Hat Trick Cafe, Southern Lake District, Cumbria

The Hat Trick Cafe is just the kind of place I love!

Great food, eccentric decor, owner-run and housed in a fantastic old barn which is also the home to a reclamation centre and local arts and crafts vendors.

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Yew Tree Barn is listed in one or more of the little local activities and attractions leaflets we picked up at the Windermere Tourist Office, just a minute’s walk from our rental house. It’s described as a venue where one can rummage through reclaimed salvage, invest in lovely restored antiques, watch local craftsmen at work in their studios and browse and buy a large range of hand-made art and crafts from local artists. Not to mention enjoy tea and cake, or perhaps a nice lunch…

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The cafe is so called because it’s the third Cumbrian venture by Jane and Sam following popular and successful cafes elsewhere in the Lake District.

The couple are committed to providing a personal service, high-quality food cooked from scratch and served in a funky space.

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That said, don’t visit Hat Trick Cafe if you’re looking for fast-food and a quick turnaround. Despite the cafe being almost empty, we did wait a long time for our orders to be taken… though we didn’t mind the ensuing wait for our food to be prepared, from scratch.

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I could not resist (multiple glasses of) Sam and J’s fresh lemonade or limeade (£1.95) which was hugely refreshing and reminded me of home-made nimbu pani from my childhood.

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Pete’s cappuccino a la crème (£1.95) came with a mountain of whipped cream, which he dived into face first.

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Hat Trick’s Club Sandwich (£7.50) was generously filled and served with home-made coleslaw and side salad.

The Carolina Gold (£7.50) was also a three-layered sandwich stuffed with bacon, Swiss cheese, avocado, mustard cress and tomato and served with a red coleslaw and side salad.

Martine and I were both dithering so we decided to split two dishes:-


The Rarebit (£7.50) consisted of matured cheddar cheese cooked in beer, mustard, garlic and milk and served on toast with either bacon and mushroom or mushroom, leek and cheese. We went for the latter, and it was good, filling, simple food. Just what we wanted.


We also had a hot filled jacket potato, opting for a sweet potato and a filling of spicy beef chilli (£6.25) which was excellent. I really like the option of choosing either a regular or sweet potato and have made a note to make baked sweet potatoes at home.

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Stuffed to the gills we nevertheless ordered puddings and wolfed down the warm chocolate fudge cake (£3.50), some home-made fruit crumble (£3.95) and Jane’s little sticky toffee pudding (£3.95).

Prices may seem a touch high, but I found eating out a little expensive throughout the Lake District. Hat Trick’s pricing was very reasonable in the context of the region.

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Me chatting to Sam behind the beautiful old cash till they have on display

After lunch we enjoyed a friendly chat with Sam and Jane before exploring all the goodies of Yew Tree Barn including a life-size ceramic sheep painted in (presumably a local) sports team’s colours, beautiful hand-made silver jewellery (the artist was at work during our visit), some gorgeous reclaimed furniture and fittings (if only we had the space) and a huge range of beautiful crafted items.

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South of Lake Windermere, Yew Tree Barn is located in Low Newton, just off the A590. It’s not far from Cartmel, famed (by foodlovers) for it’s sticky toffee pudding and (by sports and horse fans) for it’s racing.

If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit!

Hat Trick Cafe, Yew Tree Barn, Low Newton, Cumbria. LA11 6JP

Holbeck Ghyll: A Disappointment

Our most disappointing and overpriced meal this year was at Holbeck Ghyll in Cumbria, during a week in the Lakes.


I can’t even begin to imagine how it merits a Michelin star, but can only guess that standards have dropped sharply since it was sold in January this year. I’ll be gobsmacked if it retains its star in 2011, based on our meal there at the end of July.

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The setting is lovely, in a 19th century hunting lodge with fabulous views down to Lake Windermere. The lodge is now an upmarket hotel with onsite restaurant.


We were shown into a sitting room on arrival, with wonderful views, and given the menu and canapés. They were alright, not as tasty as they were looked, but nothing glaringly wrong either.


After making our meal choices, we were eventually shown into the dining room. It felt dreadfully dated (not in a gorgeous historic way) and the motel style carpet did not help to bring out the potential appeal of the wooden panelling.

Still, the menu sounded good and we looked forward to the meal.

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Butter was beautifully presented on a slate, with sea salt crystals but the bread was so-so.

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Next came an amuse bouche of foamy soup in a small coffee cup. I didn’t make a note of what vegetable it was but remember finding it pleasant, though a little plain. The green herb oil in it was pretty but I couldn’t make out the flavour of it.


I chose the salad of warm Perigord quail with white grape and Sauternes dressing. This was a pleasant dish, nicely presented and with some decent, rich flavours. A good starter.


