As a Cumbrian, it’s almost surreal that the area has become a foodie magnet – chefs are going to live there because its restaurants are turning into the best in the world. In the 1980s, when I was growing up, eating out in Carlisle was a special occasion. You did it on your birthday and would get taken to Wimpy or the local Italian for garlic bread, spaghetti and a baked lasagne. The poshest places would be inside hotels, which were quite terrifying for working-class people like my family. You might go for your gran’s wedding anniversary, and you’d have a Florida cocktail and chicken breast – it was plain food.
In the late 80s and early 90s, pubs in the countryside moved into food because they couldn’t live off beer profits as people didn’t drink and drive any more. That’s when we started going out more, but then it would be gammon with a slice of pineapple and chips, scampi in a basket and Sunday lunch.
It makes me proud that everyone has started to turn up now and see Cumbria. Simon Rogan, whose restaurant L’Enclume has just won three Michelin stars, had the foresight to go to south Cumbria, and what he’s done is very metropolitan: a market garden and micro-nursery and bringing the ideas you usually find floating around Soho to the north.
Cumbria has certainly become savvier at selling its amazing produce – for years we just accepted that we made incredible sausages, pies and cheese. When I go into Fortnum & Mason now, Cumbrian things are front and centre, and I love that. You see Cumberland sausages on the menu in the best restaurants, and Cumbria is full to the brim with people living on the side of a mountain making exemplary honey. It’s become rather cool.
There are now some really good places up near Carlisle, like Pentonbridge Inn and the Hidden River Cafe at Longtown, and there are lots of amazing places off the beaten track to be discovered. The Yan in Grasmere is a beautiful farm in the middle of nowhere: it’s not fancy but it’s hearty and the chef makes a Cumberland sausage platter that I absolutely love.
I swear by Henrock in Bowness-on-Windermere: the scenery is incredible and they’ve spent millions on the art in the gardens. I had the “zero fashioned” cocktail, which was made with caramelised banana skins and caramelised banana syrup, grilled fillet of pollack with curried cauliflower and roast shrimp and lemongrass, and a chocolate, raspberry and peanut tart, which was amazing. Cumbrians have been swept up into this world. I’m not saying they don’t raise an eyebrow, but they’re up for it.