Review of The Punch Bowl Inn

Crosthwaite, Cumbria

Hotel: 13/20

Food: 12/20

Staff: 14/20

The day we’d booked to go to the Punch Bowl was not the best of choices, the weather was awful. I know it was not their fault but it never leaves you in a great mood when you can’t see 50 yards in front of you for fog/low lying cloud or mist, whatever it was it was a really driech day. It had been that way since we left home and 100+ miles later it was absolutely no better, if anything it was worse. The good news though is that once we did get there everything got better.

 We’d booked on their late availability offer, a recommendation from my sister, all available rooms were £115 B&B, a very good deal I thought, we’ll have some of that so, I booked a 2 night stay. We were going to go the previous week, in hindsight it would have been a better choice, at least the weather would have been better! The thing was there was only the one room available so I checked the same days the following week and there was a choice of rooms so that’s how we ended up in poor weather – my fault!

Our room, Hebblewhite, was a really good size, high ceiling with exposed beams, a decent sized bathroom, bath and separate shower, king size bed, sofa, all we needed. It also had the huge old-fashioned radiators, lovely to look at and they really did throw out some heat when on. Mind you the TV was a bit too small for the room, not that I would normally mind but the World Cup football was on and a small TV in a largeish room is difficult to see. All in all, a really homely feel to the room.

The staff on check in were great and we were helped up to the room with our luggage, which to be honest is just as well, as we may have struggled otherwise. Sadly, for me, everything in the room seemed to be very low down, especially the sofa, once I sat in on it I was unable to get up again without assistance! I’m sure this is just me though. One thing I did find strange was that there was no radiator in the bathroom. I was told afterwards that it might have had underfloor heating but if it did it was neither apparent or turned on. The problem with this of course is, that once used it is not possible to get the towels dry without draping them over the radiators in the bedroom, not ideal, but then again not a deal breaker either.

This photograph, taken from the hotel’s web site is of the room we were in, the only difference being the small table bearing the flowers along with the arrangement of flowers were not evident. Probably as we are not paying full price.

Interestingly enough when you check in you are told that there are no tea of coffee making facilities in the rooms but just ask and the beverage of your choice will be brought up to your room (or you take it in the lounge), all at no extra charge, even better still it comes with a homemade scone with cream and jam. (But you have to check in before 5.30pm to qualify for the scone). The afore mentioned lounge by the way is very small, although pleasant it only has two sofa’s facing each other with a coffee table in between.

My wife would have a bath in the lovely roll top bath but sadly there was no bubble bath on offer on the toiletries tray, the following day she took one out of the landing cupboard and asked at reception if that was okay but they charged £3.00 for it which I must say surprised me, but again was it because we were on a cheap deal? Possibly.

The shower is very small too, it works superbly and is very powerful but the space is tiny, and I am not small! It was a real squeeze!

All in all though I would score the room 14/20. The hotel is rated as a 5-star Inn by the AA. Which is not to be confused with a 5-star hotel rating or a restaurant with rooms rating as the criteria are different for each level of grading.

We’d booked dinner for 7.30pm and went down to the bar for a drink around 7.10pm. wanting to just sit in the bar while we looked at and chose from the menu. This though seemed to throw the staff off a little, they were about to lay the table we were sat at for us to dine at but thankfully we avoided that and explained what we wanted was just to sit and have a drink there first.

The menu was far more extensive than I had expected and there are three rooms and the bar in which to dine. 2 more formal and the other more of a relaxed style, the menu offered is the same in all the rooms. The menu choice was good, and I chose the scallops to begin and my wife would have the game terrine. 3 very reasonably sized scallops served with slice of Stornaway Black Pudding, (in my mind the best black pudding available) a puree of cauliflower, and another of apple and garnished with strips of apple. It was a huge portion, far bigger than I had expected but then you can’t have enough scallops can you! The scallops sadly were undercooked, leaving them a bit on the soggy side as a result. They needed a really hot pan to be well seared and caramelised, these had been cooked in a pan that was too cool unfortunately, a common mistake. 11/20

My wife’s terrine was well flavoured and a bit dense, served with a lovely crab apple jelly instead of the pickles advertised on the menu as she is allergic to onions and the like. The jelly was a first-class addition to the terrine, a slice of toasted brioche and some micro herbs accompanied it. 11/20

