If one were to rent a cottage in the Lake District, what area would be a good one for being near to the most interesting restaurants, pubs etc.? Perhaps there is not one good answer to this query, but I thought I'd ask nonetheless before making any decisions. I'm sure DH has his own ideas, but he hasn't been there in some time.
Lots and lots of choice around the lakes, but even so, it is important to book in advance especially over a bank holiday weekend, as we found quite a few places were fully booked.
Friday night at The Queens Head Hotel in Troutbeck (close to where we stayed), we had a reservation even though it wasn’t that busy, however the staff were expecting a very busy Saturday. Overall we found it to be fairly disappointing - I kept think it felt like a Berni Inn as it seemed a little manufactured with lots of “nick knacks” decorating the rooms. We had a drink at the bar and were asked every two or three minutes if we were ready to order, eventually they wore us down and we did. We were then taken to our table and seated next to the toilets, acceptable in a full restaurant but it was half empty. Why use this table if they aren’t full? We moved.
My first course was “Home-made Black Pudding with Scallops, Tappenade and Apple Sauce” - a good size portion but it was swamped with a sweet sickly thin sauce. It was reminiscent of the dipping sauce you get with thai fish cakes and it absolutely ruined the dish. My partner had “Chicken Liver Parfait with Garlic Compote” which was fine.
For main course my partner had a competent lamb shank, which was hearty and filling (we did find it strange that few menu’s featured lamb, given how much is produced i the lakes and the fields were full of them), and I had “Partridge with a Chestnut and Thyme Grave” the flavours were OK, but the poor bird was so dry it could have been made of sawdust.
We looked at the cheese board and thought it was interesting but not at all regional - all cheeses from the south i.e. Montgomery Cheddar and Stinking Bishop. With a couple of glasses of wine and two pints the bill came to £53 which was quite good value - although £2.90 a pint is pretty steep. I understand the pub changed hands recently so that may explain why it missed the mark as it does have a good reputation.
Saturday night an early table at “The Drunken Duck” near Ambleside. The place was so full we could only get a 6:00pm table on the promise we were out by 8:45. Whilst it is a pub, with a brewery attached that does great beer (I tried Tag Lag at £2.40 a pint), the restaurant feels like a proper restaurant with double linen table clothes, good cutlery, china, glassware and attentive service. The whole “pub” is very tastefully decorated in quite a modern “designer” style.
The meal started well: a selection of two types of home-made bread rolls and good butter, the amuse was a well flavoured curried parsnip soup which was very well flavoured. I started with “Black pudding, poached egg, a small salad and bacon”. The flavours were good, but the balance of the dish was wrong - two one centimetre cubes of pudding were lost in a mound of salad. Quite strange given that black pudding is hardly a luxury ingredient especially in The Lakes. My partner had a “Twice baked, cheddar cheese soufflé with caramelised balsamic onions, pesto and pine nuts”. Again flavours were fine, but the dish was a little dry and dense. I suspect a twice baked soufflé needs to be reheated in a sauce to allow the air to expand and for it not to dry out on the seconf cooking.
I chose “Lamb rump with lamb confit” as the dish listed various vegetables - carrot, parsnip and baby turnips - in its description we didn’t order extra vegetables. This was a mistake. The lamb was perfect, but the advertised vegetables turned out to be minute garnishes, or smeared puree’s that were decoration rather than substance. I was still hungry! My partner chose “The Halibut, with broad beans and peas in a cream sauce” a really wonderful dish, perfectly cooked with good flavours. When she ordered it the waiter commented that she had chosen the lighter options, and I the heavier ones. However it was a very generous portion and she was pretty full a strange inbalance between our dishes.
Next we shared a cheese plate (to stave off the hunger) and they have a very good selection of local cheeses on the menu. We chose Croglin, Blue Whinnow, Tovey, and Mrs Kirkhams, they were served with biscuits, celery, grapes and a good chutney. All were in excellant condition and all were well worth trying. We ended with a passion fruit tart, served with plums and cream, again well executed, good flavours and a nice end to the meal. Total bill was £85.75 which included two pints and two glasses of Pinot. Service was good, and overall we had a very good meal, I would return, but next time I would check the size of the dishes!
We visited “Lucy’s” in Ambleside for tea and cakes on Sunday. The place was packed and they were booked out for dinner. A great, warm welcome from (I assume) Lucy who made us feel very welcome. Great choice of teas and cakes. We has a coffee, a slice of walnut cake and a slice of lemon cake - both really huge and very tasty . The lunches served to other tables looked good and equally generous.
Sunday night we scored a cancellation at “The Punch Bowl” in Crosthwaite. This is owned by the same people who own The Drunken Duck . It is decorated in a similar fashion but manages to retain more of a pub feel i.e. no tablecloths in the area we ate in and the food seems a little less sophisticated that the Duck. Again a good welcome and home-made onion flavoured bread rolls.
I had “Pigs Trotter and Scallops” to start which was very good. The meat in the trotter was meltingly soft, coupled with well cooked scallops and slices of potato. My partner had a “Ham Hock Terrine” three generous mounds of chunky terrine with an onion chutney.
