I suspect the best compliment you can give a restaurant on opening night is to say that you couldn’t tell it was opening night.
If you wanted a one-sentence summary of Kysty, which opened on Valentine’s Day in Ambleside, that would be it.
Although strictly speaking, it reopened. As a bistro, following an eighteen month stint as a rather impressive Scandi-inspired, locally-guided, cafe.
Kysty is the second venue in Ryan Blackburn’s Ambleside food empire. Ryan’s main restaurant, The Old Stamp House is fantastic, but it’s also small. It achieved a Michelin star in 2018. I suspect the influx of new diners has necessitated the change from daytime cafe to evening eaterie.
But was the decision to transform the venue one that Ryan will live to regret? On our first impressions, the answer is a definite no.
Despite being closed for a little under a month, the new-look Kysty manages to feel fresh and familiar in equal measure. The venue no longer feels like a cafe, but keeps the buzz and informal atmosphere that made it a must-visit venue.
The bistro menu is pared back and simple, with a choice of a trio of starters, mains and desserts, as well as some snacks to begin, curious sides and cheese to accompany the desserts.
On opening night, the menu was strong – offering local choices that would appeal to most palates. Even better, there was barely a nod to Valentine’s evening. No cringe-worthy titles of cliched dishes in sight here.
We started with those pre-meal snacks. Well who can resist pork scratchings, and for that matter, warm sourdough? The scratchings were served with a smooth, rich piccalilli. Clearly this is how you lift them from the pub to the bistro. And boy did it work.
For starter, I chose a visually stunning, light and tasty goats’ cheese cannelloni. Charlotte plumped for a silky cauliflower veloute, served with almonds and potted shrimps. If you didn’t know they go together, you now do.
While the starters set the scene, it was the mains where the meal soared. Most people I discussed the menu with thought the Herdwick rump would be hard to look beyond, yet that’s just what I did, plumping for the chalk stream trout. That was easier once I knew Charlotte was having lamb. We opted for a side of new potatoes and some hispi cabbage.
Both mains were outstanding. The lamb was tender and flavoursome, and the trout light and fresh. The two sides added to the meal – the cabbage in particular was a treat – one wedge was served lightly cooked, seasoned and topped with garlic emulsion and hazelnuts. A combination that I will never question.
Getting pretty full, we chose to share the ginger cake for dessert that had been recommended to the table behind us. Once again, the dish was perfectly balanced, with delicious, tart rhubarb cutting through the sweet cake and frosting.
The drinks choices were strong, and included low alcohol beer and non alcoholic spirits for those swerving booze – like I was. There was an interesting wine list for those who wanted something stronger.
The service was warm and friendly with our hosts attentive and chatty. As we reached the end of the night, they told us they had a list of things they needed to address for future nights. But we didn’t notice these.
In fact, niggles were almost entirely absent from our evening. If we were being picky, we might have said that the lamb would have been enhanced by a carb. The only option was the side of potatoes we added.
I thought the small menu was a selling point, but you could imagine some more picky eaters struggling to find something to their taste. But I really do think that would be their problem.
We were sad to hear that Kysty was closing – after all, we loved their hot dogs, soups and cakes. But having now seen the replacement, we can dry our tears and celebrate a welcome addition to the often-underwhelming Lakes food scene.
For those of you who have yet to try Ryan Blackburn and his team’s food – you might now have more of a chance.