Pete selected the rillette of rabbit with crostini and truffle cream vinaigrette. Presentation was the best thing about this dish – it looked very pretty. Taste-wise it was alright, though not as rich as expected. The texture of the filling within the cylinders was also much more mousse-like than rillettes as we’ve had them before.


For my main I had the best end of Cumbrian lamb in herb crumb with girolles, shallot purée and rosemary juice. All I can tell you is that if this was the best of the poor lamb, I’d not want to taste it’s worst. It’s seriously hard work to lose the distinct sweet flavour of good lamb, especially well-reared British lamb from Cumbria. Whilst the meat was cooked properly pink and was fairly tender, the lack of flavour was a huge disappointment. The girolles were few and far between and gritty to boot. The vegetables were probably the best things on the plate.


Pete, a fan of game, ordered the roast loin of Lakeland venison with herb spätzle. This was another disappointment. Again, whilst the texture of the meat was OK the all-important flavour was lacking. How had they managed to make venison taste of so little? Worst of all were the deformed and rubbery little pellets they passed off as spätzle – they bore no relation to the solid but moreish egg noodles we’ve enjoyed in Germany. Spätzle should not be rubbery! The sauce they were drowned in tasted good though!

Since the price of the meal was £56.50 for three courses, we figured we might as well order desserts, since we’d be paying for them anyway.


I chose the chocolate soufflé, delice, tart and orange sorbet. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate. And a good dessert can make me forgive a lot in the dishes preceding.

But the collection of miniature offerings was so poor I left most of it. I love dark chocolate and can take it pretty bitter but the tart was so bitter it was, for me, inedible. The layered concoction in the glass was, on the other hand, sickly sweet and tasted like the cheap pudding mixes of yesteryear. The soufflé was OK, though only OK. I can’t even remember the circle of mousse at the top left. The best thing on the plate was the orange sorbet – ironic for a plate all about chocolate. I really can’t remember when I last had a more disappointing dessert and, gosh they had 5 little chances to impress me right there!


Pete went for the crème brûlée with apple sorbet, poached apple and cider sauce. He loves crème brûlée and though he loves a good one, he’s fairly forgiving. But the texture of the crème was strangely spongey and we both only realised on eating it how unpleasant acidic apple and eggy creams can be together – in this incarnation at least. Another fail!

If the food wasn’t disappointing enough, one of the bugbears we had during the evening was the standard of service. Whilst no-one was rude or grumpy, the service was sloppy and casual and there seemed a distinct lack of training. Some plates were virtually thrown down in front of diners (not with any sulkiness attached, just lack of care and attention) leading to sauces slopping over the lips of the plates. Some staff didn’t seem to know who at a table had ordered which dish and had to ask (though this depended on who was serving the table).

There seemed to be only one member of staff who had any inkling about formal service standards and he seemed to be assigned to plate clearing duties, though we often saw him take the initiative to assist a diner with something else when he spotted that none of his colleagues had picked up on it.

This standard of service might be OK in a less formal, less expensive restaurant (after all, we got what we ordered, in the right order, and our water was replenished reasonably regularly) but for an establishment charging these prices, and trumpeting it’s Michelin star so proudly on its website, it wasn’t remotely good enough.

When one couple politely complained that they were too hot, as the radiator by their table was switched on (it was very warm and had been all day) they were told it wasn’t possible to turn it off. But no one offered to move them even though they hadn’t yet started their meal and there were several other suitable tables available and set, none of which were occupied by other diners during the evening. It was so warm that, even sat at the other side of the room from this radiator, I felt like I was having a hot flush and in the end, having also mentioned the heat to members of staff to be answered with a shrugged apology, I took matters into my own hands and opened the French doors behind us. As I started to do so, finally a member of staff offered to help me. There was an audible gasp of relief around the other few diners in the room as a cooling breeze wafted in.

There didn’t seem to be anyone managing the team nor keeping an eye on service and issues. The one person we initially thought might be the restaurant manager seemed to be the sommelier. To be frank, no-one seemed to really care whether we were enjoying our meal, whether we needed anything or whether anything was wrong.

With food as above and one (inexpensive) glass of wine each, the bill came to £125.55 without service. As I waited outside for Pete to retrieve the car from their lower car park, I confess to asking myself why I added service at all but I didn’t want to blame the staff for what struck me as a lack of proper management and training.

Thank goodness we didn’t opt for the £74/ head gourmet menu featuring many of the same dishes or I’d been even more upset.

I’m curious about whether our experience was atypical (I’d like to think so given the glowing reviews that abound on the web) or whether standards have slipped since new ownership took over.

If you’ve eaten at Holbeck Ghyll recently, do please let me know how you found it.

