Beyond the Northern Line

Saturday, August 16th , 2014

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I sometimes get teased for not visiting places in the UK outside the tube network, but this week I ventured some way beyond High Barnet to Cumbria via Lancashire. I think the English countryside is as pretty as anywhere if you are lucky with the weather, and the temperatures can be much less oppressive than the Mediterranean at the height of summer. If you enjoy peace and quiet then there is another bonus, as I had several days blissfully unaware of the rest of the world, given the almost complete absence of a mobile phone signal.

Northcote (formerly Northcote Manor) is a well-established Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel in the Lancashire countryside, holding a star for the last 18 years. The meal that I tried had as its highlights a monkfish with curry flavours and guinea fowl with brioche crumbs. The cooking was clean and fairly modern in style, but used good quality ingredients and was not trying to over-complicate or put in weird ingredient combinations to show off how clever the chef is.

Gilpin Lodge is near Lake Windermere, a luxury boutique hotel with a restaurant attached.They currently have a consultant chef, and the kitchen is clearly in a transition stage as they aim to raise the standard of cooking. The best dishes were very good, and there was an evident emphasis on product quality, though there was also some inconsistency in the execution. 

Holbeck Ghyll is unashamedly old-fashioned, set on a hillside overlooking lake Windermere. The menu is classical and proud of it, shunning modern culinary techniques in favour of proper sauces (in pools, not smears) and appealing combinations of luxury ingredients. The wood-panelled dining room sets the tone of the place. This is not the place to go for cutting edge modernist cooking, but if you like proper traditional food then you will leave happy.

The Samling (pictured) gained a Michelin star in the 2014 guide,, and has recently had quite a lot of investment in the property, with a development kitchen and vegetable garden supplying produce for the dining room. Since I last went the cooking seemed on more solid ground, especially in the dessert department, which was much improved. The cooking can come across as over-complex, but the dishes generally work well, and service was particularly good on this occasion. If they could sort out their aggressively priced wine list then the overall experience would improve further.

While I was in the area I did this video interview about global dining standards.

As of this week the website is now 20 years old. As far as I know it is the longest running restaurant website. Thanks to all of you who have submitted comments, suggestions or queries; I hope the site has been helpful to you in choosing where to dine - happy eating!