A little while ago I mentioned that just before Christmas, I was invited to review the newly refurbished Pentonbridge Inn in Cumbria. I don’t know about you but I’m busy plotting things to look forward to – so I thought I’d give you the lowdown on why this place is worth a visit. It’s close to home for us but we’d travelled from one end of the country to the other because we arrived straight from spending two days in London celebrating my win at the Blog Awards. We were weary, feeling grimy and polluted after our urban partying and a country break was just what we needed.
Sweater dress (now in the sale); Boden boots circa 2005; Hope scarf (AW15)
Where is the Pentonbridge Inn?
It’s located bang on the border between England and Scotland, about 15 miles east of the M6 so it’s easy to get to.
What kind of place is it?
An old country inn that has been brought back to life by the owners of local Netherby Hall. It has been considerately refurbished using natural building materials and enhanced with tweed and velvet furnishings. The clientele seemed to be mostly well heeled locals. There were a lot of extended family groups, probably because it was Christmas, along with a few thirty-something couples.
Why would I go there?
For a complete rest. The inn is surrounded by countryside and you have a 360° view of both England and Scotland for miles around. As soon as we walked in, I felt relaxed. In fact all that I wanted to do for the rest of the afternoon was burrow down in one of the comfortable armchairs and do absolutely nothing at all…
What makes it special?
The focus at The Pentonbridge Inn is on the food. I had been told this by the PR agency beforehand and was expecting simple but good country style cooking. I was mistaken. The food is a few scales above anything I have experienced outside London. I say this seriously because we have both of Simon Rogan’s restaurants (L’Enclume and Rogan’s) on our doorstep. In my opinion, the food at The Pentonbridge Inn blows them out of the water.
This isn’t a foodie blog but as you know, I do enjoy eating so I want to take you through what we was on offer. We started with lunch and here’s the menu to give you an idea of what was on offer:
I chose the cauliflower soup which was liken molten cauliflower cheese. It was smooth, rich, velvety… I don’t have the adjectives to describe how delicious it was. Mr MC’s meal in the foreground was the poached egg with mushrooms and ham. Also fantastic.
We knew we had some serious dining ahead in the evening so we skipped the next course and went straight on to puddings. I had the treacle tart which was the only thing that I felt was a bit sub par – it didn’t give me the tooth-crumblingly sweet hit of my childhood. Mr MC chose the local cheeses which were served with membrillo.
We could have relaxed in the bar all afternoon but our cosy room was calling us…
… the box at the foot of the bed contained a Smart TV that popped up giving us the option to log straight back into the boxset we were watching on our Netflix account as well as other channels.
So Mr MC was happy. I was drawn by the bathroom and spent an hour wallowing in the bath, using some of the Scottish Noble Isle ‘fireside’ scented bath products…
…I was tempted to have a shower too – just because it was so beautiful!
There were lots of thoughtful details in the room such as a Roberts Radio playing Classic FM, a Nespresso machine with capsules and fresh milk and remote control skylights – a huge relief to me because I have to have fresh air to sleep well.
So that was our lazy afternoon. We changed for dinner and went down for an apéritif in the bar which was now bustling. There are two options for dining, a relaxed menu in the bar or the choice of à la carte or tasting menus in the restaurant. We knew we were going to be served the tasting menu which always makes me a bit nervous. However they asked if we had any particular preferences so I was able to veer away from foods that I just can’t face such as game and offal.
Our table had a fabulous view of the chefs at work. It was interesting to see just how calm the kitchen was. It is run by husband and wife team Jake and Cassie White. They have an incredibly high pedigree having been trained by Marcus Wareing at ‘Marcus’, his two Michelin starred restaurant at The Berkeley in London.
The food went way beyond my expectations. This is what we ate:
- Amuse bouche: cauliflower cassonade, lambs’ sweetbreads, crispy cerleriac
- Starter 1: slow poached hen egg, quinoa and cep mushroom crumb, shitake soup, parsley oil, parsley and shallot salad and castel franco radicchio
- Starter 2: pumpkin fondant, pumpkin velouté espuma, cows curd, kumquat, sliced pumpkin compressed with clementine and thyme
- Starter 3: Orkney island scallop, dashi poached parsley root, walnut, pear
- Main course (me): beef fillet, onion fondant, balsamic gel, barbecued leek, toasted cabbage, pickled red onion petals and onion seed, white onion sauce
- Main course (Mr MC): Venison, celeriac, crisped and ribboned quince, foie gras, persillade, juniper and hazelnut
- Pre-dessert: white chocolate mousse, dipped orange, candied orange zest, yuzu and ginger granita with tarragon
- Dessert: shortbread, passion fruit, caramel, tempered 70% guanaja chocolate, condensed milk nougat, milk ice cream, passion fruit gel
- Petit fours: blackcurrant and chocolate ganache, lemon drizzle madeleines
Every single dish was a taste explosion. The only element I really wasn’t keen on were the sweetbreads. I did try one. It did have the texture that I thought it might and I did (just) manage to swallow it whole before my mind caught up with what I was eating!
The service was warm, friendly and educational. Each dish was presented and talked through when it was brought to the table so that we understood where the ingredients had been sourced from and how the dishes had been prepared. We discovered that most of the fruit, veg and herbs are grown at Netherby Hall, just a mile away. Our wine was changed throughout the menu to complement the food.
And this was the end result… we pretty much rolled like barrels from our table to the sofas in the bar for coffee, petit fours and cognac.
