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  • Naturally as a chef, I love the seasons. When the nights start to draw in and the afternoons start to turn a bit chilly, my mind starts to think about warmer, more comforting food. I start to think about some excellent locally shot game from Grizedale, some great shellfish from the West coast of Cumbria and I also look to the hedgerows for blackberries, elderberries, pears and if you’re super lucky maybe the odd quince here and there.

    I’ve lived in Cumbria for 11 years, having been born in Essex and spent most of my working life in basement kitchens of hotels in London, it was a bit of a shock to move to such an amazing county. A county that still surprises me for its rich agricultural heritage, its fantastic people and probably most importantly it’s natural larder. Local produce in London didn’t really exist although they are some incredible food pioneers in London and the Home counties; it has nothing on this corner of the British Isles.

    I live in Kirkby Stephen, a small farming town sitting close to the North Yorkshire and Durham borders. Both my two girls attend the local primary school and both are very lucky to have a circle of friends that include many children of farmers, cousins of farmers, grandchildren of farmers and so on. Life in a small farming town revolves around the seasons, particularly the life of a sheep farmer. Tupping, lambing, shearing are things the children talk about as well as One Direction, Jessie J and boys!

    It wasn’t until we moved to Kirkby Stephen that I really recognised the whole local food movement and how it affects the local economy. It had never really occurred to me previously that the price I pay for my lamb in my kitchen affects the livelihood of a farming family in my local area. At its most simple it’s a direct link between field and kitchen.

    I also love using game in autumn and we get some great wood pigeon and venison from John Stott at Cartmel Valley Game Supplies. I’ve known John ever since I arrived in Cumbria and he provides an incredible array of local game. He also has a fantastic smokehouse but that’s another story! Wood pigeon is something that we use as a starter, quickly cooked, served pink and works well with some love sharp blackberries, some smooth Jerusalem artichoke puree, peppery watercress and a rich red wine sauce. Don’t bother using the legs from the pigeon, just the breast meat.

    Venison is my favourite meat, low in fat, high in taste, although it can be an expensive meat; I always try to match some expensive loin with some cheaper cuts to make it more affordable. We tend to buy whole saddles of venison, then butcher it ourselves, keeping all the trimmings to make some venison mince and cleaning and trimming the loins. With chefs (and customers) becoming more sophisticated in our cooking and eating, we use a water bath to cook some of our cuts of meat. This involves vacuum packing our portions of food, in this case venison, cooking at a fairly low, but food safe temperature, then a final cooking in butter. Cooking at low temperature doesn’t damage the muscle structure of the meat, producing a better eating experience. It also produces a very even cooking that you can’t achieve with conventional oven cooking.

    With my venison mince I would make a little venison cottage pie, a great wholesome dish on its own, but served as a garnish, it works fantastically well. Roots and tubers are coming into their best, so to eat with the venison I would serve some roasted baby beetroots, a celeriac puree, some buttered curly kale. For a little fruity richness, some lovely caramelised quince pieces. Serve the venison loin cooked pink, a miniature cottage pie and finish with a red wine sauce spiked with a little cracked black pepper.

    Download Justin's Recipes

    Roast venison loin, cottage pie, beetroots, celeriac, quinces and black pepper

    Roasted wood pigeon with blackberries, Jerusalem artichokes and watercress

  • 02 July 2014

    Direct is Best

    Caption: Our Reception Teams love it when you book direct!

    I am old enough to remember telex machines, rack rates and even paper booking sheets to record rooms booked and length of stay, but love it or loath it the internet is definitely here to stay and like many other areas it has revolutionised the hotel industry.


    In many ways the internet has given hotels the opportunity to become more efficient and customer focused but it has also brought with it significant challenges.  One of the challenges is the rise of the OTA (Online Travel Agent) and the cost to hotels of doing business through these booking channels.


    Many guests now choose to book through an OTA - Booking.com, Laterooms or Expedia for instance. I can understand why…they have state of art websites which are very easy to use, meta search facilities so that you can compare prices for different hotels and the advertising and marketing spend that they have at their disposal means that their brand is well known and they are high up on any search that you make on the internet.


    However, as a business we limit the Online Travel Agents that we work with and we would always encourage our customers to book direct where we think that you will get the best experience, after all it is our hotel. Booking direct means we can allocate the most suitable room, talk with confidence about our dining options and explain about all the exciting things there are to do in the area.


