By Jo Cooksey
Nestled on a hillside and with fabulous views of Lake Windermere stands The Gaddum restaurant. Part of the Brockhole visitor centre in Windermere, the estate was originally owned by Manchester silk magnet, William Gaddum. He purchased the land in 1896 and commissioned architect, Dan Gibson to build him a summer residence in the Arts and Crafts style, named Brockhole House. The family eventually made it their main home.
When William died in 1945, the house was sold and turned into a convalescent home. At this time the Arts & Crafts interior of the house was ripped out. How it pains me to write that. I have a special affection for this era and its style, but thankfully the story has a happy ending. The estate was eventually sold to the Lake District Park Authority and opened in 1969, as the first National Park Visitor Centre. Today there are a wealth of activities on offer and the part of the house that accommodates the restaurant and conference facilities has been sensitively and beautifully restored to its full Arts & Craft glory.
We drove up on a sunny Saturday morning, taking our time and admiring the stunning scenery. I have clients in Windermere but rarely get chance to see anything other than their offices, so it was nice to be there as a tourist. The Gaddum had only opened two months before and when we visited it was open for lunch and afternoon tea but will soon start an evening service too. I would imagine the views of the sunsets from the house will be stunning.
We were shown to the lounge area by the delightful Henry, who brought us menus and took our drinks order. Sat on a delightfully, squashy sofa and with our mouths already watering, we tried to make our dining choices. The kitchens are under the command of South African chef, Gerald van der Walt and he brings with him a wealth of fine dining experience gained in his homeland and lately at the 2 Michelin starred L’Enclume and Rogan & Co.
We were shown to our table in the charmingly elegant, period dining room, which has William Morris wallpaper and fabric, heritage paint colours and the original fireplace, which provides a focal point for the room. On the walls are Gaddum family photos taken on the estate. The room gives a real sense of how the house would have looked and felt during the Gaddum family’s tenure. While we waited for our starters I quickly went explore the Orangery that leads off it, where diners can also be seated. It was absolutely delightful; airy and sunlit and with a grape vine suspended from the glass ceiling.
Our first courses arrived. Mine, a Beetroot & Cumbrian Goat’s Cheese Salad with candied walnuts and sorrel, was so prettily presented, it almost seemed a shame to eat it. The beetroot on the dish had been prepared in three different ways; sweetened, roasted and pickled. Goat’s cheese and beetroot is a classic combination and two of my favourite foods but the addition of peppery radishes, a verdant nasturtium leaf puree and the sweetness and crunch of the candied walnuts elevated this dish to a whole new level.
My dining chum had chosen the Fish Cake, consisting of lightly smoked haddock with potato and Gaddum chives and served on a bed of dressed mixed leaves and homemade Tartare Sauce. The fishcake itself is generous in size and the fish is not Day-Glo yellow, which means it has been naturally smoked and this is apparent in the subtlety of the flavour too. Simple food at its best.
Our mains were equally joyous and pleasing. With the weather having been so wonderfully warm, I had chosen the Cumbrian Shorthorn Beef and Cracked Wheat Salad with a Garlic & Chive Flower Puree. Oh, my lord, the beef was simply amazing, and I quizzed Gerald later on what he done to it. He takes seared beef skirt and then cooks it for 20 hours at 85 degrees and then air dries it overnight. The result is like nothing I have never eaten before, both in terms of flavour and texture. This was so good and totally my kind of ‘happy’ dish.
My pal ordered the Cumbrian Chicken Paillard with crispy chicken skin. The term paillard refers to a piece of meat that has been pounded flat and then flash fried or in this case grilled. The meat was exquisitely tender and juicy and was served on a bed of buttered kale, with a warm kohlrabi salad and cubes of sautéed butternut squash. Proper summer comfort food.
Of course, being in the Lakes I had to order Sticky Toffee pud for dessert. It’s the law. The Gaddum’s is served with chocolate soil, fig puree and creamy Lakeland ice cream. The sponge itself wasn’t as rib sticking as the Carmel original, in fact it was quite light in texture, but to be honest for a summer menu it was quite appropriate and I enjoyed it. My friend ordered the Lemon Tart, which was presented as a dome of glossy lemon set custard on a cardamom shortbread, delicately piped with Italian meringue and accompanied by strawberries, a white chocolate crumb and a lemon balm granita. She loved it and I confess I did have a bit of pudding envy.
After our lunch I bumped into Gerald and he asked me if I would change anything about the dishes we had had, in order to improve them. I answered honestly, no. The restaurant is gorgeous. Frankly, I want to live there. The staff are so professional, warm and friendly. A special shout out to our waiter, Henry, who had the skills and demeanor of a man twice his age. We loved the fact that he took the time to explain every dish to us and could answer our questions without hesitation. If he decides to stay in the hospitality industry, this lad will go far. As for the food, Gerald has brought all his haute cuisine and fining dining experience to bear but with a relaxed feel and at prices that won’t break the bank and more than justify the cost of the petrol to get up to Windermere. I really hope we can go back soon. Maybe I’ll take my local clients.
We were guests of The Gaddum but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.