Sitting on the southern edge of the Lake District, with a 12th-century priory and racecourse at its heart, the Cumbrian lowland village of Cartmel contains a perfect little cluster of restaurants, pubs and food producers, almost all of them within walking distance of each other.
This perhaps unlikely location is where the now two-Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan set up his internationally acclaimed L’Enclume. In fact, Rogan loves Cartmel so much he’s created a tiny empire here. For those less takem with the frippery of fine dining, there’s his more casual restaurant, Rogan & Co, and for the uber geeky gastronaut, you can sit in the middle of his development kitchen Aulis; this is in the same building as L’Enclume — as is the L’Enclume shop, which sells produce from around the region and keepsakes from the restaurant for those who like souvenirs from their culinary pilgrimages.
Some jokingly call Cartmel ‘Roganville’, but this is no Padstow, where Rick Stein seems to have his hands on the reins of every gig in town. Great food was here in Cartmel before Rogan. And the lovely grey-stoned buildings are home to a host of independent food businesses. One of the oldest is the Cartmel Village Shop, home of the famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was created in the kitchen round the back of the small sub-post office almost 30 years ago — each year it sells almost two million little foil tins of unctuous sponge pudding bathed in buttery toffee sauce. Elsewhere, The Pig & Whistle is the pick of the village’s pubs.
Cartmel is also the location of Unsworth’s Yard, a kind of magnet for artisan food and drink shops created from a building which was once the shell of a garage and haulage business. Here you’ll find Cartmel Cheeses (with almost 50 British varieties), Unsworth’s Yard Brewery (where visitors can watch the brew-making process then taste the cask beers) and Hot Wines (where you can taste wine and sit out in the courtyard on a warm day). In addition, Unsworth’s Yard is the gathering place for Cartmel Monthly Food Market, held on the third Friday of every month.
Further afield, within a six mile radius of the village you will find Airey’s Farm Shop, selling meat from Cumbrian farms, most importantly mutton from Herdwick sheep, a special breed with PDO (protected designation of origin) status that’s found only on the Lake District fells. Or head to the seaside town of Grange-over-Sands, to Higginsons of Grange, a butcher shop where beardy, straw boater-wearing Stuart Higginson makes Cumberland sausages, coiled in a ring and flavoured with herbs and spices, which are the best you’ll ever taste. The producer of Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimp, Furness Fish & Game, is also nearby.
Top 3 to try
“Ingredients that change with the seasons inspire my menu development and ensure a truly traceable dining experience reflecting my farm-to-table philosophy.” So says chef Simon Rogan of his restaurant L’Enclume, which opened in 2002, and earned two Michelin stars for its hugely ambitious 20-course tasting menu. It also has its own in-house forager. lenclume.co.uk
Stroll around the shops and producers that cluster here, tasting the best of the Lake District. Sample cheeses, buy a picnic, try wines and boutique gins or head to the brewery to watch beer being made or just to sample the amber nectar. Brothers Peter and David Unsworth have created an outdoor courtyard from Lakeland slate where you can sit and enjoy anything you have purchased from the Yard businesses. unsworthsyard.co.uk
Airey’s Farm Shop
Lakeland farmer Stephen Airey herds Herdwick sheep. “The Herdwick has a bigger and better carcass,” he explains. “It’s slow growing and tastes like meat used to, with more flavour than modern breeds. Herdies were introduced by the Vikings at least 900 years ago and now they’re hefted to the fell.” With an on-site abattoir and access to the produce of other farmers, the meat sold here is very special.
Published in Issue 1 of National Geographic Traveller Food