A Warm Welcome: Miller Howe, Windermere

Finding a restaurant for a meal with a large group of friends – which includes food-lovers like me, parents with young ones and some on a tighter budget – is quite a challenge. Especially when it has a lot to live up to, given the success of last year’s meal at The Wild Garlic.

Leaving it till a week or two before a trip to the Lake District, in the school summer holidays, is just plain foolish!

So there was a lot of frantic web searching and phone calls on my part before, with huge relief, I found the friendly folks at Miller Howe, in Windermere.

Not only were they willing to offer us a set price menu for just £30 per adult (about £10 less than their usual dinner pricing) they also suggested setting up two large tables in a private corner of their large series of dining rooms, with direct access to the extensive gardens, so the kids could play outside. They asked just £10 per child, offering to adapt starters and desserts from the adult menu and asking parents in advance for suggestions on a suitable main course.


Service was friendly though somewhat confused with dishes consistently delivered to the wrong people. That said, the staff were friendly and didn’t seem fazed by our noisy group.

We felt comfortable with our semi-private area; we didn’t have to worry about disturbing other guests. And being able to let the kids burn off some of their boundless energy outside was definitely a blessing.

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I chose the Cartmel Valley wood pigeon breast, parmesan risotto to start. The pigeon was served nicely pink and had a lovely gamey flavour. The risotto was rather stodgy and lacked the punch of enough parmesan.

The trio of Scottish salmon, seared, rilette and home cured was good. There was nothing outstanding here, but it was a decent selection, simply presented.

Probably the most impressive starter was the twice baked Cumberland farmhouse cheese soufflé, mixed cress and balsamic. Surprisingly light with a touch of crispness on the outside to offset the meltingly soft interior, it had a fantastic, full-on flavour that made me want to steal more than the bite I was generously given!

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Quite a few of us plumped for the braised Cumbrian feather beef, herb suet dumpling, root vegetables and red wine jus. The beef itself was delicious, though I hadn’t expected it to have been flaked into pieces and then re-assembled into a large cylinder. The flavours were lovely, and continued through into the gravy though I think all of us wanted more gravy – it looks generous in the photos but really didn’t go far. The root vegetables went nicely with it, though made the dish feel really out of season, even with the drizzly weather we experienced for most of our week in the Lakes. The suet dumpling was the most disappointing aspect – it was far too solid and rather unpleasant. Overall, the dish went down well but there were quite a few comments that the proportion of meat to vegetables was far too high.

The pan roast wild sea trout, wilted baby gem lettuce, peas, pancetta and baby onions was only ordered by one person on our table and I think he made the wisest choice. This dish really was excellent – the trout was beautifully cooked, moist and full of flavour; the peas and lettuce were refreshing and summery, the pancetta gave a nice punch of flavour without overwhelming the fish and the mashed potato was creamy and rich.

The third main on offer was Goosnargh corn fed chicken breast, buttered spinach, wild mushrooms, madeira sauce. I seldom order chicken but I’d have been happy with this. Simple but, again, well cooked with good flavours in the meat and sauce and a generous serving of wild mushrooms.

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All three desserts proved popular.

The sticky toffee pudding, toffee sauce, vanilla ice-cream was satisfactory but not outstanding, it was rich and gooey with a decent flavour.

The English raspberry, apple and almond crumble, traditional vanilla custard was served in individual lidded cast iron pots with custard and cream on the side. I didn’t taste any but it seemed to disappear pretty fast and was pronounced delicious!

Sadly, the waiter was completely unable to answer our questions about what a financier might be – in fact, rather than checking, he gave us a completely inaccurate description; no answer would have been better.

Luckily, I think those who ordered the milk chocolate financier, berry sorbet, cocoa reduction generally enjoyed the alternating layers of berry and moist rich chocolate cake. That said, the cocoa reduction was aptly described as “skid-mark minimalism” and hardly fair to include in the description as an element of the dish. The kids adored the flower-decorated chocolate discs on top!

There were a couple of local ales available on tap and a decent wine list. And they were happy to serve tap water in jugs to our table, rather than insisting we paid for bottled.

There were some criticisms about the children’s meals – despite being told that the kids would receive simplified and smaller portions of adult starters, they were given full adult dishes – generous, yes, but too large and fussy. The bowl of fresh fruit one of the girls chose instead was good but again, oversized and consequently a bit overwhelming. The biggest disappointment was the tomato pasta served to some of the children – it “just seemed to have a can of chopped tomatoes as the sauce rather than a proper tomato sauce” which was lazy and a bit of a poor show against the rest of the menu, given that it was discussed and ordered in advance.

Even with the discount, some felt that the adult meal was not great value – I think this depended on what was ordered, as others seemed much happier with the price. Conversely, with the exception of the pasta, the kids menu seemed underpriced.