Our main courses, mine the Breast of Guinea Fowl with Pommes Anna and Wild Mushrooms was very good but lacking in some small issues. The Pommes Anna was technically not an Anna and was also very under seasoned. The mushrooms and their accompanying sauce was however, really flavoursome, the cep puree, well there was so little there as to not have bothered, and as for the Gruyere and Wild Mushroom Crust, I did not find that, but all in all it was a nice dish. 12.5/20

Jane had the Lamb and immediately declared herself the winner on the main course. Her pink loin of lamb was perfectly cooked, the Anna Potato as advertised was not on the plate but there was a mash instead, the salty Swede Fondant was super but verging on over salted! The Dijon and Parsley Crust was good but could have done with a little more of it and the jus was first class. 14/20 This Photo does not do it justice (sorry).

For dessert again the choice was good but we both opted for the Lemon Tart and Damson Sorbet. A good choice as it turned out, the tart was a good depth and the sorbet a great colour and texture. For me the tart could/should have been tarter and creamier, basically it needed more lemon and my impression was that the filling had a quantity of milk in the recipe whereas it is so much nicer with just cream. The sorbet too could have been a bit punchier, as nice as it was there was room for improvement. 12/20. The photo of the lemon tart is their photograph from the cover of Relish North West and it was served looking just like this too.

We both slept really well that night in a bed that was really quite comfortable, and heard nothing till almost 8am the following morning.

Breakfast was almost as enjoyable as dinner, the menu however held less choice than I would have liked. I do like a kipper, sadly not many places these days seem to carry them. Indeed, often the only smoked fish available is smoked salmon. Gone too from most menus is smoked haddock, are these two breakfast staples on the decline in these more modern times? 

Toast too always seems to be in short supply in most establishments, here 4 half slices of mixed brown and white toast came, all slightly under browned for my liking, although nice bread, thankfully more is freely offered should you required it. On a real plus note the butter was not limited to a tiny square or a few small foil wrapped pats as is too often the case, here it was a generous amount. The tea was hot (again unusual) and strong with an added pot of water to accompany it. 11/20

Dinner the 2nd night, from the same menu, as it had not changed and I don’t know how often it does, but no problem, the choice is plentiful. This time around we both chose the Salmon Gravadlax with Lemon Gel, Croutons, Pickled Fennel & Apple Salad, Dill Emulsion. Lightly cured, and I mean very lightly cured, in fact hardly cured at all, salmon, the crisp fennel and apple salad a delight with it, the lemon gel hardly in evidence and not boasting the lemon hit needed, there was also not enough dill emulsion to warrant it’s mention on the menu. 10/20

I followed that with the Pan Roasted Halibut on Crushed Potatoes with king Prawns and Parsley Sauce. A very nicely cooked piece of Halibut from a decent sized fish too as it was quite thick. The sauce could have done with more parsley as it was a bit sparse and again the potatoes needed more in the way of seasoning but otherwise good. 13/20. 

While my wife had the Loin of Venison with Purple Potatoes, Beetroot, Salsify and Game Sauce. She felt the venison was a little undercooked, the potatoes more there for their novelty factor than flavour and were also under seasoned, as seems to be the norm here, and it was great to see the salsify, such an under rated and rarely seen vegetable. 11/20

For dessert Jane had the Mango and Passion Fruit Soufflé with Vanilla and Passion Fruit Ice Cream and I opted for the Chocolate Mousse, Blackberries, Blackberry Meringue, Chocolate Sorbet. The souffle came out looking perfect, beautifully and evenly risen, not always an easy feat to pull off. She declared it excellent, the passion fruit in the souffle was powerful and tangy but the vanilla almost unnoticeable, while the ice cream may have been better if a different /contrasting flavour had been introduced. 14/20

Now I’m a chocoholic, the mouse was a great texture but somehow lacking in chocolate which was strange as looking at it one would not have thought so. The Sorbet, again seemed to lack a little in chocolate flavour, I wonder which chocolate they use? The blackberries, a bit of an afterthought in a way as there were only 2 small ones, the dished needed more of them. The Blackberry meringue, nice as it could be, did not really deserve its mention on the menu, never mind in dispatches. 10/20

All in all, a great stay in a nice hotel with very good food, yes, we will go back and thank you Jean & Alan for the recommendation.

Oh, before I forget I should also say that the whole place is spotlessly clean throughout.

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