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It’s safe to say the Lake District is one of the best places to eat in Britain. From Herdwick lamb and Cumberland sausage to sticky-toffee pudding and damsons, the local larder is superb - and eating out is equally satisfying. There are more notable inns offering good food and real ale than any other rural area we can think of. There are duff notes, of course: you need to choose carefully to avoid the odd tired hotel or tea room, and the food offering is predominantly British, but with a bit of guidance, you can dine like a king - with the added bonus of five-star Lakeland views to stir your soul.
The Blacksmith’s Arms, Broughton Mills
A timeless gem, tucked away in the Lickle Valley, with all the hallmarks of the dream English pub: slate floor, oak beams, a range cooker and a tiny one-room bar. The dining room is straight out of Dickens, but the food is impressively current.
The Drunken Duck Inn & Restaurant, Barngates (pictured, top right)
A 70s' stalwart that has evolved into a distinctive gastropub and luxury hotel. Book well in advance for dinner, or go for the no-booking lunchtime deal in the contemporary bar. Feast on steak and chips, pork faggots, or mushrooms on toast, washed down with the excellent Barngates ale brewed out the back.
The Flock In Tea Rooms, Herdwick
After a walk in lovely Borrowdale, there’s nowhere better for tea and cake than this delightful tea stop created from a redundant barn at Yew Tree Farm in Rosthwaite. Tuck into soup, pasties from their Herdwick flock, mugs of tea and homemade cake.
George & Dragon, Clifton
Beefburger and chips, beer-battered cod, sticky-toffee pudding? Nothing new there, except that the owner is Charles Lowther, son of the Earl of Lonsdale and the produce is sourced from the family’s 4,000-acre farm. Great provenance in a soothing, plush, contemporary setting.
Holbeck Ghyll, Windemere (pictured, left)
When you want to push the boat out, this former shooting lodge overlooking Lake Windermere is our pick of Lakeland’s grande-dame hotel dining rooms. Sumptuous public rooms and exquisite dining - at a price: £65 for dinner or £78 for the gourmet menu. The à-la-carte lunch is more accessible, and afternoon tea a more affordable treat.
The Jumble Room, Grasmere
Quirky, informal and fun, from the blood-red walls and animal art to the display of album covers in the loo. Owners Andy and Chrissy Hill have created an exuberant village restaurant serving an eclectic mix of cauliflower fritters that sing with cumin and turmeric; soy-, ginger- and sesame-glazed belly pork, or a classic dish of cod in parsley sauce.
L’Enclume, Cartmel (pictured, right)
Winner of Square Meal's Best UK Restaurant award in 2010, Simon Rogan’s innovative cooking is truly extraordinary, and what he is doing with flavours, flowers and ancient vegetables is a revelation. The Lake District’s ultimate ‘save up and go’ restaurant.
The Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite
Arguably the Lake District’s most sophisticated gastropub: log fires, oak floors, slate, seagrass, flowers and candles are in pleasing harmony with satisfying rib-sticking dishes such as beef bourgignon the like. A seductive offer for a lazy post-walk lunch or a romantic dinner.
Quince & Medlar, Cockermouth
Vegetarians are invariably short-changed when eating out, so it’s refreshing to discover this homely, family-run vegetarian restaurant in Cockermouth. It doesn’t rewrite the rule-book, but it’s intimate, caring, and delivers honest value.
Rogan and Company, Cartmel (pictured, left)
The casual dining restaurant for the flagship L’Enclume operates as a bar and bistro. Be warned, though: there are plans to rename and restyle the restaurant in 2012 and offer L’Enclume favourites such as hot-and-sour soup with noodles delivered through a syringe. Until then, Rogan will continue to send out reliable dishes like fish pie, burger & chips, and Swiss-chard gratin.