To appreciate the wealth of hostelry available to us here in Cumbria, oftentimes one has to dip a toe into the dark side and sample the foodie fruits across the border. When Wildsmith Hotels’ Greg Stephenson invited me to give Hipping Hall‘s 9 course tasting menu the Welly once-over I felt it necessary to oblige. Based in Kendal the Wellies HQ is but a hop, skip and a jump away from the geographically confusing towns of Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, who between the two of them straddle Lancashire, North Yorks and Cumbria respectively, not to mention the further bewildering National Park boundaries and their recent extension.
So last Sunday off we pootled (Mr Welly and Yours Truly) for a little county flirt t’other side of the border. Whizzing past Kirkby Lonsdale we crossed over into the land of Hot Pot and turned into the rather majestic driveway leading to Hipping Hall. An ancient building this hotel was once a blacksmith many moons ago. Taking its name from the Hipping, or stepping stones that crossed the stream running through the grounds, this third property belonging to the Wildsmith group is quite simply delightful. Charmingly English, this hotel oozes country chic. Pea gravel provides a reassuring luxurious crunch underfoot as we stroll past cottage-style garden chairs and tables pristinely set around the entrance.
A contrasting modern atrium-cum-lounge area greets us on entering. A hothouse feel, the contemporary glass roof reflects lights on to a sunken well within the floor with an abundance of rich, green ferns growing inside. We sink into a huge Chesterfield and are offered appertifs. Despite the modern setting, the area is warm and welcoming and we sit back with a gin and fever tree, gazing into a strikingly decadent tea-light holder, just one of a stunning ceramics collection created by the highly-talented Miles-Moore duo previously Welly reviewed here.
The hotel’s dining area is situated in the original hall. With high ceilings and a huge gothic chandelier the scene is set for a long and languorous evening meal ahead of us – 9 courses here we come 🙂
Each of the tables is decorated with a simple but impressive tea-light holder. Another Miles-Moore creation, these so-called Microscosms extremely striking. The bright, smooth copper-leaf interior contrasts with the rough, exterior glazed in Egremont hematite complementing the ancient dark beams above us. I’m looking forward to the food, but equally excited by the prospect of tasting it on the brand new dining ware created by the ceramics pair.
Head Chef Oli Martin does not disappoint. We take approximately 4 hours to work our way through the 9 courses, each one exquisitely different and paired to perfection with the accompanying wine.
To get us started, a salty mackerel, lovage and mustard consommé prepares our palates. The glass of Grüner Veltliner’s cloudy-sweet Riesling cuts through the zinginess.
Next up, a fantastically-presented dish of beef and roe hidden beneath a layer of spherical radish slices neatly centred within the concentric circular-designed plate. A perfect creation, it looks too good to tuck into but of course we dive in. Accompanied by a delicious Nebbiolo from Lombardy, a relatively light Red, this fruity wine is delicious with just the right amount of acidity – perfect for drinking alongside beef.
Potato, yogurt and buckwheat follow; surprisingly tasty for a veggie dish (says me the big meat eater). What could potentially be bland is in fact enhanced by toasted buckwheat. The sublime colours sit perfectly with the matching decorative brown hues of the plate it’s served on. Accompanied by a glass of dry but full bodied Italian Campore il Pratello, a mix of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, the flavours really work well together.
The fish course consists of my favourite – bream served with seaweed and buttermilk. Served on a plate as dark as slate contrasting with the delicately charred fish scales, this dish is divine. Ticking all the boxes for me, the bream is mouth-wateringly fresh and succlent. A fabulous glass of Blighty’s finest white Davenport from Kent, the wine-food combo is a match made in heaven. Crisp and green-coloured, this delicious white wine is the perfect accompaniment to light white fish. It’s on my shopping list for outdoor summer drinking this year 🙂
The pork, peanut and celery dish is unusual. Served in a veil of blow-torched pig fat (random I know but not altogether disgusting I promise), this pungent little number is very tasty. The nuts and celery give it a sharp kick in stark contrast to the dish before but matches exquisitely with a silky glass of Chilean Cinsault.
Venison, cabbage and parsley root complete the savoury taster selection. I’m quite partial to the rich and gamey taste of venison. Here the strong flavour works well with the piquant bitterness of cabbage, dried into an unusual but tasty crisp. And at last out of sympathy for our friendly French sommelier Violaine, we finally indulge in a glass of gallic plonk; a surprisingy un-French Malbec, La Fage is smooth but spicy and filled with dark, ripe fruits – the perfect match for venison.
Moving on to the taster dessert selection and rapidly feeling sated, we turn our palates to the sweet taste of ahem… *whispers* Lancashire parkin. Served with a refreshing elderflower and apple juice, we hit the sweet stuff head on. Indulgent flavours of caramel and ginger melt in the mouth. It’s more-ish alright but we swiftly move on to the liquorice, fennel and roots.
A curious mix it’s actually quite delicious (given that I despise everything aniseed or liquorice-flavoured). Delicate on the palate it’s refreshingly simple with no over-powering Mr Allsorts on the tongue. It may in fact be the first time I have ever tried the herbaceous perennial that is the liquorice plant and I’m impressed. Will definitely be more open-minded in future when faced with the prospect of gastro-fused liquorice flavours.
Finally, we are presented with our concluding dish. Sorrel, rhubarb and milk is thankfully a delightfully light dessert given that we are now both utterly stuffed. The colours and presentation are just gorgeous and together with a fabulous glass of Monbazillac Ice Wine, a suitably sweet end to what has been a sumptuous gourmet feast.
Wonderfully indulgent, it’s quite remarkable that Chef Oli Martin just 27 years old, has created an array of delicious and exquisitely presented dishes. If you’re a true foodie intent on seeking the wow factor, then you must pay a visit to Hipping Hall. Whether a treat dinner or simply a decadent meal-out, this one is a must for all gastro fans.
We thoroughly enjoyed it; Lancashire just upped its game and not a Hot Pot in sight…
Good for: Lovers of luxury and foodie fans seeking haute cuisine in a cosy country setting.
Not for: Those on a budget seeking hearty portions.
££££: At £75 a head for the 9 course tasting menu with matching wine package at £42, this isn’t a cheap meal deal but neither is it unreasonable for the quality of food and effort in the kitchen. You get what you pay for and at Hipping, the standard of food and service is high. For the sheer variety of dishes and work that goes into each, this price is dare I say, a snip at the price?!
Tips: Allow enough time to enjoy the experience. We savoured every bite and sip over a 4 hour period – it was well worth it.
Other Mentions: Check out Settle-based wine purveyors Buon Vino. These guys supply Hipping Hall with their wine selection. We thought that the Sommelier was spot on with all her choices to accompany the food.
Hipping Hall, Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, LA6 2JJ
T 015242 71187 www.hippinghall.com