Cumbria has earned itself an enviable reputation as a county of exceptional food when eating out, whether served in Michelin-starred restaurants, hotels or classy tearooms. Much of this is down to the quality of local produce and uniquely Cumbrian dishes – Cumberland sausage, Grasmere Gingerbread, sticky toffee pudding, Herdwick lamb and potted shrimps among the delicacies.
The county has also been a breeding ground for top chefs and as you’d expect attracts many others from across the country, and indeed the world. What a spectacular place to open a restaurant, after all. Not everyone can afford fine dining but it’s worth starting with a tribute to the most heralded restaurants.
L’Enclume in Cartmel is run by Cumbria’s most famous cuisine creator Simon Rogan, due to his numerous TV appearances and imagintaive take on British food. He is often called Cumbria’s answer to Heston Blumenthal, and L’Enclume has earned two Michelin stars. There is no set menu – that comes down to the season and what Simon has foraged from Cumbria’s countryside and coastline. You’ll have to book in advance and prepare for a pricey night but the vast majority of diners agree it is well worth it.
Simon runs a more relaxed bistro nearby, Rogan & Co, and the gastropub he bought and then passed on in the village, the The Pig & Whistle, is still doing very well without him.
The county has also been a breeding ground for top chefs and as you’d expect attracts many others from across the country, and indeed the world. What a spectacular place to open a restaurant, after all
Impressive places to eat out
Other Michelin-starred restaurants in Cumbria are Forest Side in Grasmere and the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in Windermere. Forest Side head chef Kevin Tickles was brought up in the Lake District and places a great deal of emphasis on the sight, smell and taste of local ingredients. Gilpin Hotel and Lake House has two restaurants celebrating Cumbrian cuisine; the Michelin-starred HRiSHi, where head chef Hrishikesh Desai combines Lake District produce and classic methods; and the more laid-back Gilpin Spice, serving tapas-style pan-Asian dishes.
Looking around the county for more impressive places to eat out is not a difficult task. They are plentiful. Holbeck Ghyll, overlooking Windermere, found fame on BBC2’s The Trip, combining fine views with fine dining in a 19th-century mansion. The menu focuses on gourmet food with a Gallic twist.
Francine’s in Windermere is a relaxed bistro-style restaurant with an a la carte menu, a daily board and an extensive wine list, along with a large selection of local ales. Seafood is the passion here, while the 40-seat venue is also popular in the daytime for coffee and lunches.
Seafood is also the speciality at the aptly-named Windermere bistro, Hooked. The menu changes according to the season, although local delicacies including Morecambe Bay shrimps and rainbow trout are never far away.
Head chef Kevin Tickles was brought up in the Lake District and places a great deal of emphasis on the sight, smell and taste of local ingredients
Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside has a five-course tasting menu of foraged and home-grown ingredients, all native to northern Europe. Think Orkney scallops served with sea plants and cured salmon with whey and nasturtium buds. You’ll need to set aside at least two-and-a-half-hours to eat it all.
The Old Stamp House Restaurant, also in Ambleside, features the famous local Herdwick sheep and also draws inspiration from the ports on the west coast with their history of importing spices and alcohol. The fishing fleets at Barrow and Whitehaven are used as much as possible to source local fish, and the restaurant’s team sources wild herbs and mushrooms from the surrounding woodlands.
The Drunken Duck Inn grew up as a pub, then a gastropub, and now its award-winning menus, centred on British classics, are truly restaurant standard. Situated on a hilltop between Coniston and Hawkshead, The Drunken Duck Inn can be booked up for weeks in advance, just to warn you.
The Jumble Room in Grasmere is quirky and cool, with bright walls, pop-art prints and jazz and blues playing. Crucially, the menu is exciting too, from kicking crab crostini to pumpkin and beetroot ravioli.
