A PUNTER’S VIEW OF farlam hall, cumbria, BY SAVOUR WRITER DAVE MACKAY
Some say that Hirshikesh Desai gets the train to work and he boards at platform 9 ¾. Others say that he actually wears chef’s whites because he is Gandalf re-incarnated. Whatever the truth is, there is some sort of alchemy occurring at Farlam Hall.
A short drive from Hadrian’s Wall, the 15th-Century manor house – near to the market town of Brampton in Cumbria – was a family home for centuries and was developed into a manor house in the mid-1800’s by the Thompson family. They were friends with George Stephenson, the inventor of Stephenson’s Rocket and it was the Thompson family who bought it, restored it and donated it to the science museum.
Stephenson’s clock sits proudly in the main lounge. By 1962 only Caroline Thompson remained and when she passed the house was sold and became a hotel.
In 2019 the owners retired and Joseph Walter and Kathy Mares saw an investment opportunity and set about completely overhauling the entire property to create a destination venue for fine dining and an elegant venue for events and weddings. Each of the 12 rooms and six cottages were renovated and the whole hotel is now an elegant mix of neutral tones and luxurious furnishings but with all the mod cons.
Having won a Michelin star at the Gilpin, near Windermere, in 2016 which he retained for six years, multi-award-winning chef Hrishikesh Desai was looking for a new challenge. He found that challenge at Farlam Hall, where he took over as Chef Patron in February 2023 and Karen Baybutt, former MD at the Gilpin joined as Finance Director.
They set about moulding the Hall in line with Hrishikesh’s vision and his ultimate aim to gain two Michelin stars. Hrishikesh is involved in all aspects of the operation, from choosing the cutlery and crockery to sourcing local ingredients.
It seems the mantra of almost every review you will read to trot out words such as ‘locally sourced’ and “sustainable” but at Farlam Hall it doesn’t get much more local.
Even though Hrishikesh has only moved just over an hour from Gilpin, at Farlam Hall he has found new suppliers, and ones which are closer to hotel.
The lamb is from the field next door, the honey is from the hotel’s own beehive and almost all of the veg and berries come from the large kitchen garden which also grows enough garlic to supply the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Sustainability comes not only from the home grown produce but they also have a bio-mass boiler and are on the way to getting their own spring up and running.
We stayed in room 1, which we renamed the Desai Suite as it was the room Hrishikesh stayed in when he first came to talk to Joe and Kathy about his masterplan. The room is a large suite with views over the gardens from two aspects. The furnishings are an elegant mix of antique and contemporary with a seating area, smart TV, Nespresso machine and DAB radio/speaker. The bed is large and comfortable and the bathroom is ultra modern with underfloor heating, a bath and walk in shower and Molton Brown amenities.
Then we come to the main event, the meal we’d travelled nearly three hours to enjoy. We stuck to our usual routine of a couple of cocktails in the bar first; a bar with a bewildering array of whiskeys and gins, then headed into The Cedar Tree restaurant, so named as it looks out over the pond garden and a stunning 150-year-old Cedar Tree.
Having dined at Gilpin in 2018 we had high expectations and I was particularly looking forward to seeing whether Hrishikesh could top the outstanding duck parfait which was the standout dish back then.
As ever Mrs Punter went for the vegetarian option and I went for the omnivorous version and the staff had no problems with Mrs Punter’s strict ‘no red wine’ policy. The menu is an enticing blend of French and Indian cuisines which kicked off with a popcorn cone of Garbanzo Chaat with a sweet and spicy salsa. It came with olives but these were no ordinary olives, they were crispy shells with olive-flavoured liquid centres.
The bread course was Poolish Bread made with flour from a mill 10 minutes down the road. It had a lovely texture and a beautiful treacly crust.
Then came pani puri filled with a sensational Thai style carrot sauce and topped by a delicate carrot tuile.
Snacks then went their separate ways with Mrs Punter getting a beetroot tartare with a black garlic ketchup and garden cress. Mine was a beef tartare with smoked potato and crispy enoki mushroom which was just as delicious as it sounds.
Starters and snacks over we moved on to the fish course which was scallop with a scallop cannelloni and caviar. That was brought together with some Desai alchemy in the guise of a cucumber sauce which, somehow (given how bland cucumber generally is) was absolutely packed with flavour. That sauce was also on the vegetarian course which was a vegetable ceviche and pickled vegetables which had Mrs Punter making all sorts of animalistic noises.
Next was the one I had been looking forward to, the duck parfait. Back in 2018 it was served as standard slice with the gel on top and some little pickled cubes. Back in 2018 it was delicious. Six years later Hrishikesh had worked his magic on it and it was served as a sphere enclosed in a jalapeño puree, strawberry and, hands down, the best brioche I have ever had. It was softer and lighter than the best of the best croissants and when smeared with the parfait and puree it was simply phenomenal.
At the same time Mrs P was being bowled over by a cauliflower steak with puffed rice salad and a Moilee which was a fish curry sauce served in a jug which Mrs P was disappointed not to be able to get her tongue to the bottom of.
Socks continued to be blown off with the cod and various vegetables in a smoked butter emulsion, none of which remained on the plate by the time I had finished my finger licking antics.
Mrs Punter, meanwhile, was deep in funghi heaven with a spring truffle risotto with a cashew nut cream and truffle emulsion. The last of the mains was the one that had James Martin all a quiver, tandoori longhorn beef Wellington.
It was a perfect example of how Hrishikesh blends two worlds into one stunning dish. Mrs P had a tandoori pithivier but I was too busy enjoying mine to ask her how hers was.
Two puddings followed, a baked and frozen passion fruit cream with raspberries, meringue, black pepper and a yoghurt sorbet. Then a caramel tart with salted caramel cream, dark chocolate sponge and ice cream. All washed down with a couple of quality dessert wines which had been curated just as well as the generous wine paring.
On that note, a word for the first wine in the flight, a 2020 Dry Furmint from Hungary which was new to both of us and was an instant hit.
Suitably fed and watered it was back into the bar to put all our energy into making room for coffee and petit fours. We just about managed it but how we managed to waddle back to our room will remain a mystery.
Somehow we managed something in the bedroom that hadn’t happened for quite some time. We had a lie in. We nearly missed breakfast which was a selection of fruits, toasts, a full English and eggs Benedict. Everything was fresh and well cooked and it was clear that the jam, marmalade and sauces were made in house.
The final word has to go to the staff and service. We surmised, on the way home, that they must have done some genealogy before we arrived and found that we were descended from royalty because we were certainly treated like we were and it was an absolute delight to spend some time with Hrishikesh and to hear his story, a story that we will be telling soon on Savour – and one which is as engaging, interesting and diverse as his food is.
For more information, visit farlamhall.com