Wednesday, 27 February 2013


The final stop on our whistle stop eating tour of the Lake District was the one about which we were most excited, and with good reason.  There are only two restaurants in the country which have scored 10 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide and one of those is The Fat Duck which, you may remember, was voted the best restaurant in the entire world a few years ago by People Who Know.  The second is called L’Enclume, and it is situated in the tiny village of Cartmel, a few miles from the respective shores of Lake Windermere and the Irish Sea.  Before chef Simon Rogan decided to make Cartmel the headquarters from where he would take over the world (of fine dining), it was chiefly remarkable for possessing the most randomly located racecourse in the British Isles and a village shop that did a fine line in sticky toffee puddings.
I predict that it will not be long before the good folk of Cartmel are forced to erect some kind of multi storey car park to accommodate all the people that flock there to eat good food and buy quaintly packaged toffee sauce.  Even on an unremarkable Saturday in February the tiny village was packed to the rafters; we arrived at two and ended up in the racecourse car park.  Goodness knows what it is like when you factor race goers into the mix.  We wondered what local residents think about the regular influx of gastro tourists, eyes glazed and cheeks flushed with over consumption, although the maitre d’ at the restaurant said they were pretty sanguine given that the value of their properties has more than doubled in the past few years.
We had already dined at L’Enclume a few years ago, before it was awarded its second Michelin star and before Simon Rogan started to become a little more prominent in the popular media – you may remember him from the Great British Menu competition last year where he Kicked Ass.  Back then we declared it as one of the finest meals it had ever been our privilege to eat.  Back then too, you still got to choose between a few different menus whereas now, if you go to the website you will find that menus are passé and at L’Enclume you will eat whatever the kitchen decides: “Because we are not restrained by a set menu, we are free to express and to use whatever is available to us at that very moment in time.”  In the hands of a lesser kitchen, a lesser chef, this kind of rhetoric would have made my heart sink, but here, I was willing to just go with it. 
It would be tedious in the extreme for you to listen as I rhapsodised my way through the many and varied courses we scoffed during the course of the evening.  Our personal highlights included “Oyster pebbles”: an apple meringue filled with a pop of salty oyster liquor – sounds weird, tasted amazing.
Smoked eel with ham fat – this, I think, was the only hot amuse and was a salty, crispy surf and turf delight – the nuggets were served on a swipe of “Ham fat cream” which are words that struck deep joy in our greedy little hearts.
The valley venison with charcoal oil, mustard and fennel was, I think, my absolute favourite dish.  The venison was velvety tender, the flavours delicately balanced and the fennel “candies” – little sweet, aniseedy balls that popped in your mouth, made us both grin.
The mussels in their own juice were the musseliest mussels that we two mussel fiends had ever eaten.  And with good reason – mussels are cooked, the precious liquor retained and then used to steam a fresh batch.  So, mussels squared.  Delicious.
The best of the pudding courses was undoubtedly the rhubarb with brown butter, wild sorrel and apple which struck just the right balance between sweet and mouth puckering sour notes.
But I can’t not mention the darling little ice cream cones that came sticking out of a piece of rock (very Noma!) flavoured with pear, sweet cheese and parsnip.
Not to mention a superlative cheese trolley – yes we somehow…just…managed to squeeze in some cheese…
It seems churlish to complain, but given that the nature of L’Enclume means that dishes are constantly being created and evolving, it is only natural that some are less successful than others; we both felt that the turbot with grilled carrots, Manx queenie scallops and celandine was a little on the sweet side (it could have used some ham fat cream perhaps?) and D also though that the honeycomb and quince dessert verged on the overly saccharine.  I would never criticise any man for having a sweet tooth but the more successful courses (which was most of them) managed to get the disparate elements to harmonise and balance in a way that was perhaps lacking in these. 
And of course, L’Enclume is eye wateringly expensive – especially if, like us, you throw caution to the wind and go for the wine flight to match the food (although this was very well chosen and included an amazing plum sake to go with the cheese course.)  To stay at L’Enclume house is, conversely, very good value – for our standard double the B&B rate was less than we paid at The Best Western hotel the night before and the rooms and breakfast were an absolute delight.  Still, it is not an experience that we will get to repeat often unless the civil service pay freeze is replaced with massive increments from 2014 onwards (although George Osborne should rest assured that should he do that there are at least two civil servants in the North East who will undertake to stimulate the economy with some serious spending). 
Still, the fact that there is someone like Simon Rogan around, in tune with his environment, interested in brave and challenging flavour combinations, someone who utilises humour and whimsy and skill to make the kind of food that makes you break out in a broad grin full weeks after you have eaten it, that fact alone is enough to make this foodie content that the future of fine dining in Britain is in excellent hands.
People of Cartmel – I wouldn’t be planning to sell up any time soon.
Cavendish St
01539 536362

