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We were thrilled to be able to check out the recently opened Pentonbridge Inn in Kirk-Andrews-upon-Esk – gorgeous rooms and an exquisite restaurant on the cusp of the Scottish border. Our hotel review will follow, but first we give you the lowdown on the restaurant and the epic culinary odyssey we undertook therein.
Diners can opt to eat in either the pub or the restaurant proper. The pub has a more relaxed atmosphere with a roaring fire, while the restaurant offers fabulous service beside an open kitchen, where you can see the chefs working their magic. The warmth and light of the kitchen cast a nourishing glow across the dining area, setting the stage for an intimate dining experience.
Pentonbridge Inn has a dedicated team of culinary experts on-hand, and it seems this was one of the primary objectives of owners Margo and Gerald Smith: to provide somewhere exceptional for locals and tourists to eat in the quiet village of Penton. The dishes definitely showcase a sophisticated aesthetic, which is complemented well by the high quality of the service, making the Pentonbridge Inn a surprising little find among the frost-crisp fields.
With fresh produce grown at the Victorian walled kitchen garden at nearby Netherby Hall, you can be assured of local flavour and responsible ingredients. What’s more, the menu was very reasonably priced, given the neat little touches and extras included in the price (you can get two courses for £35, three for £40 and the five-course tasting menu for just £55 per person).
The restaurant offers both an a la carte menu and a five-course tasting menu. We decided the surprise tasting menu was the best option, and we asked for dairy-free options where possible. Aware this might put a spanner in the works, we were nevertheless assured that this wouldn’t be a problem. Thankfully, it wasn’t – the dishes flew out of the kitchen confidently, with a real flair for creativity and resourcefulness on show.
Now, remember those extras we mentioned? Well I’ll shed a bit more detail. Our five-course tasting menu turned out to be five courses plus homemade bread, canape, amuse-bouche, pre-dessert and petit fours. The waiter wasn’t kidding when he advised that this would take two-and-a-half hours – so be prepared to make an evening of it. It’s definitely worth it, though.
Our canape was chicory and coppa. Coppa is an Italian and Corsican cold cut of dry cured pork, usually from the neck or shoulder, and is similar to prosciutto. Paired with the mellow spiciness of the chicory, it was a savoury as well as visual treat.
Next up, we had a small amuse-bouche of fennel and salmon. The unique flavours of the fennel really tarted up the smooth, gentle flavours of the salmon, for a vibrant pairing with plenty of colour and zest.
Then we moved onto the first starter proper: hen’s egg with Jerusalem artichoke and wild rice. The soft yolks went surprisingly well with the rice, while the artichoke provided a pleasant sweetness to the whole affair.
Our fish course was halibut, turnip and lemon. This was light, bright and moreish. I could happily have had this for a main course – the halibut was so tender and perfectly seasoned.
Next up we had the glazed partridge breast. Something of a favourite of mine, patridge has a wonderful taste, and here it was served well with prune, Armagnac brandy, swede, kale and apple. The tart, fruity flavours balanced the gamey bird wonderfully.
Then, for the last of our savoury courses, we had fallow venison from Emma Boyes. Again, the gamey flavours were balanced by the presence of kumquat, red vegetables and leaves, and a meaty beef hash which melted in the mouth.
As our pre-dessert and palate cleanser, we had the light and citrusy poached clementine, served with crunchy oats and sweet but crumbly meringue. As well as being a gorgeous burst of sunshine on a plate, it was fresh and subtle.
Our last course was a deconstructed treacle tart with pear and almond, and not a drop of custard in sight. This was sticky, rich and irresistible, and was a great way to round off the evening. Most importantly, it wasn’t too heavy, give the number of dishes that had preceded it, which is always good for a tasting menu.
Finally, we were able to sip coffee with these delectable petit fours: lemon madeleines and meadow sweet pate de fruits, which went will with a hot, steaming brew.
Pentonbridge Inn is a dining gem. It was busy when we arrived, and was busy even when we left two-and-a-half hours later. Its reputation obviously precedes it, despite the fact it’s still a very new venue. I was impressed by the speed and versatility of the chefs, especially in accommodating last-minute dietary needs, and the service by the wait staff was flawless all night. Pentonbridge Inn gets a confident A+ from us!
For more information, visit pentonbridgeinn.co.uk.
Pentonbridge Inn, Penton, Carlisle CA6 5QB / Bookings: 01228