Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grasmere update

I was up in Grasmere last weekend helping Lancaster University pitch for government funding for a digital hub project. The government is ready to invest heavily in Digital Britain, and Lancaster, under Roger Lee and Rachel Cooper, have put together an innovative digital hub proposal which brings together the best of academia, business, and community. Thirty universities were on the original list and 9 were shortlisted. So we had to go to Swindon to make a 40-minute pitch to four academics. It was certainly a change from the hurly burly of life at Saatchi & Saatchi, and great fun. It is particularly inspiring to see the government putting their money where their mouth is.

A five hour drive later (thanks to John, Lancaster’s University driver), I finally made it to Grasmere where John Daniel, who had just arrived from Montpellier, was taking a break from writing his new novel. We sat down for a traditional Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimp and Calf’s Liver dinner at Andy Hill’s great Jumble Room restaurant and started to talk about how food has moved forward in the Lake District and Cumbria.

Three restaurants have Michelin stars in my immediate neighborhood. Simon Rogan’s L’enclume is the leader of the pack in terms of innovation and excitement. Holbeck Ghyll and Sharrow Bay at Lake Ullswater maintain their stars. Sharrow Bay has been opened for about 60 years now and I first went there with a guy called Peter Comerford who ran a trading company in Yemen in the 70’s. When I was with P&G, I visited Yemen many times and Peter and his company made Tide the No.1 detergent there. He took me to Sharrow Bay 30 years ago and it’s just been getting better and better. For a start, its location overlooking Lake Ullswater is as close to paradise as you can imagine. Then there are Head Chefs, Colin Akrigg and Mark Teasdale, producing classic British inspired menus with pretty much everything coming from within an eight-mile radius of the restaurant. Nico Chieze is probably the best wine guy around.

Simon Rogan of L’enclume was named Best Chef in Britain in the 2009 Good Food Guides Editor’s Choice Awards. I can’t imagine how Heston Blumenthal took that!

I’ll be back at the Holbeck Ghyll next month with an old friend and now High Court Judge, Phillip Sycamore. Holbeck’s is owned by David and Patricia Nicholson and has got a terrific selection of French reds.

Gilpin Lodge is pretty close (I think it lost its star a year or so ago) and there’s a new comer that I’m tipping for further recognition - Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale.

On Saturday, JD and I went out with James Mackie who did all the interiors for my Grasmere cottage. He also moonlights as a keyboard player for a very funky group, Heroes of She. James achieved fame in an earlier life as a keyboard player for Madness when they were in their prime. He redesigned Hipping Hall, which has now been taken over by a talented young entrepreneur Andrew Wildsmith, who, like James and me, is an old boy of Lancaster Royal Grammar School. It’s a wonderful venue. Very romantic, complete with medieval minstrels gallery and the food is simple, high quality, tasty, and imaginative. The wine list has something for everyone and is very well priced. James’ décor is peaceful, restful, and intimate. Go now before Michelin discovers it and the crowds converge.

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