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

“We need to get there early,” D warned, “They get queues out of the door at lunchtime.”  I was sceptical, but nobly got up when dawn was barely cracked in order to breakfast before nine (no way was I going to miss out considering the extortionate price we paid to stay in an unremarkable Ambleside hotel) and even more nobly restrained myself in the face of Cumberland sausages and a buffet table groaning with pastries.  D was rather less controlled and found himself still rather sausage laden come noon, but, nevertheless, we arrived at The Drunken Duck on the dot of twelve and were the first people through the door.  This was good as it ensured Himself got his pick of the seats (close to the fire, no draught, good position for people watching), but nearly went horribly wrong when I suggested waiting a little to order food, seeing as how it was empty and all.  His expression became increasingly pained as the clock hands crept round to quarter past and people began to drift in – whether this was a digestive issue or not was unclear – but I capitulated and ordered and then lo and behold, the floodgates opened and by half past the little pub was heaving. 

It is not hard to see why.  The Drunken Duck is situated just ten minutes or so outside of Ambleside town centre but it could as easily have been in the Middle of Nowhere just behind the Back of Beyond.  They have an outside terrace with amazing, undulating views – a wonderful place, I would imagine, to sit and sup a pint during the height of summer. 

Inside is hardly less pleasant – a crackling fire, tasteful clutter, and, above the well stocked bar, a beautiful canopy of green grey dried hops.

We were off for some serious dining that evening and so had to be restrained while ordering from the lunchtime menu.  I went for a Reuben sandwich, D for the ploughman’s.  The latter arrived at the table bound up in a checked cloth which is the kind of little detail that always makes me smile.  My sandwich was delicious – top quality sourdough bread and a good balance of filling and the constituent parts of the ploughman’s were all excellent, if a little fridge cold at first. 

Across the way, the thick cut chips (which we bravely avoided) looked and smelled wonderful.  Basically, this was everything you could want from a good pub lunch served in a comfy and cosy environment.  Can you tell that I loved it?  Another place that I am eager to revisit one evening so I can sample their more formal menu.  And another place that you, gentle reader, must seek out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world.

 The Drunken Duck Inn
LA22 0NG
Tel: 015394 36347

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Cottage in the Wood, Keswick

So, the food baby is beginning to subside and I can’t wait to tell you about some of the sheer fabulousness that went into its inception although I should warn you, if you are dieting or hungry you may wish to skip the next few posts.  Don’t worry, you know I’ll be back soon enough moaning about Weight Watching and how depressing it is to eat alone and generally weeping into my cabbage soup, but for now, let us set off on a journey westwards, into one of the most beautiful regions of the UK, and then let us NOT go walking in the fells but head straight off for lunch.  In the car.

I never visited the Lakes as a child.  My parents liked North Yorkshire, occasionally venturing a little further up the coast to Northumberland, but they stuck firmly to the Eastern side of the country.  I’ve never been to Devon or Cornwall either, something I hope to remedy someday (I hear the siren song of the clotted cream, you see).  Anyway, D and I first started visiting regularly a few years ago (unsurprisingly, our primary mission even then was to eat) and I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place.  The scenery is absolutely breathtaking.  But man cannot live on beauty alone and it is also a region blessed with some excellent eateries – although to be fair, such is the quality of much British cooking and produce I think you can eat well in most parts of the country now.

