The Samling 

Ambleside Road,

Windermere LA23 1LR, UK

Tel. +44 15394 31922


The Food

Seaweed- and dashi-infused sourdough

Amuse-bouches: fried Thai crackers with mayonnaise

Cured sea bass with nasturtium, smoked cod roe, poached oyster and buttermilk

Slow-cooked Lancashire suckling pig, Nam Jim langoustine, finger lime, spiced langoustine and coconut broth

Charred mackerel, brown shrimp satay, pickled cucumber

Anjou squab pastrami, pumpernickel with beet relish, shaved Emmental, mustard and dill

Confit scallop from Oban, crab, charred cabbage with shiso and salty fingers

Slow-cooked maple-glazed Jacob’s ladder, mushroom and Stilton, Alsace bacon with crisp kale and shiitake

Cheese: Colston Bassett, Lancashire Bomb, celery, grape, lovage, honey truffle and Parmesan crisp cheese scone

Pistachio cake, poached quince, yogurt and rose

Apple terrine, spiced custard, pecan nuts with stem ginger ice cream

“Festive” panettone

The Wines

2016 Domaine Marc Colin Chassagne-Montrachet Les Cailleret   
1970 Poujeaux 91
1970 Lascombes 88
1970 d’Yquem 88

Every New Year, the Martin family (minus budgerigar) packs its bags for a getaway to put a full stop on the past 12 months before embarking upon the next. The destination is any scenic part of this Sceptred Isle, the only prerequisites fresh air, mountains, wild rivers and decent restaurants. (Our choice in 2017, Stuzzi in Yorkshire, provided the maiden Vinous Table.) In December 2018, we ventured further north to the Lake District – Wordsworth country, where Peter Rabbit hops between the daffodils. I much prefer visiting in the depths of winter, when country lanes are not hemorrhaged with tourists and moorlands are shrouded in an almost unsettling tenebrous light that amplifies their desolate grandeur. You can keep the cloudless blue skies for the postcards.

Finding places to eat good grub proved more problematic than envisaged. The most revered restaurant is Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, but it operates a stringent “no children” policy, one that regrettably seems to have been adopted by every L’Enclume wannabe. I find this disappointing and frustrating. Nobody wants misbehaving feral tearaways running amok between tables, or ululating babies vomiting at the adjacent table, myself included. However, I recall a number of expensive dinners ruined by ululating misbehaving adults. I can just about accept refusing very young children in upmarket restaurants. But given that many kids over the age of 12 are in fact mature, well-behaved and likely to be studying food tech at school, why deny them the experience of fine dining? Surely it instills a sense of restaurant etiquette from a young age, as well as fostering an appreciation of ingredients and good food. In my experience, the best restaurants treat children no differently than adults, knowing that they are nurturing the next generation of gastronomes and chefs. The best place for family dining is Italy, and in general, much of the Mediterranean, which doubtless explains why they nurture rich food cultures that extend into the family kitchen and not just posh restaurants.

Amuse-bouches: fried Thai crackers with mayonnaise

After being rebuffed by several restaurants for my crime of procreating, I finally reserved a table at The Samling for New Year’s Eve. They welcomed over-12s and agreed upon a very fair BYO policy. My family had lunched here three or four years earlier, though in the last year the entire restaurant and adjoining luxury 12-room hotel had undergone a top-to-toe refurbishment. The head chef is Peter Howarth, formerly of Gidleigh Park, one of the top restaurants in the country (though they did once charge me bloody £17.00 for an extra ham sandwich because my daughter found they contained too much mustard. Kids – they are either persona non grata or being ripped off!).

Despite all the changes since our previous visit, one thing that has not and cannot be altered is The Samling’s stunning location. Perched above Lake Windermere, the remodeled restaurant exploits the panorama via floor-to-ceiling windows along the entirety of two sides. You could gaze at the lake and distant mountains composing poetry and forget that you had come to eat. Unfortunately, it was pitch dark when we arrived, so we had to use our memories of our last visit to mentally re-create the view. The simple decor and somber lighting lent the room a welcome coziness that prevented the spacious setting from becoming a mere “box with a view.” The service was exceptional: attentive without hovering around our table, ready to answer any questions and happy to put my daughters at ease with any unfamiliar ingredients. 

