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6 February 2024

Top 10 Lake District Restaurants

I’ve been mouching around Cumbria recently and it really is quite bloody marvellous. So if you’re heading up there for some grub it’s worth noting that the Lake District is extremely good with food and its restaurants are some of the best on this planet. So without any waffling or further hyperbole, here is my top 10 (so far!)
The Cottage in the Woods – I love looking at mountains almost as much as I like looking at wine lists and Natalie Portman; and you know what, I’d take her on a date here, if I had the time that is. We’d gaze out of the window at the beautiful snow-capped Skiddaw range, eating beautiful crabmeat with apple and scallops (easy on the garlic please chef). Then a delicately sweet stone bass of Whitehaven origin would be enjoyed between sweet-nothings. We’d rush dessert as the lure of the….(easy now people)…fireside Consiton Bluebird would be too much. Then we’d fall asleep in one of their lovely rooms and I’d dream of dumping her for Scarlett Johansson.  The Cottage in the Woods
L’enclume – If it’s super fancy-schmancy you’re after then Simon Rogan’s Cartmel restaurant is legendary. I had 20-odd courses (you can only choose the tasting menu) and every single one of them was mind-blowing. Venison with juniper bubbles was bonkers as was the apple and Douglas fir juice.  Service is formal but friendly and it’s not half as expensive as you think or even as it deserves to be. Endlessly sparring with Heston Blumenthal’s Little Chef, sorry, Fat Duck and Daniel Clifford’s Midsummer House for number one restaurant in UK – don’t make me choose. L’enclume
Hipping Hall – Close to Kirkby Lonsdale (officially in the Dales, but hey-ho), this is a top-end treat. We went there when chef Brent Hulena was ruling the (very small) kitchen and it was amazing. We stayed in the gob-smackingly lovely Tatham Suite. It features a ‘walk-in shower’ and while I really struggled to remember another method of getting into one, it was luxurious all the same and I felt quite important for a short while. Venison (again) with coffee, mustard and fennel made me cry (and not because of Bambi but because it was pure genius). The loveliest of dining rooms, gorgeous staff and by far the best ‘bed and dinner’ combo I’ve ever enjoyed. The next adventure in the chain Forest Side in Grasmere opens in the summer and I cannot flippin’ wait.
Askham Hall – A pre-Tudor castle converted into a hotel and restaurant with a café and visitor centre in the middle of the stunning Lowther Valley near Penrith, what’s not to love. Run by Charlie Lowther, a jolly good egg who grows cows and pigs and the like, the restaurant is charming. Two were in the kitchen the night we dined and from the off with canapés in front of the inglenook fireplace (bigger than my house) it was sublime. I was treated to a John Dory (my fave fish) and it was cooked to utter perfection. Richard Swale’s modern food meets ancient architecture in this most intimate of venues. My wife wants her 40th there and, unlike her, I can’t wait till she reaches the milestone. The Hall is the big brother of The George and Dragon in nearby Clifton, which is also great, but more about hearty fare (have the pheasant or Charlie’s own shorthorn rib-eye when visiting). Askham Hall
Overwater Hall – I love this place. I reviewed it for Jamie Oliver’s website and I wrote that the fillet of beef was the best plate of food I’d ever eaten. True, it came with foie gras and all sorts of dizzyingly good twists. It’s a traditional hotel with one foot in the past in terms of service and décor and an eye firmly fixed on the growing reputation of British produce and brilliantly cooked food. If I could get married again I get married here such is the appeal. It’s in one of the lesser-visited corners of the Lakes, so is quiet and beautiful. And once again, without sounding like I work for them, I love it. Overwater Hall
Holbeck Ghyll – Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan came and ate and filmed here for the brilliant award-winning The Trip a few years back. They sat in the corner eating the exquisite food and pulled faces and did impersonations of Michael Caine and Sean Connery. I did the same, albeit on my own, and didn’t win any awards, just funny looks. The hotel (with the best view in the Lakes bar none) very recently recruited head chef Darren Comish, who was a finalist on Masterchef: The Professionals (with which I’m constantly disappointed that the chefs aren’t dressed in tight jeans and beige leather jackets and made to slide over the bonnets of Ford Capris while catching rough geezers and cooking foams). Darren is very good indeed and is as locally sourced as his produce, coming from Barrow. Beautiful dishes of delicate seafood and robust red meats (including a belting smoked quail) and Stef the brillian somellier pairing perfectly without one having to cash in one’s pension. Massive, indulgent suites await you with a hot tub and a view to the fells. PERFECT! Holbeck Ghyll
Linthwaite House – Posh Nosh in a fancy hotel with its own tarn in the gardens on a hillside above Bowness, lovely. It’s not at all pretentious and the staff love to talk about what’s on the plate. I ate in here alone but at no point felt awkward or weird, especially as it was Mother’s Day and I was surrounded by
happy families, it’s a comfortable and elegant place to be. The room was v v cool as well with a TV opposite the bath. I watched two episodes of The Big Bang Theory until I turned into a prune, it was so relaxing. The two highlights of the meal were the pakoras with curried cod and an apple/ginger pud – lush. Beer and wine is as excellent as the food so an all-round winner. Linthwaite House
Jumble Room – Back in its heyday in the early noughties, this place was considered quirky and a hidden gem, and at one time was my favourite eating place in the country. Plaudits aplenty graced the restaurant’s window within the picture postcard Wordsworth ‘hood of Grasmere. The menu was always simple but perfectly executed. Fish and chips, local steak, leg of duck, lamb chops and a beautiful, creamy Lakhsa were always on the menu. Brown bread and marmalade ice cream on treacle tart is still one of the most glorious things in the history of shoving things into my cake hole. Haven’t been for a while, as I always get too piddled at Tweedies Bar and its fub cask ale selections to make it round the corner to The Jumble Rooms; I hope it’s rediscovered its form though. Jumble Room
The Sun Inn – Kirkby Lonsdale is a cracking little town. If you’re a beer fan and find yourself here, go to Booths supermarket at the top of the hill – like Willy Wonka’s for bottles I tell ya. Roll down the hill and into the town centre and you’ll find yourself at the The Sun Inn and Sam Carter’s restaurant within. Now I’m a fan of offal, mostly the dangly bits that scaredy-cats eschew and Sam cooked me up some veal sweetbreads that were so good I ran out of  superlatives…clammed right up. Then came the venison and I ate in reverential silence. Sam, you’re amazing and the Sun is too, with an atmosphere that is comfortingly old-fashioned; farmers schwiffing their beers and chatting about their crops as diners enjoy the fruits of their labour. Brilliant. The Sun Inn
The Wild Boar Inn – Now, I love pigs and ate an entire one recently, with nose-to-tail aficionado Fergus Henderson’s help. It was crazy, crispy and sweet. My next mission is to grow a boar and eat that as well and I will definitely go to these guys, tucked behind Windermere, for some advice. They would smoke it in their own smokehouse (I know, the ultimate boy’s toy right), brew their own-label beer to wash it down with in their own microbrewery (no, hold on, that’s the ultimate) before relaxing in a gigantic copper bath in one of the piggy-named suites (one for the ladies). I ate boar chops, crackling sticks, smoked cinnamon ice-cream and drank their very good beers in this great big, lovely place; fills up at peak times, so book early to avoid lack of pig.  The Wild Boar Inn