An old staging post and coaching inn, the Pheasant has stood in this quiet corner of the Lake District, just a stone’s throw from the head of Bassenthwaite Lake, for over 200 years. And today’s Pheasant would look very familiar to a traveller from the reign of George III – a long, rambling L-shaped building containing a slightly claustrophobic jumble of rooms. If you like the idea of sitting in a wing-backed chair by a roaring fire in a wooden panelled room, drinking ale from a traditional glass tankard, this may be the pub for you. However, as soon as that old traveller looked at the menu, he might get something of a surprise, for the modern day Pheasant has made quite a reputation for itself for the quality of its food.
And it was just this reputation that drew us to the Pheasant, on a damp mid-week lunchtime after a morning’s shopping in Carlisle. The Pheasant has set itself up these days as much more of a dining pub than a drinking pub. The small bar area (where you can also eat) takes up nothing more than two cosy interconnected rooms at the back of the building. The lion’s share of the ground floor, however, is made of the pub’s two restaurants – the more formal “Fell Restaurant” and the recently refurbished Bistro, where we found ourselves sitting.
As is becoming more common, the Pheasant offers both an a la carte menu and a fixed price one (2 courses for £17 or 3 for £20), both offering traditional British pub food, but with an occasional modern touch. Not fancying anything from the fixed price menu, we both went for choices from the short a la carte menu. I chose the homemade chicken and mushroom pie, whilst Rebecca went for the fish and chips. Now if that sounds ordinary and like us, you fear the appearance of some badly reheated freezer fare, then worry not, because the food proved to be distinctly better than that! The huge fish was coated in supremely crispy, golden batter, and came accompanied by a Jenga style tower of homemade chips – crisp on the outside, fluffy in the middle. On the side sat a little bowl of homemade mushy peas, and they actually looked like peas rather than the all too common glow in the dark tinned variety. “I’ve never really fancied mushy peas before”, she said “but these are really quite good”.
My pie, rather frustratingly, came served in a dish of its own, alongside another bowl containing some neatly piped mash and a few green beans. Do chefs like to make eating deliberately hard? Why can’t they just serve a pie with its accompaniments on a single plate, so I can easily mix a bit of pie and a bit of mash? Fortunately, early irritations didn’t last long. The evidently homemade pie proved to be packed with lots of tender chicken breast, diced carrot and mushrooms, and a particularly tasty gravy. The mash was also of superior quality – buttery and super smooth. Rebecca’s plate and both of my dishes were left without a scrap of food left on them.
“Would you like a dessert?” asked the friendly waiter. After main courses that good, it was hard to say no. This time I plumped for the apple crumble, whilst Rebecca went for the rather scrummy sounding almond and Amaretto parfait with roasted plums. Now I’m not much of a fruit eater, but I have taken a liking to a well-made crumble. This was definitely one. A lovely light crumble topped the well-cooked apples – soft but retaining some texture, and not too heavily sweetened. The richness came courtesy of a little jug of vanilla custard and a slightly superfluous dollop of clotted cream. Also slightly superfluous was a small pile of roasted rhubarb, which didn’t really need to be there, but was perfectly nice in its own right. The parfait was positively heaven for those of us who like almond flavours. The roasted plums turned out to be the surprise of the meal for me. Again, I don’t eat much fruit, but these were superb.
And so we made our exit, having spent just over £40 (including drinks) on a decidedly above average two course meal for two. And full. Very full. We will definitely be coming back!
P.S. The menu changes frequently but you can get an idea of what they have on offer here