be quite soft, but it had more of a crisp/crunchy texture which I think was down to the walnuts. However, it was very enjoyable and tasty, and I could have eaten more!
Milk sorbet, hazelnuts, salted caramel and Pedro Ximenez
Well, what can I say? It looks like a piece of art and it was a shame to eat it, but chocolate is one of my favourite things and I have to say this didn’t last very long. The delice was rich and smooth without being sickly sweet and again had lots of enjoyable textures, but I would have liked to see a bit more on the plate as a girl can never have too much chocolate.
And so the experience was over…
So to sum up would I visit again? Yes definitely and would I have the tasting menu, yes definitely as it was a great experience trying food that we wouldn’t normally order and we both thought that it was amazing value when you consider the ingredients and techniques involved.
If I had to make one criticism then it would be a tiny one in that I would have liked to have seen slightly bigger portion sizes for the desserts, but I understand that tasting menus are all about the experience and trying new food rather than them being big portions so I can’t grumble too much.
The people of Ambleside are very lucky to have such an amazing restaurant on their door step and I’m sure that over time it will get even better. The restaurant is run by brothers Ryan and Craig and I for one hope that it continues to thrive so that I can return for another culinary journey next November.
I like to think that I’m a relatively good cook, but when you come somewhere like this you realise that the chef is on a completely different level and you’ll probably never be able to make any of these dishes at home!
So if you’re lucky enough to be in the Lakes right now be sure to book in for lunch or dinner, you won’t regret it.
- In the interests of transparency this isn’t a sponsored post and we paid for all the food. All photos are copyright of shhdonttellhim and shouldn’t be used without my permission.