WHEN it comes to places firmly on the foodie map Cumbria and the Lake District is blessed with plenty of well-known names.
Now there’s a new chef in town determined to bring his own culinary twist to a delightful corner of Cumbria.
Rob Phillips, 34, and partner Hayley Stead, 38, have recently arrived from Norway to run The Black Cock Inn at Broughton-in-Furness.
And the first thing head chef Rob made sure was on the menu at the 18th Century inn was the best local produce right on his doorstep.
That means meat from the highly-acclaimed Melville Tyson butchers (only a few paces away from the inn’s front door), game from the renowned Cartmel Valley, and beers from the award-winning Stringers brewery in nearby Ulverston.
“Our steak and ale pie for example is no ordinary steak and ale pie. It’s Tyson’s meat and Stringer’s Ale,” says Rob with an obvious pride that he his now head chef in a part of the world renowned for its top quality food and drink.
Having moved to Broughton from Norway just six weeks ago, there’s also no disguising his determination and ambition to earn a name for himself, and for the Black Cock.
“In six months time I want this place to be widely recognised for its food.
“I have worked hard for a long time. I would like to get recognition for that.
“I’d like us to be known as THE food venue around here. And to have the chance to do that here, in such a wonderful place, is a fantastic opportunity.”
After being brought up in Blackpool and spending the first years of his catering life working in some of the resort’s top hotels he got the opportunity to work in a restaurant in the Norwegian ski resort of Beitostolen where, as head chef for five years, he built his reputation.
He then moved on to work on the world’s oldest operational paddle steamer Skiblander on Norway’s beautiful Lake Mjosa where he catered for 500 people a day on leisure cruises.
Having swapped the ski slopes of Norway for the fells of south-west Cumbria, and with lakes like Coniston Water only a stone’s throw away, and the Blackpool coast visible across Morecambe Bay, there’s a certain sense of destiny to where Rob’s journey has taken him.
And there’s no doubt he feels he has come ‘home’.
“I love it here,” he said. “People are so friendly and helpful, it’s a lovely village, and the food and drink produce is wonderful. It’s a privilege to be here.”
It’s a small team. Rob works with chef Josh Duckett in the kitchens and Hayley manages the business which has five residential rooms.
There’s a loyal local clientele in the bar, often frequenting the cosy snug, where there’s always two Stringers beers, and three other guest ales.
Even in the first six weeks since Rob and Hayley arrived, many more locals are also using the Black Cock as a place to eat, evidence of the popularity of Rob’s new menu.
“We are serving classic British food, using the best quality local produce, with a Scandi twist such as the use of curing,” said Rob.
Given the Black Cock is part of the locally based Lakeland Inns group, which brews its own Stringers beer, Rob is also keen to make more use of the beer in his cooking.
Hence ‘Stringers Mussels’ makes it onto the menu, described as: ‘Fresh mussels cooked with chorizo, shallots and our very own Stringers real ale served with fries and warm crusty bread’.
There’s also a nod on the menu to the reason why some visitors might be in the area.
There are Lakeland names given to all the different types of burgers on the menu, (all using Melville Tyson’s meat), to satisfy and reward those who have had a day on the fells climbing the area’s highest peaks.
A case of ‘you’ve walked a Wainwright, now enjoy the burger’.
While diners might choose to conquer The Coniston Old Man, or The Great Gable, those who have scaled the real-life Scafell Pike – the highest mountain in England – face their own foodie challenge – The Scafell Pike burger made up of a double Aberdeen Angus burger. “People like to try it to see if they can manage it, most do, but not everyone manages to finish it!” said Hayley. “It’s being seen as a fun challenge in its own right!”
No wonder the Black Cock, helped by the fantastic Easter weekend weather enticing visitors to the area, was rammed in terms of diners, with Rob and Hayley catering for more than 100 people a day.
As for overnight visitors, the advice is to book early, with weekends in particular booked up in advance.
The Black Cock is also known for being a dog-friendly establishment with listings on specialist websites for those wanting their pooches to be made welcome on their visit.
As they look ahead to their first summer season on the edge of the Lake District it all makes for exciting times for Rob and Hayley for their new start back in the UK.