Enjoy an award-winning culinary experience whilst savouring some serious countryside.
England’s Lake District is rightly known for its famous fells and fabulous vistas. But the county of Cumbria contains many more atmospheric attractions down roads a little less travelled. Just off the M6, the ancient town of Sedbergh stands as a gateway to the glorious Yorkshire Dales National Park and at the foot of the dramatic Howgill Fells, you’ll find the award-winning, Black Bull.
A former 17th-century coaching inn, the Black Bull, Sedbergh offers a warm 21st-century welcome, provided through the excellent efforts of James Ratcliffe and his wife Nina.
Walking in off Sedbergh’s narrow, time-capsule of a Main Street, you enter the Black Bull’s bar and casual dining area. James and Nina are keen to welcome all-comers and the well-stocked bar and roaring log fire make it a favourite refuge for locals. The dark walls provide a perfect backdrop for the eclectic collection of prints and artefacts, scattered throughout the public areas, which reflect James’ local roots and Nina’s Japanese parentage. Covid rules dictate minimal clutter on tables and the restaurant is rather stark, but luckily the beauty of Nina’s food more than compensates for the lack of decoration.
The success of their café/bistro, the Three Hares, just along the street, gave Nina and James the confidence to take on the Black Bull in 2016 and both establishments follow the same ethos: to use only the best seasonal ingredients available. Guaranteeing the provenance of what they are serving and ultimately providing a product with great texture and taste is key to the couple’s success. They prefer to use the native breeds that are farmed traditionally on small farms across the Lune Valley; local freshwater fish and sustainably sourced fish from the North Sea. They forage the area’s abundant woodland and hedgerows for a whole host of seasonal ingredients including garlic mustard and mushrooms in all shapes and sizes.
At first glance, the menu appears quite meat-heavy, but the team assure me that all dietary needs can be catered for and that Nina has been known to rise to the challenge of creating a bespoke dish on the spot when the need arises. What sets this menu apart from those of other locally sourced champions is the influence Nina brings. This isn’t a fusion menu. This is modern British cooking enhanced and illuminated by Nina’s unique use of Japanese techniques and flavours.
Let’s begin with the fresh rolls and home-made, delicious, fermented butter. I overheard another diner speak my thoughts aloud: “Wow, I like this butter!” (you can take it home – it’s sold in The Three Hares). My starter of Howgill Guinea Fowl with Langoustine and N’duja was a joy, attractive to the eye as well as the stomach. Perfectly cooked meat served with a succulent battered langoustine riding atop a sauce the right side of spicy. I have to admit to being distracted by my fellow diner’s Hereford Beef Tartar, a confident tower of chunky, top quality meat, laced with spicy, bold Thai Basil and served with crème fraîche and a soft and flavoursome waffle. He was happy.
The comment “Those chips look good” from across the room momentarily made me nervous about my choice of main (carrot and kale – what no chips?), but when it arrived the Lakeland Venison Wellington with Pickled Walnut Ketchup lived up to its reputation. Two substantial pieces of perfectly cooked venison rolled in exquisite (foraged?) mushrooms, wrapped in a delicate crepe and sealed in the lightest buttery pastry. Hearty in a life-affirming way. Main courses are substantial, the Howgill Herdwick lamb loin was sweet and served with an intensely savoury shepherds pie, sweet quince and bitter chicory to contrast. Delicious.
The choice of five desserts was clever. There was something for everyone, so very difficult to say, “No, thank you”. I was very glad I said “yes” to the Yuzu and Matcha Green Tea cheesecake – it is probably the most delicious cheesecake I have ever tasted. The delicate matcha base held the thickest cream cheese which was topped by zinging yuzu and a custardy cream piping topped with gold leaf. So well-balanced. It was heaven on a plate.
The team have extended their philosophy on farming to wine-making and with his wine list, James looks to feature sustainable producers, conscious of the impact their wine-making has on health and environment. Bottles start at £26, but with 14 wines offered by the glass (125ml only), we enjoyed reading the list and sampling products that we might not otherwise have tried (think Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia). It’s not often we take the wine list home to continue our education…
After dinner, climb the stairs to one of the Black Bull’s 18 bedrooms which have been refurbished in a style that retains the inn’s heritage whilst ensuring contemporary standards. The bedroom decor reflects Nina’s roots, a neutral pallet of light and dark shade and clean lines imparting a Japanese feel, but also show the couple’s passion for championing local producers.
Throws are created by a local weaver, Laura’s Loom, whose shop is further down the street. Bathroom lotions and potions are produced especially for the hotel by Sedbergh Soap Company and the lovely local area photographs were of course shot by a local photographer. Falling into four categories: luxury, superior and classic doubles, and a suite, no two rooms are the same. Some have balconies, some have free-standing baths. Bathrooms are top spec, gleaming white and chrome and etched glass walls. Three bedrooms are dog-friendly.
COVID-19 restrictions don’t allow for lounging in the bar area, but once in your room you can kick back and relax in a comfortable sanctuary with a supply of home-made biscuits, truffles and locally sourced tea and coffee to hand and enjoy a delicious moment of cossetted, carefree cosiness.
Jenny and Nick were guests of The Black Bull:
44 Main Street,
Phone: 015396 20264
For more information visit: https://www.theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk/
Due to restrictions on numbers of diners, bookings should be made by email at: email@example.com
The Three Hares Deli delivers mail order: https://threeharesdeli.co.uk/about
For things to see and do in the Yorkshire Dales visit: https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk
For a gastropub in London, we recommend the Harwood Arms in Fulham