The first little gem that I want to share with you is situated on a winding, narrow road that weaves its way up a hill just outside of Keswick called The Cottage in the Wood.  It is picture perfect.

D discovered it from a Jay Rayner review – now there is a man after our own greedy little hearts: a critic who genuinely adores food, has a healthy appreciation of the pig and also eschews any sort of snobbery, as is right and proper.  He is someone you could quite easily imagine going for a Michelin star meal and then picking up a kebab on the way home and when he says somewhere is good, it is generally worth a trip.

We arrived and were greeted by the owner, all smiles and firm handshakes.  She ushered us to a seat by the fire and apologised that we would have to wait a minute for the menu – she was just on her way to print them.  This made me very happy – so many restaurants claim to change their menus regularly but this place literally rewrites it on a daily basis to accommodate the available produce and, presumably, the whims of the chef.  For lunch, the Cottage only offers a choice of two dishes for all three courses which again, I find an endearing feature, speaking of quality over mediocre quantity.  We had decided in advance on a sharing policy so that we could both try everything.  I must admit, my heart sunk a little when I saw that one of the desserts on offer was pannacotta – one of the few puddings that I actively dislike – but…well, more of that in a minute.

To start we had smoked salmon with apple, chicory and salted almonds which was as fresh as the proverbial daisy with a pleasingly delicate smoke, and a celeriac and saffron veloute with a crispy pig’s trotter.  We both felt the texture of the soup could have been a bit lighter but the taste was earthy and delicious and I for one adored the little trotter croquette.  

The stand out dish of the day for both of us was the fish main course: John Dory with samphire and potted shrimps.  It was so good that as we reached the halfway point, whereupon we would swap plates, I began to panic a little and wonder if I could renege on my promise to share.  The other choice, chicken with a spelt and mushroom risotto, did its best – the nutty spelt was a fabulous choice of accompaniment, being a perfect fit with the woody earthiness of the mushrooms – and, if it was in second place, it was second place with honour.
John Dory
So, on to puddings, and D, sensing my wobbly pudding induced apprehension nobly offered to renounce his claim on half of the crème brulee with rhubarb puree and sorbet.  But, we had promised to share, and I agreed to sample a tentative spoonful.  What a revelation!  It turns out I do like pannacotta when it is as sweet and soft and yielding as this.  I would quite happily have licked the plate.
The really remarkable thing about this lunch was the value for money.  For three exemplary courses we paid a mere £19.95, and the wine list ranneth over with reasonably priced treats.  I would have paid more for the view from the dining room windows alone.
If you do find yourself up in the area at any point I really recommend that you check this place out – they have rooms and an evening tasting menu which I intend to go back and try.  A chef whose skill can help shake my loathing of wobbly puddings is definitely one I would trust to cook me an absolutely splendid dinner.  And you never know – I might even be persuaded to lace up my walking boots and head of for a pre supper constitutional.  I said might…
The Cottage in the Wood
Magic Hill
Whinlatter Forest
Near Keswick
CA12 5TW

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Please excuse me while I nurse this food baby...

What a weekend!  So much amazing food porn to share with you, but at the moment I am reclining on the sofa rubbing my stomach and moaning softly.  So, I will leave you with a promise of tales of culinary adventures to come and some reminders of the non greed related reasons why I love the Lakes...


Monday, 11 February 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 11th February 2012

I really, really want to join in with MPM but I feel like I'm cheating a bit this week as I really only have a couple of meals to plan.  Still, that's not to say I can't talk about them I suppose.

You see, two very exciting (if you're me and your life is quite small and also you have a bit of a tendency towards hyperbole) days are taking place this week - Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day) and Valentine's Day (aka ridiculously overhyped and commercialised Day where Everyone is In Love).

