Sunday, 12 September 2010

Chesters By The River, Skelwith Bridge

Chesters sits in a picturesque location by the river Brathay in Skelwith Bridge, at the mouth of the stunning Langdale valley. Operated by the same family as The Drunken Duck Inn, Chesters is named after the roguish white English Bull Terrier who ruled the roost at the pub in the eighties.

Serving breakfast, lunch, drinks and legendary home made cakes throughout the day it makes a naughty but extremely nice stop-off at any time.

They make and bake everything on the premises, including all the jams, chutneys, breads, cakes and pastries, using traditional recipes and natural, good quality, seasonal ingredients. In the summer you can relax on the decked terrace looking out over the water, or in the colder months sit inside by the roaring fire.

We dropped by for an indulgent breakfast before a walk in the Langdale valley and, as it was sunny morning, we sat outside. We were the first to arrive, but by the time we were ready to leave there wasn't a free table. This charming cafe is clearly a honeypot for those who know a good cake when they see one, and I can definitely see why.

Dave's American pancakes with maple syrup looked amazing; 3 very thick and fluffy pancakes adorned with blackcurrant compote, cream and a shot of syrup. They made for the perfect sweet holiday breakfast treat.

I had the potato scone with bacon and poached egg, the portion was slightly more modest but lovely all the same and clearly made with good quality produce.

I am by no means a connoisseur, but the coffee was really good too. We each had a latte which was nicely milky and not too strong, with the bonus of being served in huge cups.

There is marvellous array of very tempting cakes on display behind the counter. You will find classic favorites such as flapjack, brownies, lemon meringue pie, carrot cake and chocolate cake alongside the likes of tiffin, raspberry oat and nut slice, banana and walnut loaf with toffee sauce, apricot and almond puff pastry pie and lemon and blueberry baby bundt. Or there is the option of a freshly baked scone with homemade raspberry jam & whipped cream, it's apparently the same scone recipe they used for the first batch almost 26 years ago.

After breakfast we couldn't do the slabs of cakes justice, but we'll definitely be back to sample the baking soon.

Chesters By The River
Skelwith Bridge, Nr Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 9NJ

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

The Drunken Duck lies in the heart of the Lake District and its isolated location on a crossroads high above Lake Windermere provides a stunning setting for this outstanding Lakeland Inn. It is surrounded by high fells and some of England's finest countryside but, breathtaking views aside, the Duck is also renowned for its excellent food and own brewed beer.

After checking in and being shown to our comfortable room (noting the jar of homemade flapjacks on the side), we went down to the lovely garden by the small tarn and tucked into a complimentary afternoon tea; warm scones, thick cream and raspberry jam, served with a pot of speciality loose leaf tea.

Then, in an attempt to work up an appetite for dinner, we walked a circuit of Tarn Hows where we spotted a rare "circumzenithal arc" in the sky.

On our return we enjoyed dinner in the contemporary but cosy restaurant where, to begin, we were unexpectedly served a delicious amuse bouche of leek, potato and fennel soup and some lovely crusty bread.

The menu isn't extensive but the choices were interesting and I could happily have eaten anything from it. For starters I was torn between the saltmarsh lamb, crisp sweetbread, courgette and lavender broth or the fillet beef tartare. I eventually went for the latter. Raw fillet of beef, finely chopped and mixed with diced cornichons and capers, the meat was well seasoned and a raw egg yolk sat on top, ready to break and ooze into the meat. It was my first experience of tartare so it's difficult to draw comparisons, but it was everything I expected and tasted divine.

Dave ordered the confit chicken, sage and pine nut ravioli with summer truffle and wild rocket. It was a large pasta parcel with a delicate filling and unmistakable note of truffle from the thinly shaved slices that adorned the plate.

My main was halibut fillet, served with garlic crushed potatoes, curly kale, butter clams, cucumber, lemon and tomato sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, an accomplished dish and totally delicious.

Dave's breast of grouse, duck and grouse sausage, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and bread sauce was equally good; local, seasonal ingredients treated with flair.

I could easily have been tempted by the cheeseboard, which offered a diverse range of British cheeses, each described in detail on the separate menu, but I had to pass. Instead Dave ordered coffee which came with some deliciously delicate and well executed petit fours.

After dinner we retired to the bar with its oak flooring, old beams, open fire and leather armchairs. The bar top itself is a beautiful slab of black slate from a nearby quarry and above it hang bunches of dried hops.
Out in the courtyard at the back of the Inn, they brew their own beers; Barngates Brewery produces a range of 7 or 8 different real ales, several of them named after long-gone pub pets. We enjoyed another excellent pint of Tag Lag, a refreshing fruity golden ale, before retreating to a neatly turned down comfy bed.

Breakfast the next morning was a real treat. Although other options were available, we both had fruit juice and then the full English; a thick herby sausage, crisp rashers of bacon, a softly poached egg, tomato, mushroom and a slab of proper black pudding. It was served with a rack of hot toast, including some fruit bread which was a nice addition.

Service was unobtrusive but prompt and friendly enough throughout our stay.

The only issue we encountered was with the water. We were informed on check in that the water was from their own supply up in the fells and although it does undergo various filtration and purification processes, it is pale peaty in colour with the odd bit of sediment finding its way through. This really wasn't an issue, but the lack of hot water and water pressure in general that we experienced at certain times, was. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" has never been my mantra so I wasn't overly worried for a one night stay, but can see that after a days walking you may be a little disgruntled with the lack of a hot bath.

Overall the Duck is the perfect venue for a quiet, relaxing country retreat. The fantastic food and drink, informal hospitality and gorgeous surroundings all play their part and the understated quality and those special little touches elevate the Duck above the norm.

The Drunken Duck Inn
Barngates, Ambleside, Cumbria. LA22 0NG