For New Year’s Eve, Howarth designed a set menu, the details of which we would discover upon arrival. On this occasion, there was a clear East Asian influence to the multi-course dinner designed around a series of small dishes. This was ideal for the kids, who, when confronted with one of the more experimental plates, could skip it and play on their smartphones until the next dish appeared. As it turned out, my epicurean offspring were keen to discover novel tastes – further evidence that that children should have access to all types of cuisine  (and I say that as someone reared on gammon and chips).

Cured sea bass with nasturtium, smoked cod roe, poached oyster and buttermilk

We began on what you might call “home territory” with shared plates of Thai crackers, deep-fried squid and mayonnaise, served alongside delicious seaweed- and dashi-infused sourdough bread. The bread was exceptional, moist and more-ish, the unusual infusion working brilliantly. The next course was a cured sea bass with nasturtium, smoked cod roe, poached oyster and buttermilk. This was a hardcore dish for the kids, but their Japanese palates are attuned to the strong tang of the fish and cod roe, the latter of whose texture can put people off. The dish was well presented and freshened our palates for the following courses.

One minor criticism of the meal is the haphazard zigzagging between fish and meat. I would have followed the sea bass with the mackerel, but instead, in trotted the slow-cooked Lancashire suckling pig, Nam Jim langoustine, finger lime, spiced langoustine and coconut broth. This was richer, of course, although the suckling pig was not too large and partnered better than expected with the langoustine. We veered back to the sea with the charred mackerel and brown shrimp satay with pickled cucumber. The kids are not the biggest mackerel fans in the world and skipped the dish (smartphones out!), whereas I firmly believe that mackerel is one of the most underrated poissons in the world. It was bursting with flavor and omega-3s, well presented and a healthy interlude.

Charred mackerel, brown shrimp satay, pickled cucumber

The Anjou squab pastrami, pumpernickel with beet relish, shaved Emmental, mustard and dill course did not work for me. The squab was well cooked, although I found the ingredients ill-fitting, with competing flavors. I would have simplified this dish. The scallop from the Isle of Oban, served with crab, charred cabbage with shiso and salty fingers, worked much better, the scallop perfectly textured, just delicately crispy on the surface and set off nicely by the shiso. The wife was hesitant; a few years ago, she caught food poisoning from a scallop at another New Year’s Eve dinner and spent a week recovering in bed and vowing never to go near another scallop. Fortunately, there were no aftereffects this time.

The slow-cooked maple-glazed Jacob’s ladder, mushroom and Stilton, Alsace bacon with crisp kale and shiitake, again, was a more successful combination than the squab. The Jacob’s ladder is an increasingly popular cut rib from just behind the cow’s front legs, and it was beautifully cooked. Maybe the one-two of maple glaze and Alsace bacon nudged it toward being too rich and overpowering, the shiitake crying out to be tasted, but we were all mopping up the sauce with the sourdough crusts, an act that speaks for itself.

Slow-cooked maple-glazed Jacob’s ladder, mushroom and Stilton, Alsace bacon with crisp kale and shiitake

The fromage comprised Colston Bassett, one of this country’s most famous and finest blue Stilton cheeses, and the brilliantly-titled Lancashire Bomb, so called because it does look like something you would lob at your enemy. They were accompanied by celery, grape, lovage, honey truffle and Parmesan crisp cheese scones. I loved the cheese and honey combination. The stronger the cheese, the better the contrast, and I could have eaten another plate. In fact, I did... my daughter’s. There were three desserts, which dragged on just a little. However, the pistachio cake, poached quince, yogurt and rose was exceptional, delicate and yet full of flavor. It worked better than the apple terrine, spiced custard and pecan nuts with stem ginger ice cream, which felt a little trop after the pistachio cake. I was full up by this time, and so Mrs. M polished off the “Festive” panettone, which she deemed “satisfactory.”