A bountiful breakfast
The following morning we enjoyed one of the most carefully thought through breakfasts I have ever had. There were breads still hot from the oven, warm granola bars, yoghurt, freshly pressed juices and fruit followed by a cooked Scottish breakfast.
Very few but in the interests of a balanced review we had to find something. As you know we are aesthetically driven and the art at the inn jars, it just doesn’t quite fit with the ambience. A lot of the flowers in the displays both inside and out were artificial which seemed a shame.
Our only other issue was that both the inn and the rooms were very hot. Wherever we go, I am nearly always frozen but I ended up going down to dinner in just the camisole that I had planned to wear underneath my tux jacket which was very unusual. There is a very impressive biofuel energy set up and it was clearly running very well!
What is there to do in the surrounding area?
Walk for 10 minutes and you’re standing on the Scottish border (slightly alarming that police tape is attached to the border sign… and why does the sign look as though it has been beaten with a caber)? Of course don’t forget that this area is brimming with history and the stories of the Border Reivers, the raiders who lived along the Anglo-Scottish border from the 13th to 17th centuries. Scotland and England were frequently at war during this time so the families who were unfortunately positioned on either side of the border formed protective allegiances. It was a time of survival and cunning as they raided each other’s lands and houses, often taking prisoners for ransom.
There was a really interesting book about it in the room and I read the first few chapters. If you are planning a visit it would be worth a read in advance because it really brings the area to life.
The river Esk divides England from Scotland and this is the view from the bridge. The Pentonbridge Inn can book a rod for you in advance if you’d like to try your hand at fishing. There are salmon and trout to be caught but of course the rights vary depending on which side of the river you are on – they will explain it all to you.
This is great walking country and if we’d had more time I would have loved to explore the riverbank, especially if we’d had Gary with us. Incidentally, dogs are welcome in the bar and there are a number of dog-friendly rooms on the ground floor.
Within easy reach
Assuming you have a car with you, these places are within easy reach:
Penton: the nearest village, lovely walks in Penton Wood
Langholm: birthplace of poet Hugh McDiarmid and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill
Longtown: Arthuret Parish Church, the legendary resting place of King Arthur
Newcastleton: a local town with a music festival at the end of June
Devil’s Porridge Museum: a five star visitor attraction. Find out what life was like in the WW1 trenches and also learn about the part this region played in both wars
The Solway Coast: an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Do a spot of birdwatching as you walk and see pink footed geese, whooper swans, dabbling ducks and oyster catchers. You can also stand at the end of Hadrian’s wall.
Hawick: many of the world’s leading designers source their cashmere from here. There is a visitor centre where you can see how cashmere is produced and several of the cashmere companies have outlets in the town.
Kagyu Samye Ling: a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which is open for day visitors for no charge, all year round. You can visit the temple, which is open daily from 6am until 9pm and stroll around the peace garden and grounds. There are also Tibetan Tea Rooms.
Melrose: leave your car here and take the train to Edinburgh(1 hour 20 min journey) for a day of shopping, eating and culture.
What to pack?
The mood at The Pentonbridge Inn is relaxed country chic. Even in the restaurant there is a very understated style.
Relaxed Saturday Afternoon
Just relax – have lunch, a glass of wine or two, take a book and some magazines.
1. Blush jumper – just the right nubbly texture to give you the country style look that says “I’ve had it for years.”
2. Girlfriend jeans – the step on from a skinny, a fit that hugs but has a slightly looser, ankle flattering hem
3. Grandad shirt with stitch detail (currently in the sale) – much easier to wear under a jumper or jacket than a collar and you’ll need the layering if you’re sitting by the log burners
4. Ankle boots – add a hint of spring to your outfit, plus an easy to walk in rounded block heel
5. Single breasted trench – for anyone like me who dislikes the lack of symmetry of an open double breasted trench
6. And… add a hint of natural looking polish – this isn’t the place for gel covered talons
Gastro Saturday night
The amazing dining experience you’re about to undergo requires a level of laid back chic
7. Long satin top – easy elegance in a flattering off-white with a sheen that will shimmer in the candlelight
8. Leather leggings in a non-urban navy blue, you’ll be glad of the elasticated waist (these navy leather jeans with a zip at the ankle are heavily reduced in the sale and if you’re lucky they’ll have your size… I’m so tempted because there is a size 12…)
9. Bright embellished flats – this isn’t the place for a vertiginous heel and these will be an elegant shoe as we move into spring
10. The perfect travel companion – a clutch that converts into a crossbody to use during the day. This also answers the conundrum of how to carry a bag when you’re out walking
11. Something silk to slip into when you return to your room. Remember this place is cosy, you won’t need your flannel pyjamas
Fresh Air Sunday
After the sumptuous breakfast at The Pentonbridge Inn, you will want to get out into the fresh air to aid your digestion.
12. A lovely knit with a springtime feel – and yet it’s half price in the sale, be quick
13. Repeat yesterday’s girlfriend jeans
14. An easy to wear quilted jacket with Stormwear protection. Don’t worry about the white, it’s machine washable.
15. Classic country wellies from the brand that is loved by the royals.
The Pentonbridge Inn has already been added to The Times Cool Hotel Guide and The Telegraph so I suspect its reputation will soar. I won’t be surprised if it becomes a big foodie destination in the north with rosettes and a star or two. Go soon – before the prices rise to match, there is a special offer for dinner, bed and breakfast in January if you’re quick.
Disclosure: ‘The Pentonbridge Inn’ is not a sponsored post. We were invited to stay on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis so that I could write an honest, unbiased review.
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