For those of you with a penchant for gin and fine food, check out Ulverston’s little-known Virginia House and Gin Parlour. Last Friday I booked myself and hubby a treat dinner to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. As we were staying just 3 miles down the road in the romantic Hut, Virginia House was a stone’s throw away and the perfect respite from the torrential rain.
Renovated by Craig and Louise Sherrington who previously transformed The General Burgoyne in Little Urswick, Virginia House is an imposing 5 storey Georgian town house. Tucked away on Queen Street, the restaurant and bar is neatly set back from the road by well-worn steps leading up to the entrance.
Naturally, we partook of pre-dinner drinks in the so-called Gin Parlour next door. The atmosphere was deeply dark (if such a superlative exists); the bar area being the only real light in a room lit by on-trend retro filament bulbs. If it wasn’t for the exquisite soft furnishings and carpeted floor, we might have felt like extras in some sort of nightmarish parody of Hogarth’s Gin Lane.
By contrast, the bar staff were super friendly and promptly shared what was obviously a great understanding of gin and the whopping variety of 60 labels on offer. We shared the living room-cum-bar with several other groups and couples sat round small tables. It was an unusual but cosy setting and our gins were served in fabulous, oversized goblets – a fashion which has obviously now spread to furthest Furness…
Similar in colours and style to the Gin Parlour, the dining room is more airy and light. Craig and Louise have gone for traditional and sumptuous rather than uber modern which really works. The walls and dado rails are painted in contrasting grey and white hues which, together with dark velvet furnishings and high ceilings, fit harmoniously alongside the traditional perpendicular style of the Georgian room.
On to the food. The menu is a veritable feast for the eyes. From venison and langoustine to seatrout and guinea fowl, the à la carte menu looks lip-smackingly yummy. Also on offer is a ‘Cumbrian Way’ Tasting Menu consisting of seven locally-sourced dishes.
Living in Kendal, I’m always quite forgetful of Cumbria’s proximity to the sea. Informed by our impeccably-dressed waiter that all fish is locally-sourced, particularly the line-caught Morecambe Bay seabass (!!!) – I was totally had, hook, line and sinker (excuse the pun). Seabass for me is indelibly marked upon my brain as ‘farmed in Greece’ but Morecambe?! and not even farmed! Pah! Us northern folk are obviously more self-sufficient that I had given us credit for. Without hesitation I ordered the Mackerel as a starter with Seabass for main.
Exquisitely presented on a Denby-esque plate, the mackerel was succulent and very tasty – none of your shop-bought smoked stuff here.
The much-anticipated Seabass was perfectly cooked and I savoured every mouthful of its non-Grecian provenance. The flavours worked well alongside the pesto but the broth was a little too watery for me, perhaps more accustomed to the thicker, paste-like variety I make at home for spaghetti.
Meanwhile, husband went predictably hunter-gatherer and ordered the Eden Park Venison with seared Sirloin for main.
Perfectly presented again, the flavour match of cherries and lovage oil with carpaccio of venison was fantastic. The Sirloin was perfectly cooked – Mr Welly always like his meat still moo-ing – and he was surprisingly overwhelmed by the wonder of quinoa, an ingredient I have previously had to secretly shoe-horn into home-made recipes in an attempt to create the latest in healthy eating.
Both of us chose the selected wines to accompany each dish. My favourite plonk without a doubt was the Chapel Down Bacchus, a fantastic crisp, dry English wine which is as divine as any of the New Zealand Sauv Blancs I normally favour.
Completely sated and quite frankly overwhelmed by the roller-coaster of fantastic flavours we had just eaten, we were promptly offered the dessert menu. Not feeling massively like anything sweet after such savoury heaven, our waiter suggested we try the Parmesan Marshmallow. Now, for those that know me well, this choice was most definitely a fait accompli, given that I have an insatiable addiction to the heady hit of pure glucose from anything with marshmallow in it (teacakes) on it (those old-fashioned biscuity things with coconut sprinkled mallow) or simply standalone (gotta be Haribo).
By the time my dessert arrived (we were sharing), my taste buds had turned impulsively sweet and the initial taste of parmesan ice creamy mallow was one of utter revulsion. I swiftly glugged some of hubby’s red wine and conjured up images of cheese, lots of cheese… with red wine… and had another go. A slight improvement but the moment was gone. As a savoury accompaniment to red wine and biscuits, this perhaps would work if you’re in the right mindset. There was no doubt that the flavours of garlic, plum tomato and parmesan worked well together, but I simply could not shake off the inner programming that I was eating a dessert and that it really should be sweet! Call me uncouth and an amateur foodie with an unadventurous palette, but it just didn’t work for me.
So did the dessert put us off? Not likely! The starters and mains that we tried were fantastic. Amazing flavours, artfully created and presented with quality ingredients. We shall be back. Not only is the tasting menu next on our list but I’m dying to try the oh so sweet gooseberry cheesecake for dessert…
Prices: High-end gastro but very reasonable considering the quality of food and 5 star service, both of which is on an equivalent level with pricier, alternative dining venues in the Lakes. Starters and desserts around the £7 mark with Sirloin the most expensive main at £20. Cumbrian Way Tasting Menu £49 per person.
Good for: Treat dinners and birthday teas. Romantic enough for two but relaxed atmosphere for groups. The Gin Parlour is a great meet-up place for a posh gin, whether dining next door or moving on.
Not for: Noisy families. Dump the kids and treat yourself to a glass of Mother’s Ruin with the girls or date night treat with him indoors.
Virginia House Restaurant & Gin Parlour, 24 Queen Street, Ulverston, LA12 7AF
T 01229 584844 firstname.lastname@example.org