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Read our review of Pentonbridge Inn in Carlisle, Cumbria, which manages to combine the intimacy of a country inn with incredible food
Just half an hour’s walk from the Scottish borderlands, Pentonbridge Inn is a contemporary-looking country inn with huge ambition. After a recent facelift, the ancient pub has been given a new lease of life and is now a haven for anyone who loves the great outdoors and the delights of exquisitely prepared food.
This is no ordinary country restaurant, and it has the kind of star quality that demands a repeat visit. Impeccable interiors with luxe velvet sofas, tweed armchairs, slate floors and cosy wood burners suggest the kind of classy but cosy vibe most of us want from a country pub. A quick glance at the menu and you soon realise this little inn is oh-so-much more than that.
It’s a restaurant with rooms, and the Pentonbridge Inn has nine bedrooms all with super smart ensuites, double-ended baths and huge walk-in showers. In fact, everything is a nod to the upmarket, from the luxe bedding, fresh flowers, bedside treats, fluffy white towelling robes and even the retro Roberts radio, which twinkles with classic music on your arrival.
Downstairs, the lounge-bar wraps around into the glass conservatory, while the restaurant sits to one side, and the star of the show is the open kitchen. We opted for the eight-course tasting menu – this delivered an array of show-stopping dishes, from a bite-sized local black pudding roll, to a cheese and onion froth, to a Cumbrian shorthorn tartare and, my favourite, the Isle of Gigha halibut served on a bed of homegrown baby leeks.
We were treated to a wine pairing menu which surprised, intrigued and delighted – a stunning pinot gris from Alsace and a sublime new world pinot noir. The wines here are first-class quality and the selection will entertain even the most refined of grape connoisseurs. Ever had a cheese course served with iced Swedish cider? Me neither. Did it work? Absolutely!
As you can tell, this was far from the kind of food you’d expect to find in a country inn, this was quality food served with flair and style. And yes, they are aiming for a Michelin star.
Of course there are the wondrous lakes to explore, but perhaps take a trip to Cumbria’s county town, Carlisle, instead. Rich in history, it sits between Hadrian’s Wall and the Lake District and has culture seeping from every corner, with a castle and a cathedral. Show off! Perfect for an easy weekend of browsing and strolling ancient streets, it also has artisan food stores and regular farmer’s markets.
Another must is a visit to the Pentonbridge’s sister property, Netherby Hall, a restored country mansion set in its own parklands. The star of this show is the glorious Victorian walled kitchen garden, which has been recreated with painstaking love and care by head gardener Mark Jeffery and run in the traditional way to produce vegetables, fruits and cut flowers for Pentonbridge. He works closely with head chef Chris Archer so that the garden is able to supply the kitchen its own produce. No wonder everything tastes so exquisite. Netherby Hall is open to the public and is well worth a wander round just to marvel at the gardens.
Not too far afield is Talkin Tarn Country Park – a 65-acre lake where you can sail, row, canoe, fish or just stroll through the 120 acres of woodland and treat yourself to a tea and cake at the onsite café.
I have two! The first was sinking into the velvet sofa after walking to Scotland and back (it only took us an hour!) and being served a warm cream tea with homemade rhubarb compote and luscious double cream. Perfection. The second was being wowed by the kitchen gardens at Netherby Hall; the flowers, the scents, the produce… food provenance at its very best.
The upstairs rooms have views over the hills beyond the building; treat yourself to the tasting menu, as the food really is the star of show.
Also, the inn is dog-friendly but your four-leggeds are only allowed in the lounge/bar.
Visit pentonbridgeinn.co.uk or call 01228 586 636