Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Frolicking in The Lakes and Review of The Queen’s Head, Troutbeck

It’s monstrously difficult not to put on weight or to avoid buying technical gear when you’re in The Lakes. Yes, I succumbed and bought a waterproof with built in pro-plus-mega-shell-triple-gore-tex and a hood that turns with your head, hidden buttons and a cinched-in waist for the vain in me. Thank you Brent for demonstrating this in the shop, all I needed was a bucket of water thrown over me to complete the in-store demo.

And the weight thing? I’d like to say it’s down to muscle built up from climbing mammoth peaks like Bow Fell, and scrambling down to tarns and whatnots.

But it’s simply copious eating. How can you not devour wonderful Herdwick lamb, prized and possessed by the Lakelanders, a hardy, tasty sheep guaranteed to have scaled those mountains that have thwarted you?

We roasted a joint from Booths, a supermarket with a strong local-sourcing ethos, and used the leftovers to make a shepherd’s pie (which I’m still eating).

Or there’s the famous spiced warm Grasmere Gingerbread, the recipe a closely guarded secret, which you just have to pick up if you’re in the area. Cumbria has its fair share of starry restaurants, and good pubs and beers -the Hawkshead Lakeland Gold a particular favourite. (See below for my list of culinary places to go).

But what I really want to write about is dark cosy pub The Queen's Head in Troutbeck, near Windermere, because it’s tucked away and not starry in the slightest. Attentive bar staff and Cumbrian hospitality ensures an intimate dinner. I’m sure the vague waft of offal hits me when I walk in, but perhaps it’s the smell of too many children. That aside, there are several things I must rave about.

The first is Hartley’s Cumbria Way – an English pale ale deserving of adoration. If you go, drink it, it’s citrusy and light at first, but malty the more you drink. The second is my starter. The lambs kidneys – slightly pink in the middle, braised in claret, redcurrant and rosemary served on a wedge of crispy onion bread. I am raving about this as my picture makes them look like inedible body parts, but believe me, this is the most perfect-est dish.

The kidneys taste incredible and look much better in the dark...

A pressed pigeon and partridge terrine with tomato marmalade is good. The beer battered onion rings – crispy and airy - should be bagged and sold in supermarkets. The Chilean Santa Helena Merlot is a soft wine with a spice edge, and drinkable in the extreme.

I almost don’t want to mention the mains. By this time, not only are we having a rollicking time, but also filled up with starter. I love oxtail. I love venison. But as the ingredients for a cottage pie base, they do not marry - the result being that I taste neither, and the dryness renders the majority of it unpalatable.

A casserole of shin of beef with caramelised shallots is rich, the real ale gravy adding a depth to the dish.

We prop the bar afterwards, Italian taxi-drivers haranguing us, the barstaff giving us banter. But what amazes me is the familiar service, and the overall good quality of the food, probably down to the locality of the ingredients. The area, with its wet weather and lush greenery breeds flavour like no other. Cumbrians know how to sell us a good time, whether it be a well-fed and watered evening, or the dream of staying dry under a waterproof.

The Queen's Head, Troutbeck, Townhead Brow, Cumbria LA23 1
015394 32174

Other places to eat and shop:

Low Sizergh Barn
I have to be dragged out of here – it's difficult not to leave this farm shop in an old 17th century barn with armfuls of local chutneys, ales and cheeses.

Low Sizergh Farm, Sizergh, Kendal, Cumbria , LA8 8AE

The Drunken Duck Inn
Slightly more pricey than The Queen’s Head, but consistently good food.

Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 ONG
0871 961 1376

L’Enclume restaurant with rooms
Simon Rogan is to Cartmel what Heston Blumenthal is to Bray. The village, which claims to be the home of the sticky toffee pud, houses Rogan's Michelin starred restaurant L'Enclume as well as his less-expensive inn. I ate here in September 2008, experiencing fizzes, foams and fantastic fresh ingredients and combinations I’ve never heard of. I would definitely go again.

Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Nr Grange over Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ,
015395 36362


Douglas Blyde said...

I'm so delighted you Tweeted me so I could find this blog. What enthusiasm!

Incidentally, whilst in Cumbria, did you ever stop off at The Swan?

Helena Lee said...

Douglas, what a delightful comment!
thanks for the Swan recommendation - is that in Windermere? This will be on the list when I go back next..

Helena Lee said...

ps. i do enjoy a good dose of intoxicating prose

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