Swigging gin at lunchtime - how decadent is that? But when you go to a restaurant that has its own gin bar attached, complete with 80-plus gins to choose from, what's a girl to do?

Order a huge G and T is what. So I did.

My husband and I sallied forth into Ulverston this week for a midweek, midday blow-out at Virginia House - or should that be Vir-gin-ia House.

I have happy memories of this place, an elegant Georgian townhouse with a beautiful walled garden. I played there as a child when it was a private house owned by an optician - and whose daughter was a friend of mine.

Over the decades it became a popular town centre hotel; and it has now been taken over by the former patrons of the General Burgoyne pub in Great Urswick.

I've been in the gin bar once, a few months ago, and enjoyed it - although I found the decor a bit too dark for my taste - but had yet to sample the food.

We went straight in to the restaurant on arrival and took on the tricky task of choosing an aperitif from the gin menu. I'm no gin connoisseur at all: I'm very much a Gordon's girl (luckily for him), and think I'm being adventurous if I have a Bombay Sapphire.

Here, with scores to choose from, I was stumped. But the very friendly manager helped us out - and we started our lunchtime with a two very different (mine was gold) but very delicious gins.

Hot mini loaves of bread and a soft creamy quenelle of butter were delivered to the table to get things going.

The restaurant is a large and airy, high-ceilinged room, with windows overlooking Queen Street at the front and the walled garden at the rear. The grey decor may not be to everyone's taste - but we thought it elegant, unfussy and restful.

For starters, Gordon chose a tortellini of Ravenglass crab with roasted cauliflower, apple and endive, while I opted for East meets Westmorland - a spring onion bhaji with red onion and chilli jam and a smoked Westmorland cheese fondue.

Both were beautifully presented and delicious. The crab was fresh and succulent, while my bhaji was spiced to the right level and went surprisingly well with the cheese fondue - not a combination one would expect to work.

The spring onion in the bhaji was a tad on the fibrous side but overall this was a real success. It was large for a starter, so I left some of it, in anticipation of the main course to come.

I had chosen butter roasted brill with spring onions, oyster mushrooms, a crisp galette and a lemon, thyme and black truffle tea. The brill had been replaced with fresh sea bass this morning, the manager informed us.

Absolutely fine by me, as I love sea bass. Gordon chose rabbit stew for his main course. "How could you?!" I hissed at him, to make him feel guilty about our own two pet rabbits at home.

"What would Florence and Edna think if they saw you eating one of their own?". The Rabbit Whisperer of Askam (you should see him herding them in at night with the aid of two sweeping brushes) was unmoved.

Both main courses were superb: my sea bass was cooked to perfection, with a delicious scored and crisp skin. The mushrooms complemented it and the truffle tea, which one poured over the whole thing, was stunning.

Gordon loved the rabbit, the rotter. The meat was tender and moist, the stew a riot of flavours. He polished off the lot, resolute in the face of my running commentary about floppy ears, twitchy noses and adorable little bob tails. Even bursting into the chorus of Bright Eyes as he cut into a piece of meat didn't put him off.

I forgave him in time for pudding - so we delved back into the gin theme and ordered an iced mango parfait with Langtons gin to share. Oh my goodness, puddings don't get much better than this. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. A chilly bit of heaven on a plate. This was easily the best pudding I have had in a long while.

With a good bottle of French Chardonnay, our meal came to just over £80. It is worth noting that at lunchtimes, there is a 20 per cent reduction in the menu price.

We had thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. It's great to see a proper, grown-up fine dining restaurant in town; and I can quite see why it - and the gin bar - is proving so popular.

This is seriously sophisticated food in stylish surroundings. With lots and lots of gin. What's not to like?


Food 5

Service 5

Value 5

Atmosphere 4


Super-fresh ingredients Attentive service Elegant surroundings Imaginative menu


You'll need to shell out on a space in a nearby car park at lunchtimes