English inn goes for the big smoke
Gastronomy thrives in the Lake District
THE black-and-white portraits on the walls are the first clue that The Wild Boar Inn, Grill & Smokehouse takes its gastronomic reputation seriously.
There’s Bert Parry-Jones of C&GNeve, purveyor of fine fish and crustaceans; Ian Udale of fourth-generation, family-owned Udale Speciality Foods; Peter and Frances Fryer of English Lakes Ice Cream; and Jonathon Stott of game dealers Cartmel Valley Game, for starters.
The sea of faces — all links in the food supply chain at this charming inn near Lake Windermere in England’s Lake District — stretches down the corridor from the amusingly named Large Black room, in which I am resting and refuelling during a tour of this most picturesque region in the country’s northwest.
The Wild Boar Inn has long been known for its hospitality. Built in the 17th century in the Gilpin Valley — which takes its name from Richard de Gilpin who, legend has it, fought and killed a ferocious boar nearby — it has operated as an inn since 1849 and early on gained a reputation for its fine food. That tradition continues under head chef Marc Sanders, a classically trained cook who has gone the extra mile to keep the inn’s food-loving clientele happy by introducing an on-site smokehouse turning out hot-smoked salmon and wild boar, kippers and even stilton.
The smokery is no hi-tech affair; I venture out the back of the inn with effusive general manager Andy Lemm, who is keen to show off the rustic set-up that has piqued the interest of local food lovers and hotel guests alike.
‘‘We had always put [commercially produced] smoked foods on the menu and they sold really well,’’ says Lemm, walking me through the small shed in which he and Sanders set up makeshift smokers using old water tanks, after realising they could easily do the smoking themselves. The pair has recently started using charcoal made from standing deadwood from the inn’s 30ha of woodland (sweet chestnut, mostly) and are also experimenting with old filing cabinets as hot and cold smoking drawers. Other curious items — stoves and barbecues altered and welded together — make up this most inventive of smoking systems.
‘‘Food sales have been massive since we introduced the smokehouse last year,’’ says Lemm. ‘‘Almost double. And now we can provide the rest of the group’’ —The Wild Boar is one of six hotels that fall under the English Lakes Hotels, Resorts & Venues banner —‘‘with hot smoked salmon, wild boar and apple sausages, smoked mushrooms, kippers, sirloin and more.’’
Sanders’s menus feature the fruits of his labour. I try the excellent hot-smoked salmon and the smoked sirloin, made from 28-day hung steak, which are regular features on the list, as is a deli board including smoked cheddar, and a popular smoked cheese souffle.
‘‘I try to use all British produce, and as local as possible,’’ says Sanders, who has also introduced an open grill and chef’s table in his expansive kitchen.
It’s unexpectedly good fare, but then the inn is full of surprises. My suite, one of 33 rooms named after a breed of pig, is in The Wild Boar’s Luxury category, which has recently undergone refurbishment. It is a character-filled bolthole with a dangerously comfortable bed made up in Egyptian cotton linen, and a bathroom featuring an enormous round copper bath.
There’s a flatscreen television and DVD player, plus an iPod docking station. Mercifully, I am unable to get internet or mobile phone signal while here; all the better to relax during my two-night stay.
In the inn’s rustic lounge — open fireplaces, old leather chairs, paintings of ducks and grouse and wild boar ceramics scattered about — I meet my fellow travellers for a pre-dinner drink.
It’s a tricky choice, what with the huge variety of real ales (the Mad Pig tickles my fancy), 50 malt whiskies and many other tipples on offer.
But, just as any good inn should, The Wild Boar offers to keep one’s bottle of whisky on the shelf, marked accordingly, for consumption on one’s next visit . . . preferably with a nice plate of smoked cheese on the side. Michelle Rowe was a guest of Back-Roads Touring Co and Travel Associates.