England’s largest National Park was established in 1951 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. It sits within Cumbria and its 2,362 hectares take in forests and fells, as well as the famous lakes. It’s home to England’s highest mountain (Scafell Pike), deepest natural lake (Wast Water) and largest natural lake (Windermere). It also has many literary connections, with the works of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter inspired by its wonderful scenery.
With three restaurants in the area awarded One Michelin Star in the Michelin Great Britain and Ireland Guide 2020, it now has plenty to celebrate when it comes to its food too.
Old Stamp House, Ambleside
This restaurant sits in the centre of Ambleside – inside the cellars of an old house where William Wordsworth once worked as the Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland – and is as quirky as its name implies. It’s a tiny place – split over two intimate, low-ceilinged rooms decorated with local art – and is run by the Blackburn brothers: Craig looks after the service, while Ryan heads up the kitchen.
Menus provide plenty of flexibility, with both an à la carte and tasting menus on offer, and although the cooking is classical in base, it is modern in its delivery. The skilfully prepared dishes have been well-thought-through, and are carefully balanced and packed with flavour. Immense pride is taken in sourcing local ingredients and the Cumbrian larder is the star of the show, with top quality local rabbit, deer and beef popular choices. The Michelin Inspectors particularly enjoyed the iconic Herdwick hogget and the outstanding local cheeses.
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Allium at Askham Hall, Askham
At the edge of the Lowther Estate, surrounded by beautiful gardens, you’ll find this fine, family-run castle dating from the 1200s. Inside, it has been stylishly yet sympathetically refurbished and its spacious rooms are full of original features and old family furnishings; you can even book a bedroom in the old Pele Tower!
Relax beside the fire in the sitting room while you enjoy canapés and explore the hugely impressive wine selection from the estate cellars; then head through to the modish, country kitchen style restaurant with its unique tiled floor, views over the mature gardens and elegant private room. The service is charming and it’s worth taking the advice of the experienced team.
Locally born Richard Swale oversees the kitchen, offering a concise menu with just two choices per course. These dishes are driven by the seasons and the availability of produce from the Lowther Estate, in which the castle sits. The gardener also plays an important part in guiding the menu, advising which ingredients are at their peak and what should be planted next.
The accomplished dishes have a certain simplicity to them, with the focus kept on finding complementary textures and tastes and letting the ingredients’ natural flavours shine through. Some of the Michelin Inspectors’ favourite dishes included turbot with wild garlic, and Cumbrian lamb with goat’s curd, lamb fat potatoes and mint.
The Cottage in the Wood, Braithwaite
As you leave the small hamlet of Braithwaite, the narrow road rises steeply towards the Whinlatter Forest and Pass. Here, you’ll find a small black and white roadside inn with modern bedrooms. It’s run by a friendly team and really is a cosy little place: in winter sit in the dining room; in summer take in the view over the fells and valley from the conservatory.
Chef Director Ben Wilkinson has made the place his own and there is a quiet confidence to his cooking. Classic techniques and carefully sourced, top quality ingredients take the lead, and there’s a sophisticated lightness of touch to the well-balanced flavour pairings. While skilfully making the dishes look eye-catching, Ben also pleasingly manages to avoid over-elaboration.
Dishes that our Michelin Inspectors particularly enjoyed include the scallop with Jerusalem artichoke, sea purslane and hazelnut, and the peanut nougat glacé with banana, caramel and chocolate sorbet.
Just like the cooking, the service (led by Ben’s charming partner Monika), is natural and honest, and you leave feeling that they really do care about every little detail here.
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