Eating in the Lake District, which I do a great deal, always involves a certain level of struggle. Staffing issues and brief opening hours are normal, while all the delicious, sanely priced places are booked up six months in advance by the control freaks in every Lake District Weekend Woo-Hoo! WhatsApp group. This leaves a plethora of nigh-inaccessible fine-dining spots that almost nobody local has ever visited. They’re often in hotels, with big-name chefs, where your tatty banger will have been noted by security from the moment you turned into their majestic driveway, and where an overnight stay for two with dinner will set you back about £1,000, with check-in at 3pm and checkout by 11am. At the Linthwaite House hotel, where the Simon Rogan restaurant Henrock lives, I was quoted £775 by a “bargain” website for a room for two on 29 August. I’ve lived among London dandies for decades, so am used to high-rollers, but still, even I can’t envisage settling a bill of that magnitude without openly weeping at reception.
However, of all the Lake District’s pinky-in-the-air places that exist only for the fleeting delight of fancy people, lunch at the gorgeous Henrock is the one that truly moved me. If you have a special occasion, Henrock at Linthwaite is one worth scrimping and saving for – with starters at about £13 and mains £30, you could go easy on the booze and get out for about £75 a head. From the moment you exit your vehicle, it’s all, well, a bit too much. The 14 acres of landscaped gardens feel like something from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World list; in fact, I fail to believe that Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens were prettier than Henrock’s cocktail terrace with its dizzying vantage point across Lake Windermere, or, for that matter, the private tarn, the sculpture collection, the outdoor chess or the pretty boules pitch. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
And all this is before you meet the charming, world-class staff and order a zero fashioned – a banana-flavoured spiced-rum old fashioned/piña colada hybrid. Yes, it works, and yes, I had two. Then I sighed with a heady mix of peak elation and existential regret that I couldn’t stay at least a week. Why, why, why did I let that hot piece of fluff Bernie Ecclestone slip through my fingers last time he was on the market? How difficult could it be to be married to a billionaire, mop-topped nonagenarian who smells of petrol? Not difficult at all when you can hang out in exclusive bars with 20 Scottish single malts on the menu before lunching on lacquered smoked eel with XO custard and soy mushroom dressing, followed by Peking duck with gochujang and date croquette.
Surprisingly for a restaurant by Simon Rogan, a man who famously loves British produce and playful experimentation with traditional British cooking, Henrock is definitely and confidently pan-Asian. With head chef Sam Fry at the helm, the menu is a journey of curious, imaginative flavours. A starter of aubergine is glazed to glossy, crunchy, heavenly heights with saikyo miso, festooned with furikake and served with a rich vegetable dashi broth. This is vegetarian cooking at its utter pinnacle. Another starter of cured salmon is almost as wondrous: a generous, lightly spiced fillet of salmon, pink on the inside, is titivated with puddles of wasabi, avocado and nashi pear, and a smattering of ponzu. A main course of hake – also generous – arrives encrusted with five-spice seasoning, and a mush of broad bean, a fried oyster and a shrimp-and-lemongrass sauce, while gorgeous Herdwick lamb comes with spiced lentils and flavours of wet garlic and sumac.
As for the puddings, they steal my heart to the point where I am planning a return for afternoon tea before I’ve even asked for the lunch bill. Chocolate, raspberry and peanut tart is all the right levels of exceedingly ornate, sweet, crunchy and dirtily mainstream – a Snickers bar on steroids, if you will.
The vanilla parfait could quite easily escape your attention, sitting there on the menu looking ever so humble and not worth a punt, but then it turns up decorated in tiny cherries compressed in woodruff and opens up horizons of vanilla that you didn’t think possible, despite having eaten vanilla things since you were old enough to sit upright.
And that is the point of restaurants such as Henrock: they blow your mind a little bit and leave you cerebrally different from the slightly grumpy woman who got out of the car a couple of hours earlier and said, “The problem with these bloody fancy places in the Lakes, set in posh hotels and with silly menus, is I can’t work out who the hell wants to eat in them, let alone ever come twice.” Reader, it turns out it’s me.
Henrock Linthwaite House, Crook Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3JA, 015394 88600. Main restaurant open Sat lunch, noon-2.30pm; dinner, all week, 6-9.15pm (all-day menu, Mon-Sat, noon-9.30pm; Sun 3-9.30pm). Restaurant about £50 a head for three courses; all-day menu about £35 a head for three courses, both plus drinks and service.