    We have two fantastic websites which are suitable for any device from desk top to tablet and mobile. They are packed with lots of information on the hotel and if you prefer to book on-line we have a quick and easy booking experience that takes the reservation straight into our system.


    Whether it is calling the hotel direct or booking on our website we know our product better than anyone and we have a team that want to ensure you receive the best Castle Green or Pinewood experience.


    What guests generally also do not know is how much OTA’s charge hotels in commission. It may surprise you that the commission costs on each booking start at 15% and go as high as 30% depending upon the OTA. This means that for a £100 accommodation booking via Booking.com we will pay £18 before the VAT is taken off.
    But why should the guest care about that? The rate will be no higher than booking direct (that is one of the conditions of the contract) and the terms and conditions are comparable.


    Well, I think it matters because those costs need to be absorbed by the business which means less money to spend on other things – refurbishment or payroll for instance. We still make sure in our hotels that we provide value for money and always aim to exceed the customer’s expectation but costs of this significance have an impact.


    We also encourage customers to book through Best Western where the costs are lower and the profits of the organisation go back into marketing and services for the benefit of the Member hotels and customers.


    Of course, anyway that you choose to book we would like to welcome you to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Castle Green and Pinewood Hotels but we believe that direct is best because we can tailor the booking to your requirements and use the money we save in commission to invest back into the business.


    Why don’t you give it a go?


    www.castlegreen.co.uk
    www.pinewood-hotel.co.uk

  • 18 June 2014

    Winners Again!

    Caption: Cumbria Tourism Large Hotel of the Year

    Last night we were host to the prestigious Cumbria Tourism Awards, an annual event which recognises the fantastic hotels, attractions and events in the county.

    We were treated to an arrival drink of local whisky 'The One' which was served on the Kendal Suite terrace overlooking the town before moving down to the Function House which was decorated with black tablecloths and chair covers, exquisite candleabras and twinkly backdrop behind the stage - very Oscars!

    There were 14 awards in total and we were second to last so it was a tense evening, but finally our category was announced by Richard Andrew from local accountants, Armstrong Watson and we won!  So myself, Finance Director Julie Chapman & MD Tim Rumney set off for the stage only to find Executive Head Chef Justin, Banqueting Manager Christine, Bar Supervisor Adam and GM Ben Mayou already there! 

    We then sat down to dinner, where Justin had created a fabulous meal of asparagus and Cumbrian crab, Slow cooked blade of beef and Elderflower sponge with raspberry sorbet complete with Elderflowers from the Castle Green garden!

    All in all it was an excellent evening - fantastic to pick up this coveted award again ( we last won in 2009) made even better by the fact that we won it 'on our own turf'!

     

  • Head Chef Justin is busy making more of his fantastic Hot chocolate fondants after one of our guests posted a fantastic review of The Greenhouse Restaurant on Trip Advisor.  Andrea said 'it was a must for any chocolate lover' so chef is keen to ensure he keeps up with demand!

    Her comment and rating for The Greenhouse takes us into the top 10 of Kendal Restaurants on the Trip Advisor site, so that's another milestone reached, but we won't be happy until we've climbed the rankings a bit more!

    Read Andrea's full comments on the site

  • 21 May 2014

    Only Yesterday

    It is not every day that you get to sing Karaoke to the Carpenters but when you are launching a new restaurant anything goes…

    So it was at the launch of ONE EIGHTY – our new restaurant concept at our sister hotel the BEST WESTERN PLUS Pinewood on Wilmslow last Thursday night.

    We had a great turnout of over 100 guests and the weather was kind to us so that we could spill outside into the beautiful and mature gardens.

    General Manager, John, and his Team did a great job of providing a fabulous atmosphere and fantastic food and the new restaurant environment is simply stunning. We took a break from the music for John and me to deliver our speeches and then enjoyed the rest of the evening along with tours of the new state of the art kitchen and luxurious new bedrooms.

    So where do the Carpenters come into it. Well, whilst Sisters in Song were tuning up I happened to mention how good it was to hear, Only Yesterday, after all these years. They didn’t let me get away with it. A couple of hours later there I was on the microphone…and I’d only had two glasses of wine.

    What a night…

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