Off on a jolly to Carlisle.. (Part I)

Two of my best friends from university, Clairey and Eleanor, live in Carlisle in Cumbria and I had been promising I’d visit since I met them in a new halls meeting.

I did make the journey once, in the snow, for Clairey’s 21st but it was many moons ago and I was dressed as Minnie Mouse with goose bumps and I was carrying a bow and arrow my father had made for Eleanor. We’ve laughed, cried and gossiped together for the last seven years but the one thing we all share is our love of food so I knew a weekend with the girls would mean copious amounts of food and of the most delicious variety.

Day One:

I travelled to Cumbria by train on Friday afternoon, breaking the journey by spending a night in Liverpool, and arrived in Carlisle at 3pm in time for a cup of tea, slice of cake and a chat before making ourselves glam for our night out. Eleanor had pre-warned me that cocktails had made it to Carlisle and whilst it is difficult to dress for cocktails and bitterly cold January nights, I feel we pulled it off with style!

Eleanor had tried to book a table at the Gilded Lily in Lowther Street, Carlisle for the two of us, Clairey being otherwise engaged, but they only accepted bookings for tables of a larger size and recommended arriving for about 7pm to be in with a good chance of securing one of the few tables. We arrived just after 7 and there was a table available by the window in two huge comfy looking chairs. The interior is beautiful, with chinoiserie wallpaper and twinkling candles, and the staff were prompt and gracious.

We read the enormously long menus and ummed and ahhed between duck and venison and mussels and pork belly. There’s a huge selection of dishes, varying from the more pedestrian to the exciting and ranging in price from £8 to £15. Eleanor selected the roasted honey and mustard glazed duck with crispy potatoes, pomegranate sauce, celeriac puree and cinnamon glazed carrots (about £14), having decided not to have the venison on the specials menu; it had been a tough choice. I can never resist mussels and deciding between those with tomato and chilli from the specials and the mariniere from the main menu, I went for mariniere (about £9) asI was feeling more in the mood for creamy and savoury. I ordered a side dish of chips (£2.95ish) with this because I do like to dunk a chip into the sauce. We decided to share an antipasti platter (£8) as we like to pick at bits and bobs and Eleanor ordered a large pinot grigio and I ordered a prosecco. Eleanor had advised that the cocktails were famous and I should definitely save a space for one or two but I decided to start off gradually!

As we waited, we watched people coming and going. Many dressed up, of all ages and shapes and sizes and agreed that this was a lovely welcoming place. Before very long, our starter arrived. A large white plate with different segments for each antipasti component, it was loaded with hot bread, a caprese salad of buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, pil pil tiger prawns, mixed herby olives and salamis and parma ham. The hot bread was delicious, thick and soft and tasty, we could have eaten this by itself. The meats were fresh and tasty and the salad had a lovely combination of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, rocket, plenty of pesto and balsamic vinegar and the delicious crunch of the toasted pine nuts. Caprese salad is one of Eleanor and my favourites and we lingered over this. The prawns were very spicy but deliciously chunky and fresh. We struggled a little peeling them but were rewarded with a meaty, spicy prawn. Eleanor even kindly gave me her last one. We also attempted to try the olives but decided we still didn’t like the texture or saltiness. The black ones were nicest though! We wondered how we don’t like olives when we like so many other ‘grown up’ flavours but perhaps it’s because we’re still both so youthful.

The extremely attentive waiter reappeared several times to ensure everything was ok and to see if we needed anything else. Eleanor ordered another glass of wine and I felt I was ready to try one of the cocktails that had been recommended so much. I chose a lemon drop (citron vodka, lemon juice, sugar syrup and sugar around the rim – £5) which was fresh and zingy and definitely one of my favourites ever and served in a martini glass which always makes me feel more glamorous and brilliant.

