Emma Pearson heads to the Castle Dairy Restaurant & Apprenticeship Academy and takes advice from a young but knowledgable sommelier.
As the knowledgeable, chatty and charming maitre d’ launched into a discussion of obscure Irish whiskies with my partner, I had to restrain myself from exclaiming: “Are you old enough to be drinking, sonny? Does your mother know about this?”
This is because we were at the Castle Dairy in Kendal, a gem of a fine dining restaurant, staffed almost exclusively by apprentices from Kendal College.
This can have the effect of making diners feel a trifle elderly by comparison, but other than their youth you really wouldn’t know that these youngsters are still learning their trade.
Head chef Robert Stacey, formerly of The Ritz and Gordon Ramsey at Claridges, clearly keeps an eagle eye on his apprentices as the food was amazing – imaginative, beautifully presented and very, very tasty.
We ordered the tasting menu (£45 per person for six courses) plus a bottle of beautiful Croze Hermitage Domain Pochon 2011 for the very reasonable price of £24.
Having surrendered ourselves to the creativity of the young cooks, we did not regret it for a moment as an amuse bouche of the lightest salmon mousse plus crab on seaweed was followed by watercress velouté.
Velvety smooth, it was served with a little apple salad pickled in cider vinegar vinaigrette which added a piquant little bite.
Next up was a goat’s cheese mousse and beetroot salad that was so good my partner momentarily lost his fear of a vegetarian lifestyle.
A fish course of hake with sea greens and mussels was followed by plump Goosnargh duck breast with a confit leg, served with potato terrine, and that was the savoury section of the menu rounded off.
A brief break and we were ready for the first of two puddings – a delicious light buttermilk ice cream with strawberries prepared every which way you could think of (fresh, freeze dried, jelly, mousse, I’m afraid I lost track after that).
The second desert, mandarin mousse with a pistachio cake, could have done with slightly more flavour, but maybe we were just too full to appreciate it by then.
The meal was rounded off with coffee and homemade petit fours and, for my partner, a sample from their impressive collection of single malts, all discussed with knowledge and passion by our young maitre d’.
If this is the future of the culinary trade, then we’re all in very good hands.