Short break - The Inn on the Square, Keswick
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 March 2016
Pull on your Sarah Lund sweater and head for the Lakes to find a chic Scandi-style chic hotel, writes Roger Borrell
The medic said my blood pressure was normal and added that I had the cholesterol of a spavined hermit who’d spent the last decade surviving on nothing more fattening than grass and drinking nothing stronger than rain water.
What better reason to celebrate and what better way of doing it than by drinking beer and eating red meat? Happily for me I was heading for Keswick the next day, a place where I knew both commodities were in good supply.
This is one of my favourite Lake District destinations, a place where the men are men and women know how to sport a bobble hat in a coquettish fashion. Other towns seem full of people kitted out to climb the south face of Annapurna when really all they want to do is walk down a full English with a brisk stroll to the nearest anorak superstore.
In Keswick, however, the ruddy-cheeked folk on the streets look like they mean business. They’ve scrambled up Blencathra before breakfast and returned a bit miffed the snow was only knee deep.
Inn on the Square, Keswick
Brossen Steakhouse, Inn on the Square Keswick
The Inn on the Square is bang in the middle of Keswick
Little to beef about at Brossens
Inn on the Square Chic Cocktail Bar
Inn on the Square Chic Cocktail Bar
Inn on the Square Herdwick Bedroom
Painting by Italian artist, Marco Grassi and the globe light is Dutch, designed by designer Raimond Puts
Where’s the next challenge? they seem to ask. I hadn’t quite managed it up Blencathra but I had climbed from the car unaided, and my next challenge was eating some of the seriously large pieces of meat on offer in the Brossen Steakhouse.
Brossen is, I’m told, Cumberland dialect for ‘full up.’ I’m unsure if this refers to the state you’ll leave the restaurant or the lack of empty tables in what seems a very popular place.
Earlier we had checked into the hotel that goes with Brossen – the Inn on the Square, slap-bang in the middle of town. It’s one of those imposing slate-fronted Victorian piles that you could imagine was once deemed to have ‘seen better days.’
Not so now. Under the stewardship of the Graves family, who run Lake District Hotels, the Inn has been rebranded and renovated to create a venue cooler than Skiddaw on a February afternoon.
To the left of the entrance is a stylish bar decorated in a chic Scandi-style with modern, geometric wallpapers and colourful upholstery that you don’t readily associated with the muddy boot brigade.
There is a metallic bar-top and striking works of art but the Graves haven’t ripped the heart from the building. It retains some of the loveliest stained-glass windows to be found anywhere outside a cathedral and sets of amusing framed caricatures harking back to the day when, I assume, the hunt met here. Maybe it still does.
Upstairs there are 34 modern bedrooms that echo the stylish bar. Ours had two chairs (why do doubles at some hotels only have one?), large screen televisions, very swish bathrooms and enormous photographic landscapes behind the bed. It featured two Herdwicks, so counting them before going to sleep was never going to be a challenge. Lovely wool rugs on the beds made you want to curl up inside them.
But what of Brossen? Once again, there is a nod to the owners’ heritage with Swedish Kosta Boda candleholders, Danish wishbone chairs and Ebb and Flow glass lights.
If they needed to remind us this was Keswick’s first dedicated steakhouse, it was on the wall in the form of a giant picture of a bull with the various cuts marked out like a road map for canrivores.
The menu is influenced by Scandinavian cuisine with an edge of the Argentine and a large dollop of Lake District heartiness. It is, of course, dominated by grilled meat from the open kitchen, although there are some veggie dishes too.
There are also some things you wouldn’t expect – a starter of pan-fried rabbit, Danish Tartarmad, their version of steak tartar, and home pickled herrings. Desserts were also a bit different with mascarpone mousse and sticky stout pudding, Brossen’s take on this regional delicacy.
I had a venison scotch egg which was excellent with home made tomato chutney. I can also vouch for the pan-seared scallops – generous and nicely cooked with butternut squash puree.
The main event did involve steaks but we didn’t go the whole hog, not that you can when eating beef. The menu included a tomahawk steak, which is for two and weighs in at 35oz – the size of a small puppy dog. To order it would have been to spit in the eye of my physician so I ordered a T-bone, something I hadn’t had since they banned meat on the bone in the dark days of Mad Cow. Back then, its illegality only seemed to enhance the flavour.
I have to say it was also very good and both choices were cooked precisely as ordered and served by nice, smiley people. The poor chap on the next table also ordered a T-bone but, sadly for him, there had been a run on and I got the last one. This seemed provoke considerable anguish, wailing loudly to his partner that a ‘black cloud follows me.’
I’m not sure if this was a ploy to get me to hand over my T-bone but it was never going to work. Not even if he blubbed.
The Inn on the Square is at Market Square, Keswick, CA12 5JF. 0800 840 1247. Prices start from £106 per per bed and breakfast but there are often special deals available so check www.innonthesquare.co.uk