Next a reprise of the previous nights dish lamb loin with a confit, but this time the confit was in a pastry boat and the dish came with “duck fat” roast potatoes - however I played safe and ordered a side dish of cauliflower cheese. Overall an excellent dish: if anything the cooking was better than the Duck. My partner had a “Beef Daube with garlic mash and root vegetables” perfectly melting texture, great flavours. A hearty dish. The cheese board looked good, again all local, but interestingly different from the Ducks. However we were stuffed and couldn’t manage either cheese or desert. Total bill was £71.25 including a bottle of Aussie Shiraz at £17.95.
On the way home we stopped at Tebay services, close to J38 on the M6, just south of Penrith. We had been looking for a farm shop and had failed to spot one. Surprise, surprise the services advertised one. Even more surprising was that it is very good. We bought and excellent lamb rack, some good steaks and some pork pies from a proper butchers (i.e. we saw the rack carved from a whole carcass). In France most motorway services have a section for regional produce, if the Penrith services are anything to go by this could be a good trend in the UK, it was very bust and was doing good business with lots of people buying not simply browsing. Apparently it is the only independently owned service in the country which probably say it all.
Thanks to both John and Martin for the guidance. June - good luck with planning the trip, we stayed in Troutbeck and found most things within a 30 minute (10 mile drive - the roads are twisty) .
As usual, a great report, Phil. Were it only that service stations here sold local produce! As it turns out, I'm not sure we'll be getting to that area this year. Two of my nieces have decided to get married ... June and September and opposite sides of the U.S. We'll probably have to trade in Ambleside for Monterey and Carmel.
P.S. Have you been watching GBM this week... your neck of the woods. I'm not sure I'll be eating at the Priory anytime soon. My last trip there was in about 1990, and I can't remember at all what the food was like back then. I can do without amino ginsing bubble foam. :-) Have you tasted this chef's food. I can't remember.
Great report, Phil. Pity that the trip was a bit of the curate's egg.
Tebay is a "must" for anyone travelling the M6. As you say, it's excellent quality and a great showcase for Cumbrian and North Lancashire food. It is the only independent operator on the network - I think that the operators were originally farmers in the land adjoining the motorway. Unlike all other services, food in the caff is on the edible side of lousy ( you get a decent Cumberland sausage with your breakfast fry-up)
Enjoyed reading your report very much. We were in the Lake District 3 years ago, and had a great lunch at the Punch Bowl. I saw that it had changed ownership, so I am happy to hear it is still good. I doubt we will get back to the Lakes anytime soon, with our infrequent trips to the UK, but this brought back pleasant memories.
We live in Grasmere, which is central lakes, generally speaking the better places to eat are in South Lakes, ie Grasmere, Ambleside, Windermere and environs, with a couple of exceptions. In addition to the list provided by John, I would add the Jumble Room in Grasmere, probably one of the best in the Lakes if you are not looking for "white table cloth dining". Also on my list would be the Queens Head at Troutbeck and if you find yourself "up north", then try Yanwath Gate Inn, a little out of the main part of the Lakes, as it is close to Penrith but well worth the detour. You can see the full list of places we would recommend from our website page -
Hope this helps - Martin - www.Artisan-food.com
I don't know if you've been "lurking" for a while or are new to the site, but welcome whichever. I've had your site as one of my stored favourites for a while and was very happy to draw zuriga's attention to it in my earlier post. It definately is one of the north west's top food sites and, hopefully, might provide a model for other areas of the region. We could do with similar in North Cheshire/Greater Manchester.
I also recall from ages back, you saying how much you are enjoying having a proper English garden. May I suggest that, on your home from the Lakes, you stop at this plant nursery near Penrith: http://www.larchcottage.co.uk/
Make sure you're there ar lunchtime. There's small cafe with a lovely outside balconey overlooking the plant area. Good food - all vegetarian.
And also make sure you stop at the Tebay services on the M6. It has an award winning deli/farmshop. Yes - at a motorway services!
Thanks for all the suggestions, John. I'm hoping we can get there in early September. Larch Cottage sounds very nice, too. I have a garden, but the former owners liked 'tropical.' I sometimes feel as if I'm living in Fiji or Tahiti. It looked a bit odd yesterday covered with snow. :-) That said, I do love gardens, period and had missed mine back in NY. I did plant tomatoes last year, and we enjoyed that a lot.
The Ambleside/Bowness/Windermere area is the main mecca for visitors, at least to the southern lakes. It means the small towns get ferociously busy in summer and driving/parking is a nightmare. However, it is still the area I'd recommend you to stay in. Not actually in the towns. Definately not in the towns! But somewhere in the general area. Grasmere is a only a couple of miles or so away - nice village - still gets busy.
You're in for an eating treat. Many places place heavy emphasis on local (and localish) products. It's hard to find bad food - whether in pubs or "country house" hotels.
Drunken Duck - gastropub outside Ambleside
Lucy's - bistro, deli, cookery school, etc in Ambleside
Glasshouse - bistro-ish place in Ambleside that featured on first series of Ramsey's Nightmares. In fact was OK before, but better now.
Linthwaite House - upmarket country house hotel at Bowness. Good "modern" Brit food. Had a weekend here a coupel of years back - fab hotel, brilliant service. Loved it.
L'Enclume - at Cartmel. I shall be dead jealous if you get to this place before me. I think probably rightly claimed as one of the country's best restaurants outside London.
Holbeck Ghyll - another country house hotel at Windermere. Mrs H & I spent our 35 aniversary there. Good food but, surprisingly, one of the few places that does not make a big thing of Cumbrian produce.
You should find this site useful: