English inn goes for the big smoke

Gas­tron­omy thrives in the Lake District

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - The Food Issue - MICHELLE ROWE

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.

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