My view on Valentine's Day has always been that I like to celebrate it in some small way - not, I hasten to add, to spend vast amounts of money, but just to mark it.  I do this for Teenage Seren who wondered if her prince would ever come.  Even this year, when my supposed prince has buggered off down the road, I won't let her down.  So D and I are heading off to the Lakes to Be Romantic.  We're staying in a hotel with a hot tub and everything - although D has already said that he doesn't see anything Romantic about sitting in a pool of warm water in the freezing cold when he could be supping a nice pint in a cosy pub.  I kind of see his point.  Anyway, we're away for the weekend, and on Thursday night I am going to his house for a pre Lakes Romantic Curry.  I'm providing a side dish of delicious zero point mushroom curry.

The rest of the week, then...
  •  Monday: duck pancakes.  I bought these to mark Chinese New Year which I believe was yesterday and then didn't end up eating them because, er, I had North African food instead.  I know that these theoretically constitute a starter but they're my favourite part of the Chinese and I shall be ekeing out the duck with cucumber and spring onions to make them a bit less pointy.
  • Tuesday: Pancake Day!  D is coming round and we're making Yotam Ottolenghi's green pancakes with lime butter.  That, my friends, is pancake day foodie style.
  • Wednesday: I'm having fish pie and, goddamit, there will be peas.  Lots and lots of peas.
Check out Mrs M's for more menu planning madness.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Learning to love Leeds: Oranaise

I hate to say it, but I'm definitely warming to my new home town.  And I have to concede when it comes to little gems of places to eat and drink, Leeds and it's outlying suburbs may well have the edge on York.  My own view is that, J Baker's aside, York is not a top foodie destination and that while traditional pubs abound, it has fewer interesting bar type establishments than one might expect from a city with such a large population of both students and tourists. 

Today D and I ventured out in the rain to walk to Hyde Park Corner, an area of Leeds that is deep in the depth of Studentville with the pavements bearing the takeaway detritus to prove it.  Sorry, that's a terrible generalisation, isn't it?  I hardly ever ate takeaways when I was a student...  Anyway, the primary mission was for me to view a coat stand in a vintage furniture shop (verdict: very cool but not quite £65 worth of musthaveness) but we decided to make a bit of a trip of it and do lunch as well.  D, who is becoming something of a truffle pig for good eateries, suggested a Moroccan café / restaurant called Oranaise

Who knows what tipped him off - it's not a cuisine I know an awful lot about, nor one I would ever be likely to choose and still, I loved it.  We both opted for wraps - shawarma chicken with houmous and merguez sausage respectively, which were priced just either side of £4, and arrived hot and groaning with fillings.  The merguez sausages were absolutely divine, oozing deliciously spiced oil all over the place (including down my front - I really must take a bib when I go out to eat).  D decided to partake of one of the teas on offer - mint, lemon and honey, which was slightly too sweet to be truly refreshing but tasty nonetheless. 

There was more substantial fare available (although I have to say the wraps themselves were more than sufficient for a nice lunch); a man a few tables down from us ordered what I presume to be the couscous royale which looked absolutely epic, and the chaps next door were enjoying a very robust full English - possibly less than authentically North African but tasty looking nonetheless.

Purely in the interests of research, we forced ourselves to try a selection of Moroccan pastries, although I, ever the good Weight Watcher (ignores shouts of laughter from collected audience) only had a nibble of each.  They were absolutely amazing - particularly a filo tube which seemed to be filled with some sort of hazelnut concoction.  Very, very sweet though - they were absolutely drenched in honey. 

It had a lovely atmosphere as well - brightly coloured, the window cluttered with tagines the walls covered in intricately framed little mirrors, and a friendly couple of waiting staff.  All in all, it was very almost worth the half hour walk in the rain to get there and that, my friends, is a pretty high compliment from this sofa loving sloth. 

1 The Crescent
Hyde Park