Eliving in the Lake District, which I do a lot, always involves some level of struggle. Staff issues and short opening hours are normal, while all the delicious and reasonably priced places are booked six months in advance by the control freaks in every Lake District weekend Woo-Hoo! WhatsApp group. That leaves a plethora of nearly inaccessible gourmet restaurants that hardly anyone in the area has ever visited. They are often in hotels, with renowned chefs, where your faded banger will have been noted by security the moment you make your way to their majestic aisle, and where an overnight stay for two with dinner will set you back around £ 1,000, with arrival at 3 p.m. and departure before 11 a.m. At Linthwaite House Hotel, or Simon Rogan Henrock restaurant lives, I was quoted £ 775 by a ‘good deals’ website for a room for two on August 29th. I’ve lived among the London dandies for decades so I’m used to the big guys, but even I can’t imagine paying a bill of this magnitude without openly crying at the front desk.
However, of all the heavenly places in the Lake District that exist only for the fleeting pleasure of the upscale people, lunch at the magnificent Henrock is the one that really moved me. If you have a special occasion, Henrock at Linthwaite is worth saving and saving – with entrees around £ 13 and main courses at £ 30 you can go easy on the alcohol and go out for around £ 75 per head. From the moment you step out of your vehicle, that’s it, well, a bit too much. The 14 acres of landscaped gardens look like something off the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; in fact, I fail to believe that Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens were prettier than Henrock’s Cocktail Terrace with its breathtaking view of Lake Windermere, or, for that matter, the private tarn, the collection of sculptures, the outdoor chess game or the pretty bowling green. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
And all of this is before you meet the lovely, world-class staff and order a Zero Shaped – an old-fashioned hybrid and banana-flavored and spicy piña colada. Yes it works, and yes I had two. Then I sighed with an exhilarating mixture of maximum exhilaration and existential regret that I couldn’t stay for at least a week. Why, why, why did I let this warm piece of Bernie Ecclestone plush slip through my fingers the last time it was on the market? How hard could it be to be married to a billionaire, a mop in his 90s who smells of gasoline? Not difficult at all when you can stroll through exclusive bars with 20 Scottish single malts on the menu before having lunch on smoked eel lacquered with XO cream and soy mushroom vinaigrette, followed by peking duck with gochujang and date croquette.
Surprisingly for a restaurant by Simon Rogan, a man who loves British produce and playfully experimenting with traditional British cuisine, Henrock is definitely and confidently Pan-Asian. With chef Sam Fry in charge, the menu is a journey of curious and imaginative flavors. An eggplant starter is glazed to brilliant, crunchy and heavenly heights with miso saikyo, scalloped with furikake and served with a rich dashi vegetable broth. This is vegetarian cuisine at its peak. Another salted salmon entree is almost as wonderful: a generous fillet of lightly spiced salmon, pink on the inside, is titled with puddles of wasabi, avocado and nashi pear, and a little ponzu. A main course of hake – also generous – arrives encrusted with a five-spice seasoning and bean porridge, fried oyster and shrimp and lemongrass sauce, while the magnificent Herdwick lamb is accompanied by spicy lentils and flavors of wet garlic and sumac.
As for the puddings, they steal my heart to the point that I consider returning for afternoon tea before I even ask for the lunch bill. The Chocolate, Raspberry, and Peanut Pie is all good levels of overly adorned, sweet, crunchy and dirty mainstream – a Snickers bar on steroids, if you will.
The vanilla parfait might quite easily escape your attention, sitting there on the menu still looking humble and not worth a dish, but then it presents itself decorated with tiny cherries squeezed into woodruff and cracking open. vanilla horizons you never thought possible, despite the fact that you’ve been eating vanilla things since you were old enough to sit up straight.
And that’s the point of restaurants like Henrock: they wow you a bit and leave you cerebrally different from the slightly cranky woman who got out of the car a few hours earlier and said, “The problem with those damn fancy places in the lakes, in fancy hotels and with silly menus, I can’t tell who the hell wants to eat there, let alone come twice. Reader, it turns out it’s me.
Henrock Linthwaite House, Crook Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3JA, 015394 88600. Main restaurant open Saturday lunchtime from noon to 2:30 pm; dinner, all week, 6 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. (menu all day, Mon-Sat, 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m .; Sun 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.). Restaurant around £ 50 per person for three courses; all day menu at around £ 35 per person for three courses, plus drinks and service.