The fishing fleets at Barrow and Whitehaven are used as much as possible to source local fish, and the restaurant’s team sources wild herbs and mushrooms from the surrounding woodlands
Award-winning Quince and Medlar in Cockermouth is a vegetarian’s dream. Colin and Louisa Le Voi run the intimate, friendly listed Georgian town house restaurant and make good use of local fresh produce and ingredients. There is also an impressive range on the organic, vegetarian and vegan wine list to complement your meal.
The Cottage in the Wood is a 17th-century restaurant in the heart of Whinlatter forest, truly a spectacular location. The quality of of the menus has earned it several awards. Hunday Manor offers modern British cuisine, again using fresh, locally-sourced produce. Situated between Cockermouth and Workington, the atmosphere is informal whether at lunch, afternoon tea, high tea or dinner.
Steam in Coniston is a small bistro restaurant offering set price menus with two or three courses. The menu changes daily, based on what local produce is available, and what the team feels inspired to cook. Steam is not licensed so you are welcome to take along an alcoholic drink of your choice. This isn’t a problem in a lot of Cumbria’s best eateries because they are pubs first and foremost, which have gained a reputation for quality food as well.
The Punch Bowl Inn is a very rural village pub at Crosthwaite, near Windermere, yet still attracts many people from miles around on the strength of its menus alone. The Hare and Hounds is a village pub full of character in the beautiful village of Levens. The 16th-century coaching inn welcomes dogs, and muddy boots – don’t think that means the quality of the food isn’t as special.
The friendly listed Georgian town house restaurant makes good use of local fresh produce and ingredients. There is also an impressive range on the organic, vegetarian and vegan wine list to complement your meal
The Masons Arms is nearby, on a steep hillside, with period features including low ceilings and exposed beams. There is also a slate terrace with views across the Lyth Valley. The food focuses on local dishes like slow-cooked Cartmel lamb or a trio of game.
The Pheasant Inn near the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake has a friendly bar, a bistro room and a more formal dining room. Many go there for afternoon tea and the venue is also dog-friendly.
The award-winning George & Dragon, surrounded by the Lowther Estate at Clifton, near Penrith, has a blackboard of daily specials. Most ingredients come from the nearby Askham Estate or other local suppliers.
The Butchers Arms in Crosby Ravensworth is a community pub serving home-made food in a relaxed atmosphere. The pub dates back to 1773 but after losing its way was bought in 2011 by more than 300 people, bringing it back to the heart of the community. The Plough Inn at Wreay, five miles south of Carlisle, dates back to 1786, though it was modernised in 2004. In recent years the pub has picked up several awards for its food, which is cooked to order and served Wednesday to Sunday, lunch and evening.
This is a community pub serving home-made food in a relaxed atmosphere. The pub dates back to 1773 but after losing its way was bought in 2011 by more than 300 people, bringing it back to the heart of the community
Eating out in Carlisle
The city of Carlisle itself has a number of impressive restaurants. Alexandros serves fresh Greek food in relaxed surroundings, while lunch time specials can be eaten in or taken away.
Davids is a Victorian Townhouse offering fine dining. There is a wide range of menus which change throughout the year, according to the quality of the seasonal ingredients. Again, the very best local produce is used and all dietary needs are catered for.
Foxborough Smokehouse Restaurant is a meat lovers’ paradise, while Amato’s brings a taste of Sicily in an unpretentious, friendly atmosphere.
Siam Thai is central for both railway and bus stations and serves superb authentic Thai food, with a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options.
Bari, named after the proprietor Mr Bari, has a choice of exotic meats on the menu, alongside a wide range of tasty curries. Casa Romana opened in 1993 and the popular Italian restaurant has earned a place within the hearts of Carlisle people, so book ahead. It has evolved constantly, so the menu now includes vegan, gluten-friendly and dairy-free dishes, all developed and made in the kitchens.
There is a wide range of menus which change throughout the year, according to the quality of the seasonal ingredients. Again, the very best local produce is used and all dietary needs are catered for
Carlisle has seen a growth in trendy, cosmopolitan bars within the heart of the city and their reputations also rely on the quality of their food. Fortunately for the diner, the quality is generally excellent and there is a great choice of venue, with each one boasting a welcoming, vibrant atmosphere.
