Restaurant review - The George, Devonshire St, Penrith
PUBLISHED: 09:50 12 April 2013 | UPDATED: 10:00 12 April 2013
Penrith was once the regional capital and at its centre is a hotel steeped in history. Roger Borrell grabbed a napkin and headed north
Well, I ask you. Wearing a newly-laundered white shirt to eat fish stew was just asking for trouble. I’d headed to the George in Penrith and I was on a promise. Nothing of a romantic nature, you understand but whenever I mentioned my destination, people looked over their should to check no one was listening, tapped the side of their noses and whispered: ‘Have the fish stew.’
So when I arrived in the grand dining room of this famous old hotel and the waiter asked me for my order, what else was I meant to say? And that’s how I ended up in this mess. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched CSI. It’s the one that’s filmed in the dark with everyone shining torches at each other. When they arrive at a crime scene, one of them always announces: ‘I’ve found directional spatter.’
That’s what happened to me, except the spatter was fish stew and it was directed at my shirt, much to the irritation of my wife. She was managing to share this silver tureen of maritime loveliness without the need of a mop and bucket.
Having three bigger brothers made me a quick but occasionally careless eater and I have the laundry bills to prove it. But on this occasion it was well worth the raised eyebrows from across the table.
Head chef Phil Cooke was to blame for the state of my shirt but I forgave him. I would forgive anyone who presented me with this unctuous Mediterranean tomato-infused broth of mussels, squid and fish. His secret is now out and his bowls of Fleetwood’s finest have been getting rave reviews.
The same could be said of the George itself, which has been going through a smart refurbishment under the stewardship of Lake District Hotels.
Penrith is a traditional market town full of red sandstone architecture and shops which specialise in longevity. In the centre is J & J Graham, a food shop that has been in existence for more than 200 years. How many shops do you know that bear the legend ‘Agricultural seed cake and manure merchants’?
And across the way is Arnison’s, a department store of bygone days, an echo of times when overhead tubes whooshed from counter to counter and inside legs were measured without a hint of a giggle. Wordsworth’s mother was born in a house that occupied this site and virtually next door is a third iconic business in Penrith, The George.
Many years back, this establishment was in severe need of tender loving care and the current owners have provided that, preserving the history but creating modern, comfortable bedrooms and a smart new bar. Manager Justin Wales has marshalled a friendly team, eager to please. If you feel the need for a pool or a gym arrangements can be made with George’s sister, the Lodore Falls.
The George was originally the George & Dragon, hence the stained-glass windows in the elegant dining room, which serves many other fine dishes as well as the fish stew.
For me, the star of the show is the public area between the entrance and reception. Wood panelling, buffed brass and tiles dominate with cosy corners, snugs, nooks and crannies where a profusion of locals share pots of coffee and cakes. It’s an atmospheric part of the George which housed Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. I suspect he wasn’t so welcome on the return visit. In its time, the George has housed a court house, a musical hall, an auction room and was the staging post for carriages to and from London. A history of the building states: ‘People go to the George to eat, drink and gossip, to meet for the purposes of sociability and romance, to get together with old friends and make new ones, to see and be seen.’ On that front, I’m happy to say nothing much has changed.
The George, Devonshire St, Penrith CA11 7SU. Tel:01768 862696. www.lakedistricthotels.net