Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Celebration for Foodies in Cumbria

I managed to get 36 hours in Grasmere last week in between business trips to Paris and London. I took my Aunt Enyd and Uncle Roy down to one of my favorite local restaurants, Andy and Chrissy Hill’s The Jumble Room. Every outing with Auntie Enyd is special but this night in particular we were celebrating her full recovery from a complicated ear operation so we had lots to talk about. Little did I know the celebration was just beginning.

The mood was through the roof at The Jumble Room since the morning brought news to Andy that the Sunday Times had recognized The Jumble Room as the Top Hidden Gem in Europe. He was short-listed a while ago in the Top 20 but this award was a fitting tribute for 14 years of hard work. Andy and Chrissie haven’t been chasing Michelin stars, they’ve been chasing great experiences . . . and they deliver this is spades.

Almost concurrent with that tremendous achievement, my neighborhood received its fourth Michelin Star restaurant. Simon Rogan’s L’enclume in Cartmel continues to lead the way with a second star surely en route along with the Holbeck Ghyll and the Sharrow Bay. The new news was The Samling, just down the road from me, which is now owned by the Sharrow Bay team and where Nigel Mendham is serving up local produce of the highest quality. Tiny Cumbria is now in the top 5 counties in England for Michelin stars and leads its much bigger Lancashire and Yorkshire neighbors.

Holbeck Ghyll has just been bought be Stephen Leahy, a very successful businessman who is now living the dream of owning a great restaurant. He’s got lots of plans to introduce heli tours of the Lakes, guided walks, up-market Lake cruises and super car hires from the Holbeck Ghyll without losing its country house magic. Head chef Dave McLaughlin used to chef at Michael’s Nook, which is where I live now, and has ensured that Holbeck Ghyll received its Michelin award for the 10th consecutive year.

Over at Sharrow Bay I think it’s now 14 consecutive years where they’ve held the star and this place truly is magical. Its views of Ullswater are beyond belief.

At the very heart of much of this Cumbrian success lies Kendal College where the Lakes Hotel School offers some of the most inspirational facilities in Europe. Local produce is a great competitive advantage for the area coupled with great innovation lead by Simon Rogan of the L’enclume.

As well as these 1 star paragons of excellence, there are tremendous gastro pubs all around the place. I had the best Lancashire Hot Pot I’ve ever had in my life last Thursday at The Strickland Arms which is owned by Martin Ainscough, who also has The Derby Arms and one of my old time favorites, The Miller Howe. The Highwayman at Burrow, The Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite, and The Drunken Duck near Ambleside all serve great local food with terrific local beers and great wine choices.

Two other favorites of mine are Hipping Hall, which is run by old Lancaster Royal School boy, Andrew Wildsmith, and new Kiwi chef, Brent Hulena. This 15th century country house is really memorable.

Thirty years ago or so I used to drink in The Wild Boar at Crook after the cricket in what was then Westmorland and this is now completely redeveloped and refurbed for opening at month end. It will be the first Lake District Hotel with its own smokehouse.

Put all this together with our inventions of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Kendal Mint Cake, Grasmere Ginger Bread, and top local produce such as Church Mouse cheeses in Kirby Lonsdale, the Hawkeshead Relish Company and local breweries at Hawkeshead and Conniston, and you’ll know why I try to get up to Grasmere as often as I do.

And the welcome you get in these Lakeside gems is a lot more friendly, family and personal than in the big cities.

Come up and see us sometime.