I bought two wines with me and drank neither (in stark contrast to 12 months earlier, when I polished off an entire bottle of Flaccianello before Big Ben sounded in the New Year). Unfortunately, this dinner was soon after I began falling ill with a heart condition, in the pre-diagnosis-but-something’s-gone-wrong period. Loath to cancel the evening, I volunteered to drive, penning tasting notes and seeing how much my wife could drink before donating the rest to grateful staff. The 2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Cailleret from Domaine Marc Colin is burnished gold in color. It has an intense bouquet, a little richer than I expect, with ample Golden Delicious, brioche, chamomile and yellow flower scents, though perhaps not quite delivering the mineralité that I expect from this limestone-dominated vineyard. That is true of the palate too, although it has fantastic weight and girth, delivering layers of citrus fruit, custard creams and shaved almond – dare I say, almost like a very fine Chardonnay from Sonoma! Gorgeous, but not as cerebral as some of Damien Colin’s other 2016s.

Cheese: Colston Bassett, Lancashire Bomb, celery, grape, lovage, honey truffle and Parmesan crisp cheese scone

I served three bottles over the festive period, all Bordeaux and all acquired in... Burgundy, as you do. Two were poured at The Samling; the third, intended for New Year’s Eve, was reassigned to accompany the Christmas turkey. I think my vexing health condition was already forewarning me that I had better go easy and spread the libation over a few days. The 1970 Poujeaux comes from a strong era for the Moulis estate. I am glad the bottle was consumed over a two-hour period, since it turned a little acetic after half an hour but then underwent a Damascene resurrection and blossomed after an hour in the glass, ending up even better than when first poured. A little turbid in color with a tawny rim, it has an attractive, classic Médoc bouquet of melted tar, cigar box, black fruit and sandalwood. It is not powerful, yet defined and focused. The palate is medium-bodied with slightly rigid tannins that melt with aeration. After its acetic phase, when it manifests overt soy aromas, it coalesces wonderfully, revealing notes of thyme and tobacco on the satisfyingly fresh finish. It is no blockbuster, but it is certainly a lovely Moulis that proves how well Poujeaux lasts in bottle. The 1970 Lascombes is the oldest vintage of this Margaux that I have tasted. Surprisingly deep in hue with just a slight turbidity, it initially sports a rustic nose, stocky and Saint-Julien in style. But it develops more complexity with aeration, becoming slightly loamy and developing inky aromas. The palate likewise improves over the course of two hours, evolving ever-greater complexity. A pretty wine, and with more stuffing than the 1970 Poujeaux tasted the previous week. Its main failing is softness on the short finish, where I want more grip. Apart from those two criticisms, this is a pretty Lascombes that should be consumed over the next five or six years. The 1970 d’Yquem is a vintage that I have not tasted for many years. It is not a great vintage for Sauternes, one overshadowed by the following year and by the reds. Now at 48 years of age, it has a relatively light bouquet for an Yquem, certainly less rich than the 1971 or 1975, offering gooseberry and quince notes, and just a fleeting glimpse of beeswax and saffron. Like a car stuck in third gear, but it still gets you from A to B. The palate is balanced and citrus-driven, with orange peel and a touch of marmalade, although I find the finish conservative and missing genuine complexity. It’s not a poor Yquem, but the word that best describes it is “half-hearted.” Based on this showing, bottles ought to be consumed in the near future.

Occasions like New Year’s Eve are probably not the most accurate litmus tests of a restaurant, especially when it’s not a regular service and there is a special menu. Based on this dinner, The Samling probably deserves its Michelin star, even if some of the dishes were overly complicated and some combinations of ingredients worked better than others. Another person might have found the courses a bit too disjointed and the flavors too eclectic, although I enjoyed the anticipation of seeing what came next. The location is a major attraction of the dining experience. But on this particular evening, what mattered more than anything was being able to dine with my children, introducing them to fine dining, new ingredients and the obligatory fireworks overlooking Windermere, and wondering what 2019 held in store.