Winder Hall Country House Hotel in Lorton launches Cedar Tree Dining Room

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 August 2013

Seared duck breast and confit duck Rösti, served in the historic dining room with a cherry bourbon and fresh cherry sauce

Seared duck breast and confit duck Rösti, served in the historic dining room with a cherry bourbon and fresh cherry sauce

Winder Hall (18th June 2013) © 2013 Chris Freer Photography

A newly launched restaurant is using some unusual ingredients, as Suzanne Elsworth discovers

PHOTOGRAPHY: CHRIS FREER

There’s no doubt that Lakeland’s reputation as the ‘Taste District’ is well established with a wealth of produce, flavours and the most natural of ingredients on its doorstep. It would be very wrong if the county didn’t command the highest praise for its cuisine. But an unusual ingredient is gracing the menu at one Cumberland eaterie – cedar.

Winder Hall Country House Hotel in Lorton, near Cockermouth, is home to a historic tree, planted more than 150 years ago. It’s providing the leaves which have inspired a new menu – and they’re not just used as a garnish, they’re being smoked.Head chef Tim Brown is using them to create some dishes for the newly-launched Cedar Tree Dining Room at Winder Hall.

Tim uses a stove-top smoker, a square pan with a tight-fitting lid. He puts cedar leaves in the bottom and brine-soaked meat or fish on a rack. After 20 minutes the food is infused with a distinctive pine flavour.

This beautiful country house hotel has been owned by Nick and Ann Lawler since 2002 but they have never given its restaurant its own identity. Now they have plans to widen its appeal to visitors and locals alike – and those plans have got a lot to do with 36-year-old chef Tim.

He’s using the cedar leaves as the key flavour of a host of new signature dishes. He picks them to smoke meat, fish, vegetables and cheeses, and also creates a cedar ‘tea’, an Asian-inspired consommé with savoury notes, herbs, ginger and lemon, which he uses as a basis for some of his menu.

Tim has travelled extensively and takes his inspiration from Asian, Indian and European cuisine but adds a very local twist. The team is passionate about local meat, particularly pork and mutton, from the farms and fields around Winder Hall.

And though launching a new restaurant in tough economic times may seem challenging, owner Nick is confident the time is right. ‘We’ve got such a fantastic array of places to eat here, especially in this quieter and very beautiful part of the county,’ he says. ‘I hope the Cedar Tree Dining Room will add something very special to the mix, not least because of the mix of international and local flavours that Tim is creating.

‘It’s always daunting launching a new enterprise, but the thing I am seeing despite the economic downturn is that people are still happy to pay for exceptional quality and local produce.

‘People want to know where the ingredients they are eating have come from, and that fits perfectly with the ethos of dining at Winder Hall. You can’t get much more local than our cedar tree. Tim has only to walk 50 yards from his kitchen to pick its leaves.’

Tim has been working in restaurant kitchens since he was 14. Largely self taught, he’s one of those chefs who cooks by instinct.

He adds: ‘It’s been brilliant to be involved in the Cedar Tree plans from the start. It’s something I’ve never done before and hopefully I’ll help give Winder Hall a great name for its food as well as a place to stay.

‘Nick has given me the freedom to be as creative as I can with our menus and create brilliant signature flavours. Being innovative is what I love most about my job. There are so many flavours to explore.’

Long and Winder road

Winder Hall, named after the original owners, is one of the oldest houses in the region and the original structure was believed to have sheltered Malcolm III, a Scottish king in the 11th century. The existing building has a hearth dating from the 1550s and the dining room was the main hall in the Jacobean manor house. It dates from the 1660s and two centuries later Arts & Crafts oak panelling was added.

The Winder family received a Royal Charter in the 14th century. From here they moved to Lorton Hall which they occupied for the next 300 years. As the most prosperous land-owners with royal links, they are said to have given their name to Winder(mere) among other local features and villages. There have been some long periods of decline - it was once a school - and several attempts at restoration. Now, it is back to its best in the safe hands of Nick and Ann Lawler, who moved there is 2002 and continue to enjoy the house along with their three children, cat, dogs, hamster and assorted pigs.

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