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One of the most welcoming hotels in the Lakes, the Gilpin combines flawless service with a warm informal feel. This extends to Gilpin, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, helmed by Ollie Bridgewater, formerly of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. The cooking is note-perfect, from charcoal-roasted cauliflower steak with black garlic ketchup to roast cod with saffron compote and vermouth emulsion. There is also an à la carte option if the tasting menu feels a little daunting. Paired wines add to the experience and the optional extra cheese course should not be missed.
Tasting menu £120pp; doubles from £285 B&B; thegilpin.co.uk
Rogan & Co, Cartmel
The younger, more informal sibling of Simon Rogan’s three Michelin-starred L’Enclume, Rogan & Co promises the same elegantly presented, subtly flavoured cooking with a three-course menu for a third of the price. The menu is haute-hearty. Try Old Winchester cheese dumplings or pork terrine with crumpet and apple, followed by Goosnargh duck or dry-aged Dexter short rib – and the low-beamed, firelit dining room is full of classic Lakeland charm.
Three-course set menu £79pp; roganandco.co.uk
The Dog & Gun, Skelton
Chef-owner Ben Queen-Fryer has gained a clutch of awards since opening the Dog & Gun as an upscale dining pub in 2017. In 2022 it gained a Michelin star, but remains a reassuringly traditional village pub that just happens to serve spectacular food. Highlights might include local Cartmel venison or wild halibut with vermouth sauce. Desserts are sinful, local suppliers are listed and dogs are welcome.
Three-course menu £59pp, tasting menu £78pp; dogandgunskelton.co.uk
The Forest Side, Grasmere
A night and/or dinner at the Forest Side doesn’t come cheap, but this Gothic mansion is perfect for a memorable birthday or anniversary. Ingredients really are locally sourced, with 90% coming from within 10 miles, including a large haul from the hotel’s sizeable gardens. The four- and eight-course tasting menus offer intricately designed mouthfuls of inventive flavours: steamed cod with smoked pike roe; aged venison with walnuts.
Four-course menu £85pp, eight-course £130pp; doubles £429 with dinner, bed and breakfast; theforestside.com
Cranstons, various locations
If you’re looking to create your own gourmet feast, Cranstons is the place to come – whether the original small butchers’ shop in Penrith, or the Daylesford-esque foodhall just off the M6. A champion of local produce since 1914, it offers six locations across Cumbria, selling local ales, jams, relishes and fruit and vegetables alongside meat sourced from local Lake District farms.
The Apple Pie Bakery, Ambleside
A culinary treat doesn’t have to mean a tasting menu; sometimes tea and cake is just what’s needed. The Apple Pie Bakery has been serving sweet treats since 1975, and remains a family business, albeit one that’s grown from five tables and a kettle to a two-storey bakery with five seating areas. Come for Eton mess eclairs or blueberry and lemon frangipane, or pick up some hot butties to go. Stay in one of the cosy rooms next door for a relaxed Ambleside base.
Doubles from £65 room-only; applepieambleside.co.uk
Hidden River Café, Longtown
Look up “off-the-beaten-track” in a dictionary and you’ll find the aptly named Hidden River Café, tucked away on the banks of the river Lyne, a 20-minute drive from Carlisle. The renowned café serves up moreish small plates – beef and smoked cheese croquettes; soy-brined mackerel – alongside steaks and burgers sourced from local farms. If lunch doesn’t feel like long enough in such a gloriously isolated spot, book into one of the wooden cabins and make a weekend of it.
Mains from £15; cottages (sleeping six) from £200 a night; hiddenrivercabins.co.uk
A top spot in the Lakes for vegans and veggies, Fellinis is set beneath Ambleside’s arthouse cinema and Zeffirellis jazz bar, offering the chance for dinner and a movie, or live music, all beneath the same roof. Dishes are reasonably priced and might include things like crispy cauliflower katsu with quinoa, or miso marinated tofu steak. Sufficient room should be left for the lip-smacking rhubarb and ginger crumble, perfect to share.
Mains £15.95; zeffirellis.co.uk
A culinary treat that’s a must to take home from Cumbria. Grasmere gingerbread can only be found in a handful of Lake District eateries, and can only be bought from the original shop, still housed in the 17th-century schoolhouse where Sarah Nelson first baked the spicy biscuit-cake hybrid in 1854. Alongside the paper-wrapped gingerbread, the shop sells its own Cumbrian rum butter, ginger marmalades and chutneys, chocolates and traditional sweets.
The Cottage in the Wood, Braithwaite
A one-stop-shop for an indulgent foodie weekend with plenty of hearty outdoor appeal, this restaurant with nine bedrooms feels delightfully off-grid, tucked away 1,000ft above Keswick in the Whinlatter Forest. Chef Sam Miller’s creative flavour pairings include scallop with sorrel, black garlic and apple, and venison with pears and chard, with a strong focus on seasonal ingredients. Rooms are cosy without being chintzy, with five located in the original part of the building, dating back to 1640.
Set lunch £75pp; doubles from £340, including dinner, bed and breakfast; thecottageinthewood.co.uk.