Our mains arrived and we soon ran out of table space with bowls for bread, chips, messy fingers, mussels and Eleanor’s plate. Eleanor’s duck looked lovely. Pink and tender and laid out on the plate with a delicious looking sauce. The ‘crispy’ potatoes were a surprise. They arrived looking like crisps, we had been expecting a sautéed potato, and at first Eleanor was a bit disappointed but on trying one, announced that they were delicious. I tried a little of the duck and it was perfectly cooked and seasoned. I developed serious food envy! My mussels were huge and perfectly cooked. The mariniere sauce was creamy and thick with parsely and shallots. If anything, it was extremely salty but the thick, crunchy chips soaked this up perfectly and there was more of the wonderful hot bread. We agreed that despite the menu being so lengthy, sometimes a sign of a kitchen stretched too thin or management not seeing their market clearly enough, they had a real command of the cooking and that these were delicious and we only wished we had time to eat more.

Feeling really very full but always giving of ourselves so that we can say that we’ve had the full experience, we ordered a chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake and an extra spoon. We also decided to try a few more cocktails. I went for the Elderbubble (elderflower cordial and champagne) as Elderflower is my nickname and I rely on methods like this when choosing horses in the Grand National, fancy drinks and new books. Eleanor chose something sinful and full of alcohol and the waiter advised that our drinks would take a couple of minutes as they were making quite a few at the bar. We agreed that this was nice as although we didn’t mind waiting, it’s nice to feel you’re not forgotten. Our drinks and pudding arrived simultaneously and they were all delicious. The Elderbubble was lovely but perhaps a little heavy on the cordial which can sometimes leave it being too sweet and a little too dry. Eleanor’s cocktail, a Russian Spring Punch (vodka, lemon juice, crème de cassis, crème de fraise and topped with champagne) seemed to go down well but I haven’t met many cocktails she hasn’t bonded with on first meeting. Our cheesecake was thick and heavy with large chunks of hazelnut. We agreed that we had expected something more like nutella but that it was nice to have the crunch. The chocolate cheese part of the cheese cake was quite sour, which I like, and the base crunchy. Delicious!

Having paid the bill, Eleanor explained she’d like to show me some of the various bars in Carlisle. We started at Circle, across the road and tucked in a little arcade, which was warm and cosy, a little like a café and full of cheerful, young folks enjoying a Friday drink. I ordered a Bramble, another longstanding favourite, and it was served with the sloe gin in a scooped out half lime standing in the glass so I had to upturn the lime to complete the drink. Odd but quirky and I quite liked the diy aspect! Eleanor’s cocktail seemed to hit the spot and was called a ‘Between the sheets‘, I‘m not sure what was in it but it seemed to be just right! We got to discussing what Triple Sec actually is. This is the wonder of phones with access to the internet. No longer do you have to wonder these things, we learned that it is a form of Curacao but three times drier and made with the peel of bitter oranges. It’s nice to combine drinking with education!

Our next stop on our whistle-stop tour of Carlisle’s hostelries was the Thin White Duke on Devonshire Street built on the site of an ancient monastery. This was owned by the same people as the Gilded Lily and Eleanor explained that it hadn’t long been open but that the loos were pretty special. A finer recommendation you couldn’t hope for. We ordered at the lovely bar and appreciated the solid, varnished, oak furniture and the attractive boys in one corner and I can confirm that the loos were indeed lovely. Eleanor had ordered the French Martini which we had been discussing earlier in the evening; a drink invented by Chambord, the makers of raspberry liqueur, containing vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and lemon . It was a strange drink. Almost sweet and milky for a martini but delicious, Eleanor felt it was a bit too cloying after a couple of drinks. I had a lemonade, which I don’t think is very exciting but having only been drinking again for the last six months, I can’t drink with the enthusiasm of a binge drinking 18 year old and as such, was starting to have to take it slower. It’s a very rustic looking bar with really comfy touches and a real feeling of cosiness. I felt like I could sit here for quite a long time but that could have been a desire to stay and stare at the boy with the longish hair in the corner. Swoon!

Our final port of call for the evening was the Andalusian on Warwick Road, again just over the street, and where we arranged to meet Clairey after her night out. Eleanor ordered a half Peroni and I had a water, seriously flagging at this point and needing hydration. Again the inside was cosy and paved with beautiful tiles and shiny flagstones.

Day Two to follow!

Clairey arrived in the end and we ambled outside to the taxi rank for the short trip home to get into our PJs and curl up on their sofas with a cup of tea. Bliss!

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