It’s a glorious late August evening as we drive through the entrance to the Gilpin hotel, surprisingly so given the disappointingly wet month we’ve had to endure so far in Cumbria. I’m becoming rather the regular visitor here, this time to give their new Gilpin Spice restaurant the Welly once-over.
A juxtaposition of sorts you might call this eaterie, a word my English Lit professor would have attempted to shoehorn at least once into each lesson. But juxtaposition is exactly the description I’m looking for. Gilpin Spice is a modern, bustling fusion restaurant plumped right next to a traditional, albeit luxury hotel in a full-on rural Lakeland setting, precisely the English Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect”.
However, we’re not talking about some uber-modern construction here. There’s no ground-breaking building or showy glass edifice that stands apart, desecrating the local landscape and environment. Although a completely new build, Spice has moulded itself into the surroundings with unequivocal ease; this new addition to the Cunliffe family fits seamlessly into the hotel grounds as if it has always been here.
Approaching the front door we pass a spectacular architectural tree which ‘rains’ water into zen-like pools. If we were frazzled on the drive up here, we no longer are. It feels calm and welcoming; the outdoor decor a gentle nod to the eastern fusion that awaits us within the restaurant.
It is inside where the true contrast lies. The opposite to the muted, traditional interior of the main hotel, Spice greets us with a cacophany of primary colours and the low hum of kitchen activity and diners’ laughter. It is warm, welcoming and fabulously styled; an eclectic mix of garish colours, exotic trinkets and decadent furnishings.
The open kitchen and adjoining bar make for a relaxed feel. Simply set, the tables feature canteen-style branded Spice mats with a choice of chopsticks or western cutlery. Styled sympathetically to emulate the traditional chopstick, unaccustomed diners need no longer fear the dreaded fork request from disapproving waiters. At Spice it is all about the food and enjoyment is key.
So on to the food. The menu is extensive with a variety of different sized sharing plates. There are ‘snacks’, ‘flat breads’ and ‘soups’ on offer – this is Eastern fusion food, tapas style. To make the choice a little easier, Manager Lenka, is on hand to advise a duo of starters, with the same for smaller and larger sharing plates. A tasting menu is available also but we decided to choose our own.
To start we chose the Chicken Tikka Flatbread with the recommended Pani Puri. The flatbread is delicately spiced with ginger, chilli and cardamom; chicken tikka sauce serves as a base together with a mozzarella topping. It’s actually not unlike an Indian version of pizza. Why has no one thought of this before? After all, the base of tikka sauce is made with tomato so why not go crazy and combine with Italian cheese to create this fabulous hybrid pizza?
I chatted with Head Chef Hrishi about his famed Pani Puri when I interviewed him six months prior. Described as golf ball puffs, these round delicacies are filled with chickpea curry, tamarind and mint chutney. Together with noodles, onions and good old chaat masala, these truly are a taste sensation – just try them for yourself. If you only go to Spice for Hrishi’s wonderful Pani Puri, you will not be disappointed.
The menu offers eight smaller sharing plates – a difficult choice as everything sounded delicious. We finally opted for the Chilli Maple Smoked Duck and Kadi Patta Beef. The duck was succulent and finely crisped on the outside. The accompanying soy and ginger dip cut through the sweetness of the meat perfectly – a fantastic match.
The twice-marinated dry-aged sirloin had been finished over ‘live charcoal’ – its smoky taste and texture the delicious accompaniment to the side serving of mint and coriander chutney.
For the larger plates, we chose The Famous ‘Laksa’, typical of Thai or Malaysian cooking. Creamy and mild with toasted peanuts, bean sprouts and huge stir-fried Bay of Bengal tiger prawns, this dish was one of my favourites.
Back to India and next up, the Salt Aged Smoked Lamb Kheema. The antithesis to mild Laksa, this dish was darkly delicious, full of distinct flavours from the cardamoms, cloves and pepper corns.
Moving on to ‘Sweet Treats’, Mr Welly opted for Hrishi’s take on a traditional Kulfi or Indian-style ice-cream. Flavoured with Alphonso mango and topped with candied nuts this dessert was delicious – a concoction of cream and sorbet but not quite an ice-cream as we know it.
In the meantime, I chose the Japanese cake with Rose Milk, which was delicate and light… but my sweet tooth preferred hubby’s Kulfi, so begrudgingly he swapped – as Editor sometimes you just have to pull rank. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Besides, the whole shebang was delicious and I couldn’t wait to write about it. We’ll definitely be back…
Good for: Casual nights-out with friends. Perfect for groups and girly meet-ups.
Not for: Plain eaters! Although not necessarily spicy-hot, this restaurant is all about the spices and said fusion of.
££: Don’t be put off by it’s expensive sister restaurant next door. At an average of £7 for smaller sharing plates and £15 for the larger plates, Gilpin spice is entirely reasonable in its pricing for the quality of food that is served here.
Tips: We definitely advise the recommended ordering of 6 dishes. The portions are reasonably-sized and just like tapas, you can always order more if you’re hungry.
Gilpin Spice Restaurant, Crook Road, Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3NE