The Lake District has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants outside London. Eight of its venues currently hold this much desired culinary accolade making Cumbria ripe for gastro-tourism: Old Stamp House, Ambleside; Cottage in the Woods, Braithwaite; L’Enclume and Rogan & Co in Cartmel; Askham Hall, Askham; The Dog & Gun, Skelton; Gilpin Hotel, Windermere, and The Forest Side Hotel, Grasmere.

“Oh yes,” says Trevor the Taxi, proudly winding through the country lanes between our hotel and Heft where we were heading for lunch. “L’Enclume in Cartmel has three,” he said, rattling off the rest as if I didn’t already know (I’m one of those gastro-tourists.)

So what’s its secret? Each has a talented kitchen brigade with inspired leadership and top-class produce, but there’s also a magic ingredient. Cumbria gets under your skin. There’s something about the fresh air, the light, and the stunning natural surroundings which have long inspired art, literature and poetry. It’s hard to photograph The Lake District on its bad side. Clouds and rain just make it look handsome and moody.

Cumbrian-born chef Kevin Tickle calls it ‘heft’. There is a farming phenomenon here unencountered elsewhere in England. Successive generations of hefted ewes have learnt to live on their own part of the fell in all weathers, without boundaries. After being brought down to pasture at gathering times, they instinctively return to their own patch of grazing ground. This homing instinct also applies to the hill farmers that tend these flocks who are equally tethered to the land. It’s in their blood.

Kevin grew up on the Furness Peninsula on the county’s Irish Sea coast where he enjoyed a rural childhood, exploring, hunting, and fishing from an early age. His upbringing underpins his intimate knowledge of the local landscape and plays a major part in his cooking. He knows what grows where and when, which is how he became head forager, hunting out edible plants for L’Enclume, where he also worked as a chef.

Early in 2014, after nine years at L’Enclume, Kevin then became head chef at Rogan & Co before moving on to help launch the kitchen at The Forest Side in Grasmere in 2016. Critical acclaim inevitably followed which included a Michelin star and four AA rosettes for culinary excellence within a year.

Kevin left Forest Side in the Autumn of 2019, to take some time out with his young family and to begin planning to create a place of his own. He and his wife Nicola took over a historic 17th century coaching inn at the foot of Cartmel Fell, in the southern Lake District village of High Newton and embarked on creating their first venture.

A full refurbishment programme began in August 2020 and continued as the pandemic allowed, installing an ultra-modern kitchen and numerous service areas to transform the historic venue into a stylish Inn and Restaurant. “We had no furniture the day before we opened,” Nicola tells us. “The local antique shop kindly helped us out.”

Since opening in July 2021, Heft has been recognised as one of the top 50 Gastro Pubs in the UK, ranked at number 33, and has also achieved a listing in the 2022 Michelin Guide and won the Cumbria Food Awards Newcomer of the Year award.

The venue features an attractive bar at the front with cosy fires, whitewashed walls and soft furnishings. It serves quality beers, carefully selected wines and bar snacks for locals, visitors and their dogs from 11.45am each day, all day. The restaurant is to the rear of the building (no dogs are allowed in this area) serving Kevin’s unique take on Modern British food utilising a wealth of locally reared, farmed and foraged produce in his dishes.

Like many rural high-end restaurants trying to stay afloat, lunch and dinner take the form of one no-choice tasting menu per service, with all customers being required to arrive at the same time. There’s a four-course menu at lunch (£37.50pp) with a strict 12pm arrival, and a ten-course dinner at 7pm (£95.00 pp.)

You’ll find sample menus on their website, but the set lunch is especially good value at this level with a snack, plus their sour dough bread and butter bulking out the four courses. Dishes evolve regularly in line with seasonal availability and our autumnal menu included a warm and intense lamb broth with burnt aubergine and crispy lamb belly; thinly sliced beetroot with sour cream and toasted hazelnuts; and Saddleback pork tenderloin with celeriac and ramson.

Our dessert course was caramelised pear with fromage blanc, sea buckthorn and marigold – and they also offer a selection of ‘Today’s cheese’ (£10 or £16 to share) with crackers, tomato chutney and truffle honey. It’s yet another way to taste the landscape as many are produced by local cheesemakers such as St James by Martin Gott.

Heft offers a relaxed and unforgettable dining experience that enhances Cumbria’s reputation for great food, and continues to attract local, national and international guests to this craggy and fertile corner of the north west.

Find out more at Heft. Inn + Restaurant, Newton in Cartmel, Grange over Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6JH


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