Overall, it was a good evening out and what made the experience particularly enjoyable for me was the flexibility and enthusiasm of the management team when planning and booking the meal, and the relaxed atmosphere on the day.

The Black Bull (Pub & Brewery)

A visit to the Lake District really isn’t complete without visiting a few of the many small breweries that abound in this region.

So during our week’s holiday to Windermere in July, Pete and I made our way to Coniston’s Black Bull, attached to the small Coniston Brewing Co.


The pub is charmingly retro; it’s 1970s interior hasn’t been gussied up for many a decade. The rubbery plastic menu books almost has me scuttling back out but the welcome is friendly so we stay.

Both of us order an 8/10 oz fillet of fresh haddock coated in our own Bluebird real ale batter, served with lemon wedge, chipped potatoes, mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce (£9.95).


It’s fantastic; wonderfully soft, moist fish inside a light, crispy batter and the chips are decent too. Very nice indeed – we’re so glad we didn’t let my London snobbery about the plastic menu books put us off!


Of course, an advantage of eating in a pub attached to a brewery is the excellent selection of draft beers served just as they’re intended to be.


Pete enjoys pints of Bluebird and Blacksmiths Ale (all Coniston ales are £3.10 – £3.20 a pint) during the meal and we also buy several of their bottles to take home, plus a 2 pint plastic container of one of the drafts to enjoy at the holiday rental house.

After our lovely lunch, we ask the bar staff whether they think we might be allowed a peek inside the brewery – they say to knock at the door round back, where we’ve parked, and see if the staff have time – they might not, we’re warned, as they’re really busy, but it’s always worth asking.


We do as advised and a friendly gentleman explains that they’re short two staff and he needs to perform some time-critical tasks in 11 minutes so there’s no time for a proper tour. Before we can thank him and suggest coming back another time, he warmly invites us in to have a quick look around.

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To our surprise, as he shoos us inside, he launches into a quick tour, showing us around the tiny space, explaining the process, pointing out hops from the UK, Germany and the US, showing us where the pure local stream water is piped in, insisting we peer inside some of the brewing tanks and encouraging my picture taking. It’s succinct but fascinating, especially learning about the small quantities they brew at a time, which allows them to brew so brew so many different ales a week.

Within a few minutes we’ve seen all of the tiny brewery, thank our impromptu guide and are on our way.

Coniston: lovely beer made by lovely people.

Pete Drinks: Coniston Blacksmiths Ale


Name: Coniston Blacksmiths Ale

ABV: 5.0%

Bottled/ Draft: Draft

Price: £3.20 a pint at the Black Bull, Coniston

Colour: Deep golden

Head/ Bubbles: Creamy head

Mouthfeel: Fuller body than the Bluebird

Taste: A good hoppy start, with an underlying strength and maltiness.

Comment: Labelled as a ‘Winter Warmer’ and with a name like Blacksmiths, I’d imagined this would be a dark, almost porter-like beer and was rather taken aback by the arrival of a deep golden pint. The strength, combined with a full body and rich flavour certainly made it an enjoyable pint but it would be a stretch to call it much of a winter warmer.

It’s interesting how strongly my opinion was affected by my expectations – the actual taste was certainly closer to what I’d expected than was suggested by it’s lighter colour; if they’d given me exactly the same beer but twice as dark I think I’d have enjoyed the beer twice as much. This is either a sign that breweries who add colour (or at least select dark malts for colour as much as flavour) know what they’re talking about, or that I need to keep my eyes closed when drinking!


Pete Drinks: Coniston Bluebird


Name: Coniston Bluebird

ABV: 3.6%

Bottled/ Draft: Draft

Price: £3.20 a pint at the Black Bull, Coniston

Colour: Pale gold

Head/ Bubbles: Creamy head

Mouthfeel: Properly ‘beery’ feel, not watery but not chewy.

Taste: Strong hop start, almost overwhelming but short lived.

Comment: With little in the way of malt, this is quite a classic light spring or summer ale. On it’s own it’s a little over hopped for my taste – I’m not sure I’d enjoy a session with such a hoppy beer – but as I was enjoying it with lunch (a delicious fish and chips in the Black Bull pub next to the brewery), the food balanced out the hops nicely and changed the nature of the beer significantly.

This beer has actually highlighted something to me, that I will endeavour to pay closer attention to – beer (like wine, whisky, and ultimately everything else we drink) is deeply affected by whether it’s being enjoyed in isolation or with food. This is, I suppose, obvious when you think about it but I rarely do!

For those interested, the name Bluebird comes from Sir Malcolm Campbell’s powerboat, in which he set the world water speed record on Coniston Water back in 1939.