NEW VIDEO: “If a guest is relaxed, they’re going to have a good time and if staff are relaxed, we are going to get bloody good food!”

The Staff Canteen

Paul Leonard is the head chef at The Forest Side in Grasmere which is situated near a selection of other top restaurants including The Stamp House, Lakeroad Kitchen, the Samling and ‘the world-beating L’Enclume’.

He took on this role four years ago, after leaving The Devonshire Arms and he now looks after all thing’s food, including the Michelin-star restaurant and the kitchen team at the Lake District based hotel.

“I work very closely with Alistair who is the general manger, in making this place what it is,” explained Paul. “We have a team of eight chefs and nine front of house and they work across breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We’ve got a real nice core team, who are happy, which is the main thing. There is a real depth of talent in the front of house team too, and great personality which alongside their happiness is really important to me.”

Paul Leonard Forest Side

He added: “I also look after the management of the garden and what’s being grown and is ready to come into the kitchen, working closely with suppliers, and making sure we’re getting the best products we can at the right time of the season.”

The dining room is 30 covers, and Paul says it’s pretty much full all the time. Open five days a week, Wednesday to Sunday, with lunches Thursday to Sunday plus breakfast for residents each day.

Paul said: “The eight-course menu for dinner comes with a few extra snacks and servings, which my wife calls bonus courses - which put a smile on people’s faces hopefully. For lunch we have four or six course, a bit more entry level.

“We have people who stay multiple nights and obviously where we are that really benefits us. Some people will have the four course the first night, followed by the eight, which are two totally different menus.”

Paul explained that before he took the role, he had visited the hotel four or five times before. And said: “I think the style of the place is stunning, the location is stunning – as you draw up to it, it seems like quite a classic country house and then when you walk in your blown away.

“It’s light, airy and the lighting in the dining room is stunning. Just the full place is unbelievable.”

On choosing to move to the Lakes he said: “I’ve been lucky enough to start a family so I have a little girl now and bringing her up in and around the Lake District, I couldn’t wish for anywhere better.

“Also, the reputation of The Forest Side, having been open three and a half years before I joined, it was known as a bit of a powerhouse in the North. Which I really wanted to get involved in.

“When the opportunity came, I grabbed it with both hands. I wanted to carry on the journey that The Forest Side had started.”

The team retained their one Michelin star in the most recent guide, but Paul feels the biggest achievement was getting through Covid.

“I wanted to get through Covid with a team,” he explained. “We wanted to build on what we had, build on our ethos, and really make The Forest Side our own. Not just in the food but the style of management, the style of looking after the team, the atmosphere when a guest walks through the door as well as the atmosphere when a member of the team walks through the door or a colleague.

“I really want them to be happy, to smile and to relax because if a guest is relaxed, they’re going to have a good time and if staff relax, we are going to get bloody good food!

The Garden

A lot of the produce on Paul’s dishes come from the kitchen garden so he says it’s important to understand what they can grow and what suits the menu.

Paul Leonard Forest Side

He said: “December and January it’s really about maintenance, getting that place looking nice and sexy ready for Spring coming in. The garden holds about 110 raised beds, after four years we’ve now honed what we can grow in there and what suits our menu and what we get a huge success on.

“Things like beetroots they are a staple, onions, plenty of alliums, kohlrabi which I’m a big fan of - it’s always on our menu when we can get it in. We have up to 12 – 15 micro cresses which come in super fresh, twice a day from the greenhouse.

“We’ve just taken Jerusalem artichokes, it’s a decent operation. I wouldn’t say we were self-sufficient but we’re really hammering the main elements of our dishes with ingredients form the garden.”

Food style

The food at The Forest Side, Paul believes is ‘unique in what they do’ and it has a very classical background.

He said: “You’re going to get proper cooking, proper sauces made, and stocks made in house. Plenty of butter and plenty of pan work!

“People using their senses of how to cook which I believe is a little bit old school but it’s important and how I’ve been brought up.”

Paul Leonard Forest Side

He is keen to break down the barriers between the dining room and the kitchen, some of the chefs will bring dishes to the table and they’ll finish a few dishes tableside.

“As you walk in the main focus you are drawn to, is the kitchen. We bring the kitchen out a little bit; the snack bar is a major focal point and so is the larder section where the cold mise en place dishes come from.

“We want to let the guests see everything and build relationships between the back of house and the front of house”.

A dish that best reflects Paul’s style he says is the scallop dish.

“I absolutely love cooking shellfish, probably form my time working in Scotland. We get beautiful hand dived scallops, and we make almost and old school cassolette with pancetta and some crown prince squash, a few haricot blanc, some alexander stems, and crispy alexander leaves. We roast the scallop old school, shed loads of cultured butter in there and then it’s just carved.

“Then, what brings it together is a beautiful Solway brown shrimp sauce.”

Continuing success

Paul says, ‘success at the moment is keeping a happy team and a happy restaurant’. He said: “Accolades are amazing and there a great benchmark and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t mean anything because they do. Of course, they do.

“But you just have to look at the climate we are in. There are so many bloody good chefs, losing their restaurants, and having to close when they really don’t deserve to. I find it sad.

“So, for me, the main things are making sure this restaurant is full, the team is happy, the guest are happy and we’re staying relevant. We want to make sure people know our place in the industry.”

Paul Leonard Forest Side


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2024

NEW VIDEO: “If a guest is relaxed, they’re going to have a good time and if staff are relaxed, we are going to get bloody good food!”