Restaurants

‘Not bad for the land of mint cake and spicy sausage,’ said The Guardian newspaper in early 2022 after news emerged that eight restaurants in Cumbria now had Michelin stars, more than any other county in the UK. 

At the same time, in February, L’Enclume in Cartmel received its third Michelin star, making Simon Rogan’s restaurant (pictured) the first and only place in the north of England to have received such an accolade.

What this means for Cumbria - ‘food capital of the world’ - as a headline in The Times went in late 2019 - is that the area has become something of a foodie magnet, with producers, chefs, farmers and restaurants all playing a part in this ‘culinary renaissance’.

Below are fifty restaurants to choose from, some in hotels, two or three in pubs but most of them ‘stand alone’. They’re grouped according to towns and villages but the order will change every so often, to give places a chance of being near the top.

Ambleside. Kysty

’Casual dining,’ is the modest way in which this Ambleside stablemate of Michelin starred The Old Stamp House talks about itself. The restaurant critic Grace Dent, however, was somewhat more effusive in a review in The Guardian in 2021.

Ambleside. Lake Road Kitchen

’One of the best and boldest restaurants in the UK,’ pronounced the National Restaurant Awards 2021, its praise echoing earlier sentiments of the Good Food Guide which stated that the kitchen here had become ‘in a few short years, one of the area’s outstanding go-to destinations’.

Ambleside. The Old Stamp House

William Wordsworth’s old office - when Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland - is the setting for this Michelin starred restaurant, number one fine dining restaurant in the world in Trip Advisor’s 2021 Restaurant Awards. The same awards saw the restaurant take the top spot for the UK in the new ‘Date Night’ category.

Ambleside. Rothay Manor Hotel

Named Best Dining Experience in the UK and Ireland at the Condé Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence 2022, a Michelin Plate awarded in 2021, three AA Rosettes for its restaurant and a head chef, Dan McGeorge, who was Champion of Champions on BBC Two’s Great British Menu in 2021. 

near Ambleside. Blue Smoke on the Bay

A large wood-fired grill in the middle of an open kitchen is the centrepiece of this stylish, 94 seat restaurant which overlooks the lake near Waterhead. All of the meat and much of the fish is cooked on the hardwood embers, ’making for a genuine wood-fired dining experience,’ says the Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa. 

near Ambleside. The W

Ocean liner glamour meets lakeside setting at this 80 seat restaurant at the Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa. Totally refurbished in early 2022, The W could just as easily stand for ‘wow’ as ‘Windermere’, what with its grandeur, size and elegant makeover. 

Askham near Penrith. Allium at Askham

A Michelin star, four AA Rosettes, one of Harden’s top 100 UK restaurants for 2022 and a ‘real wizard’ in the kitchens as head chef. No wonder Allium is now ‘firmly on the gastronomic map,’ as The Times newspaper said in an article in early 2022.

near Bowness-on-Windermere. Henrock, Linthwaite House

Named Hotel Restaurant of the Year at the Cumbria Food Awards 2022, Henrock was Simon Rogan’s first foray into the Lake District, the chef already well known for his restaurants down the road in Cartmel - L’Enclume (three Michelin stars), Rogan & Co (one star) and Aulis Cartmel.

Cartmel. L’Enclume

Three Michelin stars, five AA Rosettes, the Good Food Guide’s number one restaurant in the UK multiple times, and celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, L’Enclume has most certainly fulfilled Simon Rogan’s promise of ‘modern, innovative cooking’ when it opened in 2002.

Cartmel. Rogan & Co

An atmospheric old building beside the pretty River Eea is the home of Simon Rogan’s Michelin starred restaurant, Rogan & Co. Diners choose three courses, at both lunch and dinner, from a selection of seasonal starters, main courses and desserts. All at a set menu price.

Clifton near Penrith. George & Dragon

The George & Dragon is closed for the time being because of a fire in June 2022 but its sister pub, the Queen’s Head at Askham’ (see above), under four miles (6.4km) away, is offering an expanded lunch service. Both pubs and Askham Hall (hotel) are part of the Askham Collection. 

Crosthwaite. The Punch Bowl Inn and Restaurant

‘Tucked away in the sleepy village of Crosthwaite, the Punch Bowl is one of Cumbria’s great treasures.’ So said the travel section of The Times of this 300 year old inn, a main entry in the 2021 editions of the Good Pub Guide and Good Hotel Guide and the Good Food Guide 2020 (there’s no 2021 edition). 

Grasmere. The Jumble Room

’Why don’t we open a café and sell a few cakes?’ said Andy and Chrissy Hill to each other in 1996 and with those few words a local legend was born. Much loved by many, the family owned restaurant was once described by the Good Food Guide as the ‘ultimate in personal hospitality’.

Sedbergh. The Black Bull

‘The most delicious and original dinner of 2021…Miraculous,’ said writer and journalist Rachel Cooke after eating at the Black Bull last year. The hot guinea fowl croquettes; mackerel flavoured with sudachi; cod with smoked roe and seaweed; and sticky toffee pudding were one of ’10 things that saw me through 2021’. 

More restaurants in Windermere, Ambleside and Bowness

If Cumbria is the ‘food capital of the world’, then it’s probably a toss up between Ambleside and Cartmel as to which is the ‘food capital of Cumbria’. With its Michelin starred restaurant and several restaurants with Michelin Plates, Ambleside can make a good case for itself. But there are plenty of other places to consider as well.

More restaurants in Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

This is a part of the Lake District which encompasses some of its great walking areas - the Langdale valleys and the Coniston fells, for instance - so it won’t be difficult to work up an appetite for some serious dining. A Michelin starred restaurant is just outside William Wordsworth’s local village of Grasmere.

More restaurants in Northern Lakes, Keswick and Western Lakes

This is another part of Cumbria where long walks make for a healthy appetite. There are heaps of pubs to choose from while a number of hotels have AA rosetted restaurants. Keswick is one of the big tourist centres of the Lake District; a few miles away at Whinlatter is a Michelin starred restaurant.

More restaurants in Ullswater, Eden Valley, the North Pennines

Ullswater is the second biggest lake in the Lake District and the River Eden is the longest river in Cumbria. Dine out on the great views and dine in at some excellent pubs. One of them received its first Michelin star in 2022. Penrith and Appleby are the two biggest places in the Eden Valley. 

More restaurants in Kendal, Sedbergh and Cartmel

This is the south and the south east part of Cumbria where Cartmel is home to two Michelin starred restaurants and Kendal is the biggest town. If you’re staying in the Lake District, you can always dine at some of the places just outside the national park, so here are a few more suggestions. 

More restaurants in Carlisle, Hadrian’s Wall and Solway Coast

‘Casual dining’ is the predominant restaurant theme in Carlisle, Cumbria’s biggest centre of population. Head out of the city though and you’ll find a handful of AA rosetted restaurants. Go a bit further south - to Skelton near Penrith - and you’ll find Cumbria’s only Michelin starred pub. 

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