The Shabby Scholar is a tapas bar and restaurant, specialising in British foods with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. It is situated in Carlyle’s Court near the Historic Quarter. In the same arcade is the Dutch Uncle, a restaurant and cocktail bar which is good for larger groups and walk-ins.
The Last Zebra is quirky and serves great home-made food, unusual craft beers and cocktails, while The Thin White Duke nearby (yes, it’s a nod to David Bowie, check out the walls for memorabilia), has a lively bar upstairs and a restaurant downstairs within a tunnel which ran underneath the monastery which once stood on the site. Now it’s the burgers that are legendary there.
Cumbria and the Lake District, as anyone who has visited before will repeat eagerly, is also awash with charming tea rooms and cafes which also pride themselves on the diversity and quality of their menus. Gillam’s in Ulverston has been in business since 1892, The charming tea room has a small patio garden at the back and is ideal for a lunch stop. Chunky pies and delicious cakes are Gillam’s signatures.
Carlisle has seen a growth in trendy, cosmopolitan bars within the heart of the city and their reputations also rely on the quality of their food, there is a great choice of venues, with each one boasting a welcoming, vibrant atmosphere
Cafe bar culture
Award-winning cafe The Watermill can be found within the only remaining working watermill in Cumbria, at Little Salkeld, near Penrith. The mill grinds its own organic flour which is used in the cafe’s breads and cakes.
The Square Orange in Keswick offers stone-baked pizzas, a speciality coffee menu and live music evenings. It was one of the first venues to bring cafe bar culture to the Lake District when it first opened in 1998. The Chalet Tearooms and Restaurant in the nearby village of Portinscale is very popular with walkers who need refreshment after a day on the surrounding fells.
Ambleside has a great many quaint cafes. The Copper Pot has a varied and exciting breakfast and lunch menu, games to play while you wait and serves the outstanding locally-roasted Mr Duffins Juicy Gossip beans, if you’re a coffee connoisseur.
The Rattle Ghyll Cafe serves hearty, home-cooked lunches goodness, again catering for many adventure lovers in need of sustenance.
Fresher’s is a popular independent, family-run cafe which caters for all diets and welcomes pets, while also in Ambleside, Ghandi’s Cafe grew out of a successful business feeding festival-goers with Indian veggie food. After doing this for eight years, feeding the likes of Glastonbury, Green Man and Cumbria’s own Kendal Calling, Mark and Richard decided to open a permanent cafe in Ambleside, situated on The Slack. Everything is vegetarian but can be adapted to be vegan, and as well as serving Indian cuisine, Ghandi’s has branched out into Thai and Japanese food.
This venue in Keswick offers stone-baked pizzas, a speciality coffee menu and live music evenings. It was one of the first venues to bring cafe bar culture to the Lake District when it first opened in 1998
The Crafty Baa in Windermere took seven months to build, using more than 80 per cent recycled and up-cycled materials. Renowned for its baked Camembert, grilled sandwiches and more than 100 world beers and fine wines, the cafe is also child and dog-friendly. Graze in Bowness-on-Windermere is a small, laid-back cafe with a good variety of food to suit all tastes and dietary requirements. Her Citi in Maryport is a quirky tea shop, also selling clothing and vintage articles.
The Fourpence Café and Shoppe in Ulverston sells a wide range of homemade products, like jams, chutneys, flavoured oils and salad dressings. The cafe is extremely pet friendly.
Pooley Bridge is a pretty village on the shores of Ullswater, although it can get very busy in the summer. And no wonder. The 1863 bar and bistro (and B&B) is family-run and has been serving the area for more than 150 years.
The Monkey Tree in Wigton puts on tapas and themed nights with excellent menus, and can easily cater for vegetarian and vegan diets. Meat is on the menu in the strangest of places – the cheese and bacon scones are always in great demand.
Whether you’re dressing up for fine dining or falling into a cafe after a tiring trek on the fells, Cumbrians will always welcome you with quality, tasty food and a friendly smile.
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