I dislike September; generally speaking that is. It’s okay if we get one of those Indian Summers… but although there’s often rumours of warm, early autumnal days, it’s rarely the case in Cumbria. Perhaps it’s also because this month is resonant of back-to-school grimness and with it homework, early mornings and nights drawing in…
Currently the wet weather continues unabated into September. The holidays are over, it’s raining cats and dogs and the tedium of mid-week nothingness is taking its toll already; what better way to warm your cockles and cheer the soul than a trip to a cosy, country pub.
A stone’s throw from Kendal, The Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite is a fine example of quality hostelry and gastro food. Popular with those in the know and foodies from afar, this pub’s young chef is cooking up a veritable storm in the kitchen. At just 21, Arthur Bridgman-Quinn was awarded the prestigious Craft Guild of Chefs, Young Chef of The Year award back in 2016 and has just won The William Heptinstall Award, a fantastic accolade which offers him a six month culinary sabbatical to hone his skills yet further. With their recent win as Cumbria Dining Pub of the Year in the Good Pub Guide and short-listed for the Lancashire Life Lake District Dining Excellence Awards, I would say that we’re feeling priviledged to be very much in posh nosh territory for a school night – lucky us 😉
Although we’re not strangers to The Punchbowl, it’s been a while since we came here for a meal out. I’m hoping that it will be as good as I remember. With this frighteningly talented young whipper-snapper heading up the kitchen, I’m more than a tincy bit positive the food is going to be better than just ‘alright’.
New manger Gareth Hussey introduces himself on our arrival. A Cornishman living just outside Cockermouth, it never ceases to amaze me how far and wide people come to live and work in Cumbria. Obviously passionate about his new role, he describes their current conundrum associated with the next step on the culinary ladder. The pub currently has two Rosettes – achieving three would be nice but unattainable if they stick to best-selling dishes. Folk come from miles around to sample the double-baked Mrs Kirkham’s Soufflé – a no-no dish in the triple Rosette arena; removing it would be a travesty of sorts, forcing coach-loads of gastro day-trippers to turn on their heels and make a hasty retreat.
I assure him that we, however, are not going anywhere. It’s still lashing down outside so Mr Welly and I settle in for the evening; we’re more than happy to take up residence in the cosy lounge. The fire is roaring, the cushions are squidgy and it looks like Jon Snow was right – winter is coming.
Fairly understated from the outside, fans of The Punchbowl will know that inside we’re definitely talking high-end, top-notch food in perfect harmony with a classy but relaxed interior décor. Thoughtfully styled to provide a cosy but luxurious respite from the oft-grim Lakeland weather, the pub is split into several areas including the main restaurant, private dining room, bar and lounge. For us a mid-week foodie treat is best taken in the comfort of the lounge where slouchy sofas, a welcoming fire and casually-set dining tables set the scene for a relaxing evening ahead.
The menu showcases a good selection of hearty gastro-style dishes which suit us both as we’re hungry –the combination of miserable weather and the opportunity to hunker down with carbs and wine seemingly firing our appetites.
What better dish to start the show than the famed soufflé itself. Warming, tangy and utterly indulgent, I can see why Gareth and the team are reticent about removing this crowd-pleaser.
Mr Welly’s choice of ham hock is pub grub at its finest. The delicate sliver of toasted bread adds a touch of elegance and contrasts wonderfully with the earthy cobbled chunks of pork and carrot.
For main I’m in the mood for steak and go for the Cumbrian Sirloin. Perfectly cooked and presented with a watercress purée, flat field mushroom and St Emillion sauce it’s just want I fancy. A decent sized portion (well a girl’s got to eat…) with all the trimmings you’d expect for a gastro-style steak.
Mr Welly meanwhile goes for the hake Special. The complete opposite to my meaty dish, his choice is all subtle colours and delicate flavours; that is, aside from the wonderfully zingy lime purée which creates an amazing match and taste sensation alongside the fish. It is moist with just an ever so slight crisp to the skin – again, cooked to perfection.
Although fairly sated, I’m a true gastronomist (yes that’s a euphemism for greedy) and so we go all out on the sweet treats and order a dessert each. I choose the decadently calorific chocolate and banana mousse whilst hubby opts for the lemon tart and damson sorbet. Mine ticks all the boxes of over-indulgence; the chocolate is divine and works well with the creamy, caramel toffee ice-cream.
Mr Welly raves about his lemon tart and sorbet – too often is there more pastry than substance. Here the base of the tart is super thin with a dense, creamy lemon filling which contrasts wonderfully with the sharp, natural flavours of the oh-so-local and in season damson sorbet.
We’re not just sated, we’re stuffed. We sit back contented and thoroughly impressed.
In my opinion, to remove the Soufflé would be a grave mistake and I suspect that a third Rosette would mean a, how shall I put it… dumbing down of great food. Let’s not forget that The Punch Bowl is still a pub… To be the best it can be the food should be tasty, great quality, as locally-sourced as possible and adequately portioned. People come here precisely for high-end gastro nosh and I fear a third Rosette may tip them into a category which quite frankly doesn’t suit their wonderful appeal as a traditional, Lakeland inn. I really cannot see where this pub can improve upon its current position and the many awards reflect this. In the words of a wise but grammatically-challenged bloke from that there London, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Good for: Perfect for relaxed foodie lovers. Family-friendly, a great spot for lunch or dinner in a beautiful Lakeland location.
Not for: Seekers of simple pub fare. Pie and chips not on the menu here.
£££: Pricier than your normal pub but this is top notch food which tips into high-end restaurant territory… we feel that the prices are entirely reasonable for the quality of food and service. Starters around the £8 mark with mains between £18 and £23. Deserts from £7 upwards with a selection of cheeses at £10.95
Tips: Come early and enjoy a tipple at the bar. For a more relaxed dining experience book a table in the lounge. Oh, and come hungry for max foodie indulgence – once you’re settled in with the fire roaring, you won’t want to leave.
The Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite, Lyth Valley, Cumbria, LA8 8HR
T 015395 68237 E firstname.lastname@example.org W the-punchbowl.co.uk