13 Michelin stars across 11 restaurants neighbouring Beckwood, our Grasmere holiday haven.
The beautiful English Lakes have the highest number of Michelin stars of any UK region outside of London, including L’Enclume – the only three-star UK restaurant outside London and the South-East. Here’s an article by their Chef/Patron Simon Rogan.
The Lake District only really began to feature on the culinary map in the 1970s with the growing recognition achieved by Sharrow Bay, arguably the UK’s first ever country house hotel, opened by legendary chef-patron Francis Coulson. The rise of Sharrow heralded a clutch of similar country house hotels across the Lakes: Reg Gifford’s Michael’s Nook, John Tovey’s Miller Howe, Holbeck Ghyll and Gilpin Lodge, as it was known then.
Things really began to change for the Lake District and perhaps the UK as a whole with the arrival of the Michelin Guide, which was first published in 1974. The Guide changed the game completely as Michelin stars quickly followed, at Sharrow Bay, Michael’s Nook and Holbeck Ghyll, in the late 1990s. With an ever-growing interest in food, Cumbria benefited, attracting a raft of ambitious young chefs, all willing to learn their craft under the watchful eye of some of the industry’s luminaries.
Since the 1990s, the county has been consistently recognised as a food destination to keep an eye on especially when gastropubs became more popular.
I turned up in the Lakes in 2002. I was looking to open my own restaurant but options on the south coast, where I’m from, weren’t working out. Then I got a tip-off from a friend about an old blacksmith’s that was being turned into a restaurant in a small village called Cartmel. I decided to take a gamble and headed up to take a look. I loved the site; I could see the potential, but I needed to persuade my wife Penny that it was worth the gamble. We opened in September 2002.
Things were quite tricky for the first six months or so. If we didn’t have our guest rooms, it would have been a disaster. Thankfully, the revenue they brought in saw us through.
In 2005 we got our first Michelin star, and everything changed. In the meantime, a few other places started picking up stars as well, including The Samling and Gilpin Lodge, and we were awarded our second Michelin star in 2013.
Over the next few years, however, the Lakes seemed to fall out of favour, with a few classic restaurants losing their stars along the way. Things changed again in 2016 with the addition of Forest Side, headed up by one of my former chefs, local lad Kevin Tickle, and Roux Scholar Hrishikesh Desai taking the helm at Gilpin, with both chefs earning their first stars.
In 2011 we were lucky to have the opportunity to expand from the farm site we had to the one we have now, known as Our Farm. We’ve grown consistent supplies of high-quality ingredients ever since. That fledgling field-to-fork way of doing things ended up setting the tone for quite a few restaurants up and down the country.
There was also a huge shift in focus on Cumbrian produce as people began to realise what was on their doorstep: meat, cheese, game and so on. It’s now at a point where lots of the major players in London use Cumbrian produce in their menus. It’s a great form of recognition and way of introducing people to what the county can offer.
Fast forward to 2018, and my own neighbourhood restaurant Rogan & Co was awarded its first star, then in 2019 three new stars were announced with two local chefs Ryan Blackburn and Richard Swale leading the charge at The Old Stamp House and Allium at Askham Hall, alongside Ben Wilkinson at Cottage in the Wood.
The pandemic hit in 2020 and things were very hard, but thankfully we all managed to muddle through it and come out the other side.
2022 marked our 20th anniversary year and we were fortunate enough to be awarded our third Michelin star, making us the only restaurant outside London and the South East to hold three stars and one of only eight in the entire country. Another local chef, Ben Queen-Fryer, collected his first Michelin star for the Dog & Gun, at Skelton, that year too.
In 2023, yet more stars were announced for Cumbrian restaurants – Heft, The Samling, and Pentonbridge Inn – so the county now has 13 Michelin stars across 11 restaurants, the highest number of any region outside the capital. We’ve got some way to go to equal San Sebastian, in Spain, and the neighbouring area, but as things go Cumbria is firmly on the food map.
What’s also really encouraging is there is yet more homegrown talent coming through the county, produced and nurtured in our kitchens in tandem with tutors like the incredible Richard Axford at Kendal College, as part of Academy by Simon Rogan.
I’m sure 2024 will add another star or two to the growing list, but there’s no doubt the future is looking bright for the county as a food destination. In another 300 issues of Cumbria Life maybe we will be the new San Sebastian: the talent, creativity and passion are certainly here.