The Castle Dairy, Kendal [Reopened on May 13th!]

So, I am studying at Preston’s College on the NVQ Level 2 Professional Cookery course, and on that course we work in the college restaurant but what they’re doing at Kendal College’s restaurant The Castle Dairy is on another level. Of course, the students working in the kitchen at The Castle Dairy are studying at a much higher level than I am, but I couldn’t help but be a bit jealous. Still, the two restaurants are worlds apart, and The Castle Dairy acts as a finishing training restaurant for students, whilst we are learning the fundamental basics of professional cookery. I’m going to stop comparing the two now, onto the restaurant.

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We were given a guided tour of the restaurant, because this Grade I listed building has a fair bit of interesting history. It’s a medieval building, it has Kendal’s smallest window, in the picture above, the floor is rumoured to be an old Roman road. There is a four poster bed which Henry VIII & Catherine Parr are reputed to have slept in, and a priest hole, for when you need to hide a priest.

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The restaurant also functions as a gallery for displaying artwork for the college’s talented students.

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“For us a marriage certificate won’t equal acceptance” – Rowan Sefton – Foundation Studies Art & Design

After a tour of the building and becoming insanely jealous of the kitchen facilities and the talent of the art students at the college (I can do a stick man… at a push), it was time to get down to business and start filling our faces. Firstly, a drop of ale from Hawkshead Brewery. A lovely crisp refreshing golden ale, which I sensibly managed to make last the entire evening. I’m a good boy like that.

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Canapés of kilner smoked trout with cucumber and rye, on a kilner jar filled with smoke, and chicken liver mousse with candied pine nuts in a filo pastry cone, it was like a delicious meat Cornetto. Just one Cornetto, give eet to meeeee. The mousse was really smooth and light. I could have eaten these all night.

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For starters I had a grilled fillet of lightly smoked mackerel, with compressed cucumber and parsley. The mackerel was cooked to perfection, and the cucumber and grapes cleansed my palate nicely. It was a lovely light start to the meal. I must apologise for the photo of my starter, it’s crap, dark and doesn’t do the food justice.

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Other starters enjoyed by others at the table were cauliflower risotto, with a spiced caper, pine nut and golden raisin vinaigrette, and Cumbrian air dried ham, with a slow cooked egg, mustard and radish.

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For the mains, I had the confit belly of middle white pork, with black pudding purée, roasted cipollini onion, buttered radish, wilted spinach and pomme purée. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the tastiest piece of pork I have ever eaten. The flavour was just super porky, got to love a spot of rare breed pork. I really enjoyed the spiciness of the black pudding puree, and cooked radish, what a revelation! I’m gonna have to give this a try myself some time!

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Other mains ordered were  roast fillet of hake, with seared broccoli, braised leek, broccoli purée, confit Charlotte potatoes and a light butter sauce. I had a taste of this, and the cooking was perfection. Flaky fish and a creamy sauce. Gorgeous stuff. The other main ordered was wild garlic crusted breast of organic free range chicken, with soft herb crushed new potatoes, seared gem hearts girolle mushrooms and chicken jus (again, sorry about the photo of this one, I didn’t do a great job of it).

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My favourite course never used to be dessert, but since I’ve eaten at a few places doing some amazing puds, I find myself really looking forward to these the most. I’d seen what I would order on Twitter a few days before going to The Castle Dairy and had made up my mind, I was going to order the stunning looking buttermilk panna cotta, with rhubarb sorbet, poached Yorkshire rhubarb, and caramelised white chocolate.

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The plusses on this were the poached rhubarb and crispy rhubarb slices, and the rhubarb jelly and sorbet. They tasted gorgeous and fresh, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the panna cottas, they were really quite solid and kinda granular, too. I like a panna cotta to be smooth and slippery. Perhaps too much gelatine was used, or maybe it was made with one of those new “molecular” powders? *see note at the bottom*

Other puddings ordered were the warm chocolate brownie, with textures of blood orange and  hazelnut crumble, the damson jam and frangipane tart with damson ice cream (which made me want a glass of damson gin), and the selection of British cheese, with home made crackers and chutneys (which I forgot to photograph).

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After finishing our puddings we relaxed in the bar area for coffee and petit fours. I love petit fours. Sweeties at the end of the meal, nothing is better than that! I love sweets, because I am a big fat piggy pig. These were delicious, we had rosewater truffles, and the most delicious crumbly salted vanilla fudge. The fudge was so good that we cheekily asked for some more, which they were happy to oblige in doing.

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Once again, this restaurant is staffed by students from Kendal College’s catering and hospitality department, and they are just doing the most fantastic job. So much so that they were recently awarded the Neighbourhood Restaurant of the Year award at the 2014 Cumbria Life Food & Drink Awards, a deserved win if ever there was one. Also, head chef Robert Stacey was nominated for the Chef of the Year award, alongside Rogan & Co’s Kevin Tickle, and the eventual winner, L’enclume’s Mark Birchall, and losing to a chef of that calibre isn’t anything to be ashamed of!

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I’ve still not gone for a tasting menu at any restaurants, and The Castle Dairy offer a fantastic looking tasting menu at £45 per head. I think I may have to take them up on this offer in the near future!

I’ve since heard from The Castle Dairy on Twitter, and they said they had the same feelings about the panna cotta this morning, and have changed the recipe! Now I want to go back and have